Urgent prep work: Climate science, disaster relief converge at conference

May 20, 2013 by Alvin Powell
Professor of Earth and Planetary Sciences Peter Huybers spoke at “2013 Humanitarian Action Summit: Climate and Crisis,” which included an overview of climate change as well as talks on climate change and food security, conflict and migration, humanitarian aid, climate predictions, and related initiatives in humanitarian organizations. Credit: Kris Snibbe/Harvard Staff Photographer

They didn't always speak the same language, but climate scientists and disaster relief workers wrapped up a meeting Tuesday in agreement about the importance of leveraging climate insights into improved disaster preparedness as the planet warms.

The two-day conference was a rare convergence of two communities that, if the direst predictions come true, may get to know each other much better in the coming decades.

"We're going to rely on you to deal with the mess that's coming," Daniel Schrag, director of the Harvard University Center for the Environment (HUCE), Sturgis Hooper Professor of Geology, and professor of environmental science and engineering, told the humanitarian relief workers at the event. "You're going to be critical and you're going to have your hands full."

Topics at the event, "2013 Humanitarian Action Summit: Climate and Crisis," included an overview of climate change as well as talks on climate change and food security, conflict and migration, humanitarian aid, , and related initiatives in humanitarian organizations. It was co-sponsored by the Harvard Humanitarian Initiative (HHI) and the Harvard University Center for the Environment, and held at the American Academy of Arts and Sciences in Cambridge.

Attendees included representatives from a variety of academic and nonprofit organizations, including Oxford University, the University of Liberal Arts in Bangladesh, Oxfam, the , AmeriCares, MIT, Stanford, the Brookings Institution, the World Bank, and the Conrad Hilton Foundation.

A major hurdle remains the translation of long-term into predictions about regional . Although there seemed to be little doubt of the growing relationship between human-induced climate change and , pinpointing trends precisely enough to be useful to relief organizations will be difficult, speakers said.

If long-term trends are clear, the natural variability in the weather on any given day makes it difficult to predict very far into the future. That's not to say predictions can't help.

Speakers pointed out that weather forecasting has improved significantly in recent decades, so that a 10-day forecast—nonexistent not so many years ago—is reasonably accurate today. Accuracy degrades rapidly beyond that, however, and predictability from a few months up to a decade away is very poor, after which longer-term trends can be discerned. Improved computing power should continue to improve forecasts, but there will remain a certain amount of unpredictability, said Mark Cane, a professor of Earth and climate sciences at Columbia University.

scientists do understand some specific drivers of regional weather, and there are useful steps that can be taken even based on long-term outlooks. For example, the relationship between weather patterns and the El Nino and La Nina events in the equatorial Pacific are better understood. Though predicting the magnitude of an El Nino/La Nina remains difficult, scientists know that an El Nino is linked to heavy rains in western South America, drought in southern Africa, cool and wet weather in the southern U.S., and dry weather in Australia, which might shed light on the likelihood of crop failures, water shortages, and flooding. Also, knowing that record-setting heat waves will become more frequent will allow officials to take preparedness steps in cities with vulnerable elderly populations even if a heat wave cannot specifically be predicted far in advance.

El Nino and La Nina are such powerful drivers of local conditions in the regions they affect that a study of 93 tropical nations found that the annual risk of conflict decreases significantly from El Nino years to La Nina years, comparable to increasing annual per capita income in a nation from $1,000 to $10,000, Cane said.

The U.S. Agency for International Development has already begun to use data in its Famine Early Warning Systems Network, which uses and other information to give advance warning to places at risk of food shortages and famine.

"Any increase in predictability will be useful," said Michael Delaney of Oxfam. "I don't think we have to wait until it's perfect to use it."

HHI co-founders Jennifer Leaning, Bagnoud Professor of the Practice of Health and Human Rights, and Michael VanRooyen, HHI director, professor of medicine, and professor of global health and population, said that follow-up between and disaster relief specialists will be key. VanRooyen said it's likely a small working group will be organized to continue the conversation and develop real-world applications.

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Neinsense99
3.9 / 5 (14) May 20, 2013
Soon enough, there will comments here that twist the call for more study in some areas into manufactured doubt about matters that are well understood and effectively settled.
freethinking
1.3 / 5 (15) May 20, 2013
Yea, since 1998 there has been no increase in atmospheric temperatures.
deepsand
3.2 / 5 (18) May 20, 2013
Yea, since 1998 there has been no increase in atmospheric temperatures.

That's funny, considering that the cherry-picked HADCRUT data that you and your ilk have been touting shows a WARMING trend over the past four years. LOL
freethinking
1.3 / 5 (14) May 21, 2013
AGW prophets are saying the globe is still warming even though temps haven't gone up for 15 years. Other Progressives are blaming the recent tornadoes on global warming. Funny thing is, many years ago when another string of tornadoes hit, they blamed global cooling.

Woops, since I've disagreed with progressives, now I'm going to be audited by the IRS, once Obama care comes into effect, will be denied medical treatments, I'll have my emails and phone calls tapped.

Gotta love progressives, truth doesn't matter with them.

