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Live Chat with TED Speaker Vicki Arroyo: Preparing for our changing climate

TED Speaker and executive director of the Georgetown Climate Center, Vicki Arroyo, will be joining us for a special one-hour live Q&A session with the TED community!

Since much of her research didn't make it into the final video, she'll be fielding questions on the science behind her inspiring talk, as well as further discussion about what we can do to prepare our homes and cities for the new climate.

Date: Friday, October 5th
Time: 12pm-1pm Eastern time


Closing Statement from TED Live Chats

From Vicki Arroyo:

Again, I would like to thank Aja and the TED staff for this opportunity and those who wrote in.
For more information and to see some of the tool kits I mentioned, please visit our adaptation clearinghouse at www.adaptationclearinghouse.org. I hope this conversation helps you elevate this discussion of preparedness in your own communities – wherever you call “home.”

  • Oct 5 2012: Hi Vicki,

    Are coastal cities doing anything to provide efficient public transportation in evacuations? I have friends who barely made it out of New Orleans before Katrina, because the city ran out of gas for cars. Would it be possible to create a simple public transportation-based solution for people to use as soon as they decide they want to leave?
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      Oct 5 2012: Hi Desiree - I am sorry to hear about your friends' problems! There were so many missteps and missed opportunities to help people in advance of the storm. Douglas Brinkley's fabulous book about Katrina -- The Great Deluge -- notes that empty Amtrak trains were offered to the City to evacuate prior to the storm.
      Many of the cities buses were left in low-lying areas and flooded with the rest of the city. About 250,000 vehicles were found floating in the floodwaters: like the car that floated into my mom's Gentilly home in that photo I showed at TED. We absolutely have to be smarter about how to inform people where they can get rides out of town. I think this lesson was learned given the deplorable conditions and loss of life at the Superdome and Convention Center - the idea of sheltering people in the city when a mandatory evacuation is called is crazy and it cannot happen again and so they have to have other options -- and time! -- to evacuate in advance.
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    Oct 5 2012: Hi Vicki! You had some great examples in your talk of changes that have taken place in New Orleans during its rebuilding to protect it from further damage. In your work so far, have you seen any cases of communities making these kinds of changes on a totally preemptive level?
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      Oct 5 2012: Hi Morton - some states and communities in the U.S. and around the world are planning with these changes in mind. Seventeen US states have adopted or are working on adaptation plans, and a number of cities and counties are looking at their vulnerabilities and incorporating changes into transportation plans, water treatment, coastal planning, and more. Even beyond states and communities calling this work "adaptation" to climate change, there are others changing various practices because they see changes on the ground - for example, engineers who are replacing smaller culverts with much larger ones to carry more water because they are experiencing more high-precipatation events.
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    Oct 5 2012: I think we need to pay attention to key environmental factors around us.

    1) Bodies of water
    2) Power plants
    3) Bio hazards (storage facilities)
    4) Get to know your Emergency staff (Go bring your firefighters some cupcakes!)

    Understand a plan of action for every possible scenario. Make 3x5 cards with the notes for each occasion. Label them for quick reference in case of an emergency.

    1) Tornado
    2) Earthquake
    3) Flood

    Then write the steps necessary to execute a good plan.

    1) Go-Bag - Get a bag ready for each family member with enough items to last at least a few days (I say 7). Have these bags ready and stored in a place that you can get to easily.

    When storing these items...do not put them on the second story of your house or apartment...or in the attic. Emergency bags should be stored near the exit or general area of an exit.

