C.J. Huff and Vicki Arroyo on weather disasters

It’s hard for most of us to understand diasaster and resiliency quite the way C.J. Huff (PopTech 2012) does. He is the superintendent of Joplin Schools. He was also on the job on May 22, 2011, when the infamous tornado ripped through his home town. At PopTech 2012 Huffrecently discussed the compelling resiliency in Joplin that followed the apocolyptic disaster. Some of those lessons seem particularly relevant in the wake of Hurricane Sandy. “It is about tapping into the time, talent and treasure of our community,” he said while describing Joplin’s model for rapid, healthy recovery.

Huff was joined on stage by Vicki Arroyo (PopTech 2012), the executive director of the Georgetown Climate Center of Georgetown University Law Center. Arroyo  studies how cities can better design and maintain infrastructure to withstand weather-related catastrophes, another pertinent topic following Sandy.

And in a recent interview with PopTech, Arroyo highlighted a major question lingering in Sandy’s wake. Why are there so many more weather-related disasters these days? “Can we please talk about what is happening?” Arroyo asked.

Arroyo told PopTech that she hopes Sandy will finally catalyze honest talk about the real problem. “More scientists are feeling comfortable that we are seeing more super storms that are very consistent with climate change. It is just happening sooner than we expected.”

That trend seems to make irrelevant the bickering about whether a single storm is attributable to global warming.  “When you heat something up, you’ve got more energy,” she said about increasing ocean temperatures. “I think we really have a wake up call here,” Arroyo said about Sandy. “We are living in a different world. We have got to get serious about reducing our emissions.”

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Photo: NASA

Oldweather.org is where you can help improve reconstructions of past weather and climate across the world by finding and recording historical weather observations in handwritten Royal Navy ship logs.

In this video, project scientists explain how they use old weather data to reconstruct weather in the past.

Last week, the USAID focused its attention on resilience from an international perspective and specifically exploring ways to do business to avoid crises in the future. Of particular interest to the USAID is the horn of Africa where we held PopTech’s Climate Resilience Lab this past February. USAID explains:

While we can’t stop catastrophes from occurring, we can do more to help people withstand them so that they don’t shatter development gains or give rise to violence that can set countries back decades. USAID is committed to strengthening food security so that droughts no longer lead to food crises. We are committed to expanding our focus from relief to resilience-from responding after emergencies strike to preparing communities in advance.

For more, check out the conference and related conference papers and read the Communique for the Joint IGAD Ministerial and High Level Development Partners on Drought Resilience in the Horn of Africa (pdf).

Image: USAID.Africa

Last week, PopTech brought together an amazing and diverse group of thinkers, stakeholders, and domain experts in Nairobi, Kenya for our Climate Resilience Lab.  The three-day event was our first major convening around the issue of building resilience to climate change effects at the community level with a particular focus on identifying the roles of and opportunities for girls and women.

PopTech Labs are part of our ongoing mission to bring together carefully curated networks around issues of vital importance to business, society and the planet.  The goal of every Lab is to map a particular space, identify opportunities for disruptive innovation and ideas, and to collaboratively design unconventional actions to propel such ideas forward.  Labs foster sustained conversations that last well beyond the initial gathering as network ties deepen and new questions and solutions emerge.

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At PopTech’s Climate Resilience Lab at the Karen Country Lodge by Erik Hersman (via Instagram)

Thinking Fast and Slow about Climate Change

Think fast.

What’s the first thought that comes into your mind when you see “climate change”?

What’s the first thought that comes into your mind when you see “car crash”?

If you are like me, “climate change” conjures a vague image of melting ice and perhaps an image of a forlorn polar bear on a shrinking ice floe, while “car crash” produces a vivid image of twisted metal and broken glass. I’m fortunate because in the specific crash that comes to mind my son totaled his car but walked away uninjured. For many people the image will be much more tragic. By contrast, I suspect few, if anyone, immediately associate “climate change” with a specific image of someone they know who was injured or killed.

Now think slow.

As someone who studies climate change I can produce a litany of statistics: The 10 hottest years on record have all occurred since 1998, more than 30,000 people died in the 2003 European heat wave, record floods in Pakistan displaced million of people in 2010. But this takes work. In fact, I had to look up each of these statistics to make sure that I remembered it correctly.

PopTech-sponsored Climate Resilience Lab, Day One

Thoughts from Lab participant Ned Breslin:

Great day, fabulous people, learned a ton. Some key takeaways for me:  

  • Woman in Bangladesh reassess her situation after yet another flood wipes out her chickens.  Decides that ducks are a better option and is of course proven right.  Refers to ducks as “flood-proof chickens” – classic
  • We should marvel at the resilience and adaptation of many people around the world in the face of environmental challenges, economic shifts, and restrictive social and political environments that often undermine ingenuity and innovation.  People who rise in these situations are amazing to be sure.  But WOW are we asking a lot of them – and the real question is how much adaptation and resilience can a person, a family, a community, a country … be reasonably asked to make – over and over again, and where is that point where even the most resilient and adaptable can’t cope with the magnitude of the changes around them?
  • Women and girls of course are, in general, most susceptible to this vulnerability.  I loved the examples of women and girls who again emerged from environmental, economic, political and social challenges and thrived – and we had some good examples of this.
  • Organization I am most intrigued by thus far – Syngenta Foundation for Sustainable Agriculture – http://www.syngentafoundation.org - whose work with micro-insurance makes me want to understand more
  • Most excited to see the great work of Prolinnova in the field tomorrow – focused on water resource management and innovative ways to get the most from your water supply.  Very excited to see this!
Disasters flow along social contours, there’s no such thing as a natural disaster.
Joni SeagerProfessor of Global Studies at Bentley University and Climate Resilience Lab participant. (via poptechlabs)

NASA | Temperature Data: 1880-2011

The global average surface temperature in 2011 was the ninth warmest since 1880.The finding sustains a trend that has seen the 21st century experience nine of the 10 warmest years in the modern meteorological record. NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies (GISS) in New York released an analysis of how temperatures around the globe in 2011 compared to the average global temperature from the mid-20th century. The comparison shows how Earth continues to experience higher temperatures than several decades ago. The average temperature around the globe in 2011 was 0.92 degrees F (0.51 C) higher than the mid-20th century baseline.

(via poptechlabs)


“Climate is Culture” from the Cape Farewell North American launch in November. Big things forthcoming. Stay tuned.