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Climate Change Data Object of New White House Initiative

climate changeThe White House Climate Data Initiative aims to gather data related to climate change and assemble everything in one location. The beta version of the site will display data on flooding and coastal flooding.

The National Aeronautics and Space Administration, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and the White House are working with technology companies to create the site and the database behind it. Google and Microsoft are two of the biggest partners. The site will expand to offer information on how climate change will affect public health, food supplies, and energy sources.

John Podesta, a senior advisor to the president, said that this new site will make clearer the costs of inaction on climate change. Podesta also said a new climate change initiative focused on energy efficiency would be coming soon. He also reported that he spends about half of his time on climate change issues.

The site, Climate.Data.Gov, will pull data from the 10,000 data sets now available on Data.Gov.

One of the new site’s tools, called Surging Seas, helps users calculate the effects of a storm surge on towns in Florida, New Jersey, and New York. The site also gives users access to 22 other tools including a Stormwater Calculator, which estimates future rainfall in any part of the United States. The other tools deal with the needs of coastal communities for planning, forecasting, and emergency management.

The Climate Data Initiative is the latest in a series of initiatives designed to help the nation deal with climate change. In February, President Obama instructed the Agriculture Department to create a series of “climate hubs” that will help farmers prepare for drought, floods, wildfires, and pests. The new initiative has as its object the presentation of much more climate change data, the White House said.

President Obama also plans to ask Congress for $1 billion in the 2015 budget to fund a “climate resiliency fund” to support research aimed at adapting to climate change.

In September, the EPA issued rules that require lower greenhouse gas emissions from new power plants.

The Climate Data Initiative has a dual purpose. In addition to providing useful data, the White House hopes the site will reduce resistance to climate change policy and spur action by citizens. The ability to see how storm surges and flooding will affect a person’s home or neighborhood may make the case for climate change adaption compelling, where general warnings have not had much effect.

This new series of climate change initiatives comes at a time when global warming ranks near the bottom of American’s list of concerns, far behind the economy and the growing power of the federal government. A January poll from Pew Research had climate change at 19th in a list of 20 concerns Congress and the President should address. A March Gallup poll ranked climate change 13th out of 14 issues for the number of Americans who say they are “very concerned.”

Some private sector efforts to use the data are underway. Esri, a Redlands, WA company that specializes in geographic information systems, plans to work with a dozen cities and counties to help them address pressing concerns related to climate change. The company has an app that shows how many people would be displaced by a 1-meter rise in sea level.

The Desert Research Institute is working with Google, the University of Idaho, and the University of Nebraska to develop a drought mapping tool. This tool would help farmers and ranchers better understand the drought risk in their area.

The Climate Data Initiative may share data as the main object, but the President must hope that the new climate change information will move attitudes and behaviors too.

By Chester Davis

Scientific American

Los Angeles Times

New York Times

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