Extreme Winter Weather

Hi, Leaders! It’s Adaptation Time!

I treated myself to two days of conferencing last week in my own city at the Chicago Forum on Global Cities, which focused on climate and other global challenges. Co-hosted by the Chicago Council on Global Affairs and the Financial Times, the event featured luminaries from 30 countries.  

The FT’s beautiful salmon-colored newsprint caught my eye both days, first with its special city supplement proclaiming in its cover article: “This would mean that, by the second half of the present century, some big cities could be as much as 10C hotter than their surrounding hinterlands….Many large cities are situated in low-lying coastal areas, leaving them badly exposed to the dangers of flooding that come with rising sea levels and storm surges.” And next with its front page showing an alarming image of central Paris under water. 

Despite the respected business publication’s stark climate prognosis, none of the panelists addressed climate adaptation and none responded to a question posed to the closing full plenary: “Climate Change and Global Cities,” https://www.chicagoforum.org/agenda/closing-lunch-climate-change-and-global-cities: “What role do cities play in increasing adaptive capacity to withstand climate change stresses and shocks?” However, when pressed by the FT moderator, the EU’s former commissioner for climate action only noted, “In Dakha Bangladesh, all they care about is adaptation, not mitigation.”

Tubingen, Germany, Mayor Boris Palmer, an erudite crowd-pleaser, proclaimed:  “It cannot be about adaptation, it must be about mitigation.”  He wisely noted that his success reflects never tiring of explaining the virtue of climate action at a level his audience understands. 

So here goes, an explanation geared to the panelists on the Global Threats to the Global City, https://www.chicagoforum.org/agenda/plenary-global-threats-global-city  (which did not mention climate change once in 75 minutes).

Abu Dhabi: https://www.ead.ae/Documents/RESEARCHERS/Climate%20change%20impacts%20-%20Eng.pdf Environment Agency-Abu Dhabi

The potential exposure of the United Arab Emirates and Abu Dhabi, in particular, to the impact of sea level rises is quite significant, given its current socioeconomic conditions in coastal areas.  In addition to the effects of such rises on social and economic structures, the vulnerability of coastal ecosystems is also of particular concern.

Chicago https://www.whitehouse.gov/sites/default/files/docs/state-reports/climate/Illinois%20Fact%20Sheet.pdf

In the 2011 winter, Chicago incurred over $1.8 billion in losses and 36 deaths when a blizzard dumped two feet of snow on the city. In 2012, Illinois had the second-highest mortality (32 deaths) due to heat nationwide.  

London: http://climatelondon.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/2012/01/CCRA-London.pdf

Twenty-nine percent of bus stations and 26 percent of underground stations are at risk of flooding, along with 14 percent of schools and 27 percent of police stations. The number of days per year when overheating could occur is projected to rise from 18 to between 22-51 days by the 2020s (central estimate is 33 days).

Singapore: https://www.nccs.gov.sg/climate-change-and-singapore/national-circumstances/impact-climate-change-singapore

From 1972 to 2014, the annual mean temperature increased from 26.6°C to 27.7°C. The mean sea level in the Straits of Singapore also has increased at the rate of 1.2mm-to-1.7mm per year in the period 1975 to 2009. 

Rainfall has intensified in recent years. Singapore's Second National Climate Change Study found a general uptrend in annual average rainfall from 2192mm in 1980 to 2727mm in 2014.

Washington, DC https://www.whitehouse.gov/sites/default/files/docs/state-reports/climate/district_of_columbia_fact_sheet.pdf

In 2012, damages from Hurricane Sandy required over $3 million in FEMA public assistance grants to rebuild and recover in the District of Columbia. The previous year, D.C. suffered damages from Hurricane Irene that required over $2.4 million in FEMA public assistance grants to rebuild and recover.

From Abu Dabhi to Washington, cities have shown a sincere desire to address climate change by mitigating greenhouse gas emissions.  That’s more important than ever, and it must be accompanied by a sincere desire to learn about and employ climate adaptation. Why? Because every $1 invested in adaptation avoids $4 in future losses.

Tubingen Mayor Palmer, as a member of the Germany Green Party (which puts climate change at the center of all policy considerations, including environmental policy and safety and social aspects), has the splendid chance to again demonstrate leadership by turning his refusal to embrace climate adaptation into an opportunity to embrace it and all collateral benefits for his constituents.  

Expert View: Five Issues that Promise to Heighten National Security Risks in a Changing Climate

At last month’s ND-GAIN annual meeting, Brigadier General (USMC RET) Stephen Cheney, the American Security Project’s CEO, laid it on the line.  For the military and for the world, climate change risk is real and grows every day.  And the military knows from experience that waiting for certainty on future predictions can prove disastrous. Reflecting on climate impacts with national security significance, a panel spelled out five repercussions of a changing climate.  Cheney himself laid out four risks:

  1. Sea level rise in Asia will displace millions of people.  In Bangladesh alone, more than one million of its 160 million people will need to relocate. Relocations cause tensions that historically have erupted into civil conflict in which the U.S. military has responded..

