Learning About Climate Science Doesn’t Require a Degree

Climate Advisory

Perhaps one of the most intimidating aspects of climate change is the feeling that you need to come to the table as a climate science expert before fully participating in discussions.  This is simply not true.  Climate change is much more than just the science – it is about the potential impacts to our society, our economic base, built and natural environments, the very basic aspects of survivability: having access to clean air, water and a predictable food source. 

Each one of us has a different subject matter expertise and none of us – the scientist, the economist, the engineer, the planner, the social scientist, the farmer, the investor, the student, the politician, the conservationist, the citizen – can solve it on our own.  It requires a collaboration across all these disciplines and more.  It requires insight into every facet of our reality – something that does not lie with any one discipline, community, government or individual.

With that said, it also requires us to be active and open to new learning.  To be informed on certain matters without needing to be the actual subject matter expert – or feeling intimidated to say as much.  And to be confident that each one of us has something meaningful to contribute to these discussions.

The extent and breadth of research being carried out with respect to climate science is vast.  The intent of this blog series is not to provide a comprehensive overview of that work.  Rather, the goal is to provide access to relevant resources and highlights of recent findings that can be used for current and future climate planning efforts.  It is part of our firm’s initiative: to take the mystery out of climate change and make resilience an achievable goal.

Where to Start

There is a cornucopia of climate resources on the web.  Below is a representative listing of some of those sources.  This listing in no way implies that they are necessarily the best for every type of use but they should provide useful insights as you start to translate climate science into potential risks – whether that be for a particular geography or across a portfolio of assets, etc.

Introduction to the Science behind Climate Change

Two very accessible references include  NASA’s Vital Signs of the Planet: Global Climate Change and Global Warming and a PowerPoint presentation complete with a bibliography and notes from Climate Central.

Climate Change Projections

For an understanding of national, regional and state summaries, consult The National Climate Assessment.  The peer-reviewed, collaborative work lays out climate change projections and their associated impacts for US jurisdictions, including economic and public health considerations.

 A useful resource for even more localized climate projections is the recently released Climate Toolbox. The Future Climate Dashboard is especially useful for areas where detailed climate projections may not be readily available or standardized.  As shown below, the tool provides a dashboard view of several climate indicators for a variety of planning horizons and two separate emission scenarios (RCP 4.5 and 8.5).

Figure 1: Screenshots from Climate Toolbox of dashboards showing precipitation and temperature projections under RCP 8.5 for Portland, Maine.

Flooding Projections

Sea level rise and coastal flooding associated with climate change have received significant attention during the past decade.  There are a variety of proprietary and public sources of information, and some states and municipalities have further refined their level of modeling.  Two easy-to-use, public sources of mapped flooding projections include: NOAA’s Sea Level Rise Viewer; Climate Central’s Surging Seas Risk Finder maps.

Precipitation-based flooding has received less attention but is something that affects a greater proportion of our land mass.  The First Street Foundation recently released the Flood Factor tool which has proven useful in providing a first-level proxy of potential flood pathways considering precipitation-based and other types of flooding.  As with all models, it needs to be further vetted, but it should be useful for initial planning efforts.

 Figure 2: Screenshot of Flood Factor results for Cedar Falls, Iowa.

Translating the Data into Vulnerabilities and Risks

There are many modules and tools that are available – some free, some not; some standardized, some with a high degree of nuanced detailing and process.  Climate assessments are often complex and may ultimately require engaging academics and professionals.  However, hiring a consultant may not be a readily-available option and/or there may be a desire to complete some level of “baselining” before bringing a subject matter expert on board. 

Below are three publicly-available methodologies with a community-, asset owner- or investor- end user in mind.  Again, the listing below in no way suggests a particular endorsement but rather is used to highlight the types of resources that are already available and being actively used within the climate change consulting field.  

Communities: Climate Ready Communities

Recognizing the need for greater access to climate planning resources, the Geos Institute developed a step-by-step process for conducting a community-wide climate vulnerability assessment that is available free of charge.  Communities can complete the entire process on their own or opt for a hybrid approach by hiring consultants for discrete tasks as they advance the work. 

Asset Owners: FHWA Vulnerability Assessment and Adaptation Framework

While this particular methodology is aimed towards transportation-related assets, the overall process, questions asked and areas of focus have a broad applicability across various classes of assets and infrastructure and could be easily adopted for those types of uses.

Investors: Taskforce on Climate-related Financial Disclosure (TCFD)

Climate risks, including both mitigation (carbon reduction efforts) and adaptation (preparing for climate impacts), were not being properly captured or accounted for in financial markets. The TCFD initiative provides guidance on how to identify and disclose those risks using investor-relevant criteria.  While this disclosure is still largely “voluntary,” it is quickly becoming industry standard.  

Keeping up with the Latest Trends

Two of the most widely-recognized science journals publishing peer-reviewed research on climate research include Science and Nature Climate Science.  However, nearly all of these articles require paid access and the technical style of writing often makes it difficult to readily translate the findings into practical applications.  News organizations such as the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Bloomberg, Reuters and others publish prolifically on climate science.  The news organizations do a good job translating the “so what?” aspects of the more technical writings, and are probably the better place to start in understanding the practical relevance.

Future Climate Science Blogs

The intent of this first blog is to provide access to sources of information around climate projections that help to answer the question: What is the relevance of climate change for me?  Subsequent blogs will build upon this base. They will feature new climate science research and discuss the implications of those findings on our current and longer-term resilience strategies. 

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