New White House initiative tries to sway public on climate threats

Source: Jean Chemnick, E&E reporter • Posted: Thursday, March 20, 2014

The White House launched an effort today aimed at helping communities and individuals understand their vulnerability to climate change, starting with rising sea levels that will swamp the coasts.

The Climate Data Initiative springs from President Obama’s commitment last year to improve how the government provides information about warming. It’s also part of a broader push spearheaded by White House counselor John Podesta to make climate change more tangible to an American public that polls suggest sees the issue as distant and theoretical.

“Every citizen will be affected by climate change — and all of us must work together to make our communities stronger and more resilient to its impacts,” Podesta said today in a joint blog post with science adviser John Holdren.

The two will host an event tonight at the Eisenhower Executive Office Building to roll out the initiative.

The new initiative proposes to spread the word through a website — — which will allow the public to see National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and NASA data projections related to climate change. It will initially focus on rising seas and coastal flooding, but then broaden its scope to include other climate-related risks.

As part of the effort, NOAA and NASA will host a competition among private companies for visualizations and simulations “that help people understand their exposure to coastal-inundation hazards and other vulnerabilities.”

The National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency also released new mapping information today showing how climate change might affect bridges, roads, railroad tunnels, canals, river gauges and other infrastructure. And NOAA is soliciting comment from private-sector experts about ways to increase public access to its data.

“By taking the enormous data sets regularly collected by NASA, NOAA, and other agencies and applying the ingenuity, creativity, and expertise of technologists and entrepreneurs, the Climate Data Initiative will help create easy-to-use tools for regional planners, farmers, hospitals, and businesses across the country — and empower America’s communities to prepare themselves for the future,” Podesta and Holdren wrote in their blog post.

The two advisers also oversaw the White House’s announcement last month that Obama would ask for $1 billion for climate adaptation in his fiscal 2015 budget request.

But the so-called Climate Resilience Fund faces an uphill battle in the Republican-controlled House and the Climate Data Initiative may, as well.

Congress scrapped NOAA’s proposal during Obama’s first term to establish a National Climate Service that also would be aimed at improving the dissemination of data on warming.

The new initiative also includes a substantial role for companies, nongovernmental organizations, universities and the World Bank.

Geographic Information System software supplier Esri, Google and Microsoft Research are among the companies that have made early commitments under the program.

Google pledged to donate cloud computing and storage to make high-resolution maps, tools and data products publicly accessible. Esri will partner with 12 U.S. cities to help them prepare for droughts, heat waves or flooding.

The World Bank will launch a new manual for countries that want to better disseminate information on climate change to their citizens.