  2. Forest fires, such as the one in Russia that elevated wheat prices and perhaps sowed the seeds of the Arab Spring in the Middle East, will put more natural resources at risk, causing scarcity-driven conflicts. (In an earlier post, I noted that the U.S. Defense Department estimates that 6,000 square kilometers of African land for agriculture – roughly the size of the West Bank and Gaza[1]will disappear by 2060 so the bargain over food resources will worsen.)
  3. Extreme weather events, such as Super Typhoon Haiyan that ravaged the Philippines will require military response for humanitarian aid.
  4. Arctic ice melt will trigger a tussle over territory, leading to conflict between the nations that claim ownership.

The fifth effect of a changing climate with national security implications was offered by Marcus King, associate professor of George Washington University’s The Elliott School of International Affairs. His was a promising trend – that water scarcity has fostered more incidents of cooperation than conflict.  For instance, he mentioned the agreement by Jordan, Israel and the Palestine Authority to rejuvenate the Dead Sea.

He noted that the Pentagon refers to climate change as an instability accelerant, and cited projections from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change and others that by 2030, global demand for water will exceed the water supply by 40 percent.  Already, in the tinder box of the Middle East, water trends are alarming.  In Syria, 800,000 farmers were forced to move to cities because of a two-year drought and, in Yemeni, aquifers could be depleted by 2020.  For Egypt, which relies on neighboring countries for all of its fresh water, conflicts driven by water could erupt as Egypt’s neighbors consider building dams for their energy security.

As Roger-Mark De Souza, director of the Wilson Center of Population, Environment, Security and Social Change foretold, with 1.5 billion, or more than one-in-five, people worldwide living in conflict or post-conflict areas, climate vulnerability will worsen crises.

[1] Approximately 6,020 square kilometers, The World Bank


Climate Adaptation and the Car Behind You

Recently, I heard Paul Pisano of the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) give an inspiring talk sponsored by the University Center for Atmospheric Research about how high tech helps to keep us safer on snow-swept and other climate-changed highways.  (His talk, incidentally, was at the Boulder Chautauqua in Colorado where I was vacationing with my family, and perhaps the most remarkable thing about it was that residents paid $10 to attend, illustrating the high degree of interest in learning what's new in climate.)

Paul manages research and development programs that address the effect of weather on all aspects of the highway system, including winter maintenance, traffic management and traveler information. He noted that in 2010, 7,130 people died on America’s highways from adverse weather conditions. Indeed, one in four of the nation’s 1.5 million-plus crashes annually (24%) is due to bad weather. (See chart.) In addition, trucking delays due to weather cost more than $3.1 billion annually for the 50 largest U.S. cities. And, lost productivity from snow closures can cost up to $10 billion a day.

The FHWA employs many tactics to keep the roads as safe as possible in adverse weather, but the one I find most compelling relies on the cars that drive the roads. Cars can gather data on air temperature, barometric pressure, headlight status and windshield-wiper use, among other measures. Sharing such data with FHWA allows the agency to determine everything from whether precipitation is falling to whether standing water exists on the road. These mobile-data sources offer a thorough picture of the weather, informing decisions about what sort of equipment and chemicals are deployed, what warnings are shared with drivers and, in the event of an accident, what weather impact might have contributed to it.

Given the mass of vehicles on the roads and how many miles they’re driven, the amount of data about them can prove overwhelming. And driver anonymity also is a factor. Still, I’m hopeful that as we enter an era of more severe and unpredictable weather, vehicle data will combine with traditional meteorological observations in intelligent ways to reduce delays and accidents on our highways.

Climate Adaptation: Basic Risk Management

Climate Adaptation: Basic Risk Management

Climate adaptation fits squarely in your corporation’s risk management platform.  Every cent spent to decrease the risk of loss of employee work time, supplier-chain disruption and building livability will be worth it.  That’s why it’s important to consider what climate change adaptation means for the success of your business today and in the future.
For this discussion, let’s just consider the generic adaptation required for companies regardless of the geography of their facility holdings.  Factors that may require adaptation response include Extreme heat in the summer, significant changes to ecosystems, growing flood risks, extreme rain and snow events, and additional stresses on health.  If your company has coastal and western holdings, we’ll discuss another time the risks of sea-level rise, land inundation and severe water shortages on operations.
For context, consider that scientists predict Chicago will experience more than 30 days a year of temperatures above 100O F by the end of the century compared to an average of just one day annually in the last Century. (And note that in 2010, 10 U.S. states had their hottest summer on record and all but seven states posted above-normal temperatures. Summer nighttime heat records were set in 37 states and the June-August global land surface temperature was the warmest on record.)
In addition, the extreme snows this winter, as well as unpredictable wind and rain storms that took lives and ravaged neighborhood infrastructure this summer, contribute to the predictions that we will receive much more precipitation when we do not need it – and less when we do.
So being climate-change ready this summer may be as simple as:
·         Ensuring that your company has a strong telecommuting infrastructure for days employees cannot get to the office.
·         Reminding employees up and down the chain to drink water, seek cooling centers and stay out of the sun on days of extreme heat.
·         Allowing employees to leave the office in advance of a storm that might cut off transportation from work to home (especially crucial for employees caring for elderly or disabled relatives at home or responsible for transporting children to and from school).
It also could entail taking careful stock of any of your holdings within the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s (FEMA) 100-year flood plain; ensuring that any toxic materials (deicers and fertilizers, in addition to industrial materials) are stored away from areas that could flood; and considering the probable impacts of a power disruption on your operations – disruptions to plumbing and other easy-to-forget situations as well as to your computers and network, elevators and phones.