A Safe US Future Hinges on a Program You May Have Never Heard Of

November 12, 2020 | 12:23 pm
Cpl. Alize Sotelo
Brenda Ekwurzel
Senior Climate Scientist, Director of Climate Science

This week, USGCRP has made headlines despite this six-letter federal program hardly ever being heard of by the public. But whether we know it or not, our lives and livelihoods are entwined with the United States Global Change Research Program (USGCRP). It coordinates the best climate information from the more famous three letter agencies–Department of Commerce (DOC), Department of Defense (DOD), Health and Human Services (HHS)–and others–all of which have identified climate change as a risk to the US.

USGCRP has already saved lives

A few years ago, at a Congressional field hearing, I heard a voice that rang clear from a leader with the DOD, one of the thirteen federal agencies that participate in the USGCRP.  The Vice Admiral and Superintendent of the United States Naval Academy at the time answered a question by describing the extreme sea surface temperatures he’d experienced aboard a navy vessel during military operations. He shared how they enacted mitigation measures to keep sailors safe.  The Vice Admiral reported successful navigation that protected lives and military assets as they ‘thread the needle’ between several North Atlantic tropical storms and hurricanes on their return trip to home port: An example of how risks from climate change are among the risks assessed during military operations.

Let’s imagine the USGCRP of the future

It’s 2030.  People are going about their normal activities when suddenly their plans are disrupted by a rapidly-strengthening hurricane heading for their community. A community leader is awakened by an alert from the device on the nightstand. That distills, in easily understandable terms, the relevant information from NASA and DOC (i.e. NOAA).

Mere hours later, community members are following that leader’s vehicle, which has DOT algorithms categorizing various evacuation routes based on models that project hours ahead road congestion points. Meanwhile, DOI and NOAA integrate tropical storm rainfall and river flood potential along the DOT evacuation routes.

These include real-time and forecast information for progress on local, regional, and federal emergency shelters as well as temporary shelter options with private businesses as reservations fill up.  And DOE has enabled people along each independent journey to have access to real-time and forecast information for location and timing of likely temporary power disruptions to vehicle charging stations during the storm.

If there were a public health risk, HHS would have the latest relevant information available and what to do to minimize any risks along each journey far from home.  All of this could occur via anonymous sharing across devices so most people would have equitable access to information during an extreme event.

This kind of coordination and community protection is possible. And in a world where climate change impacts grow more extreme, it’ll be necessary—and we’ll need a strong USGCRP to shepherd it.

Ensuring USGCRP fulfills its potential

Those who have valiantly worked in or contributed to the USGCRP know its tremendous potential. It has the power and experience to coordinate among departments, agencies and institutions. It can bring about the safety protection measures I describe above and much more.

I salute the talented who have and will continue to rotate from the thirteen federal agencies into and out of the USGCRP.  Our needs from this program will only grow, so it’s vital to continue the trend of attracting people with community experience across public and private sectors to this effort. In a warming world, USGCRP can help reduce risks and improve equity, justice, our very lives and livelihoods.



Posted in: Climate Change

Tags: climate change

About the author

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Brenda Ekwurzel ensures that program analyses reflect robust and relevant climate science, and researches the influence of major carbon producers on rising global average temperatures and sea level. Dr. Ekwurzel is a co-author of the fourth National Climate Assessment (NCA4) Volume II. She presents frequently to a range of audiences on climate science, educating the public on practical, achievable solutions for climate change.