1'st amendment - under attack by Obama.
2'nd amendment - under attack by Obam
deepsand
3.4 / 5 (17) May 21, 2013
That's rich, free_from_thinking. When you're at a loss to defend your position with Science, evade by misdirecting discussion to matters of Politics.

BTW, how about the Bush administration using the IRS, the FBI and the CIA do do just what you accuse Obama of doing? Oh, and, what about the Republicans falsifying e-mails re. Benghazi?

freethinking
1.3 / 5 (13) May 21, 2013
deepsand.... got your talking points from Obama today?

http://www.weekly...706.html

However IF Bush did things like Obama just did, then you agree, like conservatives have been saying for many years, that it shows we need smaller government with less power. Big government is not to be trusted.
deepsand
3.1 / 5 (17) May 21, 2013
Have you anything of substance to say re. matter of Science?

PS: to say that the problem is the size of government is most naive. Consider, if you will, the amount of corruption that occurs at the level of unincorporated local municipalities.
freethinking
1 / 5 (12) May 23, 2013
Deepsand, got your talking points for today from Obama yet.
Or better yet one day will you say the following in jail.
When Gov went after religious freedom, I didn't say a word, as I wasn't religious.
When Gov went after conservatives, I didn't say a word, as I was a Progressive.
When Gov went after those who owned guns, I didn't say a word, as I hate guns.
When Gov went after those that were pro-life, I didn't say a word, as I believe in killing the unborn.
When Gov went after Parents who wanted to educate their children as they saw fit, I didn't say a word, as I believe only government can teach children.
When Gov went after the free press, I didn't say a word, I got my talking points directly from Obama.
When Gov finally went after me, because I made a mistake in my politically correct thinking, no one was left who cared.

BTW, you are right. Having progressives at any level of Gov is a disaster. Chicago anyone?
deepsand
3.4 / 5 (15) May 24, 2013
Have you anything of substance to say re. matter of Science?
Neinsense99
3.5 / 5 (11) May 25, 2013
Have you anything of substance to say re. matter of Science?

Oh, such a draconian request. A challenge akin to the labors of Hercules, no less. Is the free-of-thinking one up to the task?
JohnGee
3.2 / 5 (13) May 25, 2013
Funny freethinking, I'm assuming you are referencing Martin Niemöller's statement about Nazi brutality. Have you ever actually read it? I'll quote it for you.

"First they came for the communists,
and I didn't speak out because I wasn't a communist.

Then they came for the socialists,
and I didn't speak out because I wasn't a socialist.

Then they came for the trade unionists,
and I didn't speak out because I wasn't a trade unionist.

Then they came for me,
and there was no one left to speak for me."

Hmm, I wonder which side you would have been on.
Howhot
5 / 5 (5) May 28, 2013
Mr. @Freesex said;
Or better yet one day will you say the following in jail.
When Gov went after religious freedom, I didn't say a word, as I wasn't religious.
When Gov went after conservatives, I didn't say a word, as I was a Progressive.
When Gov went after those who owned guns, I didn't say a word, as I hate guns.
When Gov went after those that were pro-life, I didn't say a word, as I believe in killing the unborn.
ETC....
The only reason I would ever be in jail (as you say) is if a fascist totalitarian government took over the US an dictated the laws that you seem to espouse. As a progressive I strongly believe in Women's reproductive rights. It is that or you believe in forcing women to be government baby making machinery. Which do you want, more government or less? Is this where you want government to be?

So what do you want government to do? Micromanage your sex life (and the others you want to force to make babies), or something else.
Howhot
5 / 5 (5) May 29, 2013
I will bet @freethink doesn't reply. Waiting..
deepsand
3.3 / 5 (14) May 29, 2013
I will bet @freethink doesn't reply. Waiting..

He's waiting for orders from his fuehrer.
Howhot
5 / 5 (5) May 29, 2013
@deep, I don't think the @freesex-ter is going to reply. Everyone knows when they have been Checkmated.
Neinsense99
3.2 / 5 (9) May 30, 2013
I will bet @freethink doesn't reply. Waiting..

He's waiting for orders from his fuehrer.


So that's what Rush is doing these days!
freethinking
1 / 5 (7) May 30, 2013
unfortunately, unlike many who post here, I do not get funding from the government and need to work.

Funny thing is that many people who post here echo (just like most of the media) the talking points of Obama. Progressives don't need to think, Obama speaks for them.

When a progressive speaks on a woman's right to choose, they actually care less about choice, what they actually mean they are for killing of babies. Obama since he supports late term abortion, has no issues with scissors being plunged into babies skulls

http://www.thebla...ttorney/

But hey, killing the weak, the useless, the defective is a hallmark of progressives.

Hezbollah Progressives use the IRS, DOJ, and other government agencies to enforce minor rules for the general population, while violating any rule they desire to further their cause. Eric Holder anyone?
deepsand
3.3 / 5 (12) May 31, 2013
free_from_thinking appears to be auditioning for a part in the stage play production of Groundhog Day.
Neinsense99
3.2 / 5 (9) Jun 03, 2013
free_from_thinking appears to be auditioning for a part in the stage play production of Groundhog Day.

Off-broadway, for sure.