    Other good ideas:
    1) Multiple means of transport
    2) Maps of escape routes
    3) Wind up radio
    4) Flash lights
    5) Fire starters
    6) Sleeping bag
    7) Weapons
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      Oct 5 2012: most of us don't make emergency plans for any of these and other more common threats, and so I agree it's good to think through these things in advance, though what might work for some scenarios will not work in others, so makes sense to consider different threats (fires vs. floods vs. terrorism) and think if your strategy will work. I stupidly stored important papers in the basement of my Arlington home that had some water after Hurricane Isabel passed. Maybe that's better in the case of a tornado or windstorm, but not good in a flood.
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    Oct 5 2012: Hi again Vicki, I'm wondering if you could share any thoughts about what we could be doing to prepare our coastal airports. You mentioned this in your talk, but are there any real solutions for such massive infrastructure? Should we move the airports? Put runways on stilts?
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      Oct 5 2012: I like the runways on stilts idea - but it might be a bit scary to fly into one! Given the incredible economic value of airports, I do not doubt that we will find ways to protect or move some of that infrastructure.
      It will not be cheap or easy, but it's so central to trade, business, tourism, and more. The analysis will have to be site-specific to determine the best options over the long-term. And in the near-term, we should all be asking these questions as airports get renovated and expanded (as is happening now in New Orleans, ironically).
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    Oct 5 2012: Hi Vicky;
    Recently Nigeria's coastal states has been experiencing fatal floodings.
    With your experience and expertise; what do you think should be the focus of research institutions in Africa as it pertains to climate change?
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      Oct 5 2012: Thank you for reaching out. There's a great deal of work that can be done to develop crops that will survive in new conditions, anticipating the problems of more water stress, for example - my friends Kris Ebi and Joel Smith are doing some of this work in Mali.
      The slide I showed of Bangladesh regards a flood warning system that could give advance notice to move people, animals, and equipment out of harms' way when flooding is anticipated. This was developed in part by our National Center on Atmospheric Research here in the US, but given satellites and other technologies, these techniques can be exported to help in Africa and elsewhere.
      For coastal areas, hard questions are being raised about what areas to protect (with levees) or change (e.g.,bstilts) or relocate - and when we plan, we need to think about protecting the critical ecosystems (wetlands, mangroves, and beaches) along our coasts as well. If we just put up walls we will lose many vital ecosystems that we depend on for fishing,etc. Thanks!
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    Oct 5 2012: I was listening to an Australian scientist on one our talkback radio stations and he said that the Great barrier reef has been eaten away by certain starfish that thrives in high nitrogen waters,50% of the Barrier is now gone.
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      Oct 5 2012: Coral reefs around the world are in trouble in part because of higher temperatures contributing to bleaching. But as you mention, there are already other stressors like nitrogen and other pollutant runoff, damage from boats and anchors, etc. And others are plundered for profit. So as with so many issues, the impacts of climate change just add to a list of existing stressors. It's important, then, to start tackling some of these more manageable localized stressors to try to give corals and other vulnerable species the best possible shot at being resilient to changes in temperature.
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    Oct 5 2012: Yay i managed to wake up to ask one Q before the session finishes,Damn Nz time,Hi Vicki

    Would painting our roofs white help in reflecting heat? though it won't change the climate.I live in Nz and we've been experiencing a lot of high winds,they say it will become norm as the change progresses,one side of the country will become drier where is the other side will become wetter.
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      Oct 5 2012: Good morning then! Yes, in general, roofs and other surfaces (pavements, exterior walls) can be more reflective and could have a significant effect on urban heat island by increasing what's known as the "albedo effect" - more heat is reflected into space. This could be especially important given the loss of so much reflective sea ice due to warming.
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        Oct 5 2012: Some say that it's due to slight oscillations over long periods of time that we are headed into a fast warming stage except there is no past instance where an organism has helped the climate change like we are doing,some say that warming is good for crop cultivation in areas of high altitude.My city is bordered by two harbours,we're surrounded by water and yet to experience a major event like that of New Orleans,the day we see a hurricane on our doorstep is the day i mark as the world has changed,crossed fingers it doesn't happen.

        Oh Good morning just had the coffee fuel up and rearing to get typing for a windy Sat morning.
  • Oct 5 2012: Hi Vicki,

    Thanks for the mention on the tool kit! I wondered if you had any perspective on the role that the federal government could play in supporting states and local communities in adapting to climate change. Are there roles they are playing, or could be?
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      Oct 5 2012: Hi Sara! As I point out in the talk, many federal governments - including ours here in the US - are starting to take a hard look at the implications of climate change for their agencies and the public they serve. In fact, under an Executive Order signed by President Obama, all federal agencies were to submit adaptation plans this June. These have not yet been released (we should ask them to do that soon!) and even then, it's only a first step. There is a great deal the federal government can do to promote state and local adaptation. For starters, encourage them to invest differently with climate change in mind. We often hear there are barriers to making changes in the way infrastructure is built - or even rebuilt after a storm or flood. I was pleased to see US Dept. of Transportation's Federal Highways Administration clarifying that states and others can spend federal resources in a way that recognizes changes due to climate change (rising seas, greater heat impacts, drought, etc). Of course, more federal dollars would help too, but this is a good start.
  • Oct 5 2012: Hi Vicki,

    Today, even with greater awareness and more methods and policies being employed in green energy and recycling, is it too little and too late to prevent what appears to be a global environmental nightmare from occurring in this century?
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      Oct 5 2012: Hi Mark- it's easy to be overwhelmed when you consider the rate and severity of the changes we are seeing - in our oceans (acidification), ecosystems, and even in our communities. We absolutely need to take steps that you mention to recycle and do what we can as individuals, but we need policymakers across the globe to step up in order to see the tremendous change in "business as usual" that we need.
      So we need to make this more of a priority and start calling it out. Where is this issue in the campaign season, for example? Why has it become difficult to utter the words "global warming" or "climate change" at a time when the impacts are mounting and the clock is running? We need to call on our government leaders to step up so we can avoide the worst nightmare scenarios. And in the meantime (and even then) we have to find ways to prepare and sometimes just muddle through it. As I've seen with my own family, it's not easy or painless. But we have to do what we can where we can. Thanks for the question and hang in there!
  • Oct 5 2012: “In your talk you mentioned green roofs being used in Chicago and DC, what other tools are available to reduce heat?”
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      Oct 5 2012: Sure - And for those wanting more information, our terrific colleague Sara Hoverter did a full "tool kit" report on this subject that's available on our "adaptation clearinghouse - www.adaptationclearinghouse.org"
      Things like planting trees, using reflective pavements and roofs as I mentioned in another reply, and creating more greenspace are important methods of reducing urban heat island impacts - they also have the benefit of creating more healty communities with better quality of life. Of course, the infrastructure is just a part of protecting people from heatwaves - emergency preparedness and outreach to the vulnerable neighborhoods is important. Some communities are doing "mapping" to learn which neighborhoods are expected to experience more heat impacts and direct resources and outreach accordingly. Thanks for your question.
  • Oct 5 2012: Hi Vicki -
    Your talk was thoughtful and engaging! Can you talk a little bit about the importance of mitigation v/ adaptation/preparedness? I understand that we are already beginning to experience what a changed climate might look like - and thus we need to begin to prepare; relatively speaking how much effort should we expend in preparing for a changed climate v/ slowing emissions?

    thanks for time - and your insights!
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      Oct 5 2012: Thanks for the question. As I was pointing out to John, we do need to do both. We can't successfully adapt to all of the changes that are coming - including ocean acidification, for example, and so we absolutely need to curb emissions that contribute to climate change. In my talk, I provide a couple of examples where the steps taken to adapt also help us with slowing climate change or "mitigation." For example, cool white roofs are reflective and so they curb heat for those inside and nearby but they can also reduce the need for air conditioning - using CO2-based energy. The wetlands restoration projects I showed also have the additional benefit of capturing or "sequestering" carbon from the atmosphere. So some measures provide both adaptation and mitigation benefits - and these should be the easy "low hanging" fruit we go after quickly.
  • Oct 5 2012: Given all the politics on this issue, will we ever see national action to mitigate climate change? I agreed with your talk, but eventually we're going to have to take some actions to prevent the worst disasters from happening.
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      Oct 5 2012: That's absolutely right, John. We can't "adapt" our way out of all the changes that are in store. Natural ecosystems and wildlife can't all successfully migrate with this rapid rate of change, and not everyone has the resources to sufficiently plan and adapt. We need policies to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in order to curb the most serious effects of climate change and to allow us to manage our risks and adapt successfully.
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    Oct 5 2012: Hi Vicki! Thank you for joining us! I loved your talk, and I'm looking forward to seeing more of your thoughts on what we can all do to prepare for climate change.

    I'm particularly curious about your work at the Georgetown Climate Center. Could you tell us more about the projects you're working on?
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      Oct 5 2012: Thanks Aja, our Center was formed about 4 years ago to serve as a resource to the states on climate and energy issues. We work on clean energy as well as adaptation and preparedness. Many states and communities are asking our staff policy analysts and attorneys how they can make changes with climate change in mind. They are already seeing changes on the ground in their communities and we are privileged to help.
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        Oct 5 2012: Thank you! Would you mind sharing a few examples? I find it very inspiring to hear about real changes people are making!
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    Oct 5 2012: I want to thank everyone for joining and taking the time to view and comment on my talk about preparing for climate change, and also thank the terrific TED staff for pulling together this forum. It's a great platform for the exchange of ideas. Tackling a huge subject like global climate change and preparedness isn’t easy to do in a 15 minute TED talk, and with the final version edited down to 10 minutes, some of the scientific context and nuance is missed. I’m happy to have this conversation in a more relaxed format and to address some of the comments that have come in. I agree with those who point out other factors contribute to New Orleans' vulnerability (e.g., subsidence of land, wetlands loss) and indeed, my actual talk did note that storm intensities (and storm surges) there and elsewhere have been fueled “in part” by record breaking temperatures and accelerating sea-level rise, and noted that “scientists say we are in for more extreme weather.” Katrina does offer a lens to see what my hometown and other communities will face, and so my focus (at TED’s request) was not on laying out the whole scientific case, but rather on the need to prepare and steps that governments and others are taking. I look forward to today’s discussion!Thanks again for being here.