Training for Climate Adaptation? We Already (kinda) Have It.

Eric Slatkin
Aug 16, 2019 · 7 min read

Climate Change is happening now. Our planet is changing in unprecedented ways. And while there are growing efforts to limit its potential damage, it’s now becoming apparent that we should also be preparing for what’s to come.

The budding field around this preparation is called Climate Adaptation.

Climate change adaptation is a response to global warming, that seeks to reduce the vulnerability of social and biological systems to relatively sudden change and thus offset the effects of global warming, including increases in the frequency or severity of weather-related disasters. [UNFCC]

You may have heard the term Climate Mitigation used as well, but they are a little different:

  • Mitigation involves attempts to slow the process of global climate change, by limiting and/or reversing the level of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere. That can be done by way of moving away from fossil fuels and replacing with renewable energy sources, and planting trees that absorb CO2 from the air.
  • Adaptation involves developing ways to protect people and places by reducing their vulnerability to climate impacts. For example, to protect against sea level rise and increased flooding, communities might build seawalls or relocate buildings to higher ground. [NASA CLIMATE]

The below image by the Australian Government’s leading health agency CSIRO, sums up some of the major systems-level strategies that are being thought through around adaptation:

Source: CSIRO | If you really want to deep dive: IPCC’s report on Adaptation Strategies.

The areas most at risk for Climate Change are the developing countries, which often do not have the same resources (Adaptive Capacity) to prepare as more developed countries. One beacon of hope on this front is The Green Climate Fund, a global initiative created by the United Nations, to invest in low-emission and climate resilient developments. This is currently the world’s largest climate fund, and has allocated over $5 billion to projects for things like: risk management for food security in Zimbabwe, climate resilient water management efforts in Pakistan, and building out solar infrastructure in Nigeria (there are currently 100+ similar projects worldwide).

While systems-level changes are integral, individuals are going to need to take part in adaptation efforts as well. In the near future, it may become our civic duty to prepare for and deal with the effects of climate change.

So we’re going to need programs for individuals focused on: education, training, and organizing around volunteering. And you may be wondering how in the US we’re actually going to get something like this approved and funded with the kind of stalemate Congress we all know and hate? But what if I told you the program already…kinda…exists?

That program would be called CERT or The Community Emergency Response Team. And as the name implies, its primary focus is on disaster preparedness and response education.

The Los Angeles Fire Department created the program back in 1986. It was shown to be a success during the 1987 Whittier Narrows Earthquake, and took off from there, with programs being established in fire stations across the Southland. In 1993, CERT became a national program, as part of FEMA (Citizens Corps). There are now CERT programs across all 50 states, with over 2,700 local CERT programs nationwide, and more than 600,000 individuals who’ve been trained. CERT has curriculums tailored for adults, college students, and teens.

The current program includes: Disaster Preparedness, Fire Suppression, Basic First Aid, Search and Rescue, Psychology and Team Organization. And the disaster preparedness component is regionally specific. As they explain on their site,

The CERT program was designed as a grassroots initiative and specifically structured so that the local and state program managers have the flexibility to form their programs in the way that best suits their communities. [ready.gov]

I took the training last year and while earthquakes and wildfires were part of our curriculum for Southern California, the CERT programs in Louisiana prepare residents for hurricanes and flooding, and the programs in the Midwest spend time educating about tornados.

So we already have a great National program for disaster relief education. The question is now — what would a Climate CERT look like?

The answer, just like CERT’s approach, is that it’s regionally contingent. Climate change will affect areas and communities differently — so an important first step to answer what to teach, will be to create a knowledge base and framework for how different regions across the US should be approaching Adaptation.

I’m not even going to set this next bit up with the how are we going to get all this done?? and just move onto the fact that it does indeed already exist as well! Americans have an all-encompassing resource, that’s been just sitting under our noses. It’s called: The US Climate Resilience Toolkit and was created in 2014 (you know, under Obama), through an interagency partnership. It’s managed by the smart people at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).

So what does it entail? The tl;dr is basically everything you’d need … But here are some of the highlights:

Steps To Resilience — This is a comprehensive curriculum for communities to learn about and identify specific climate hazards in their area and how they can go about creating workable solutions to limit risks. It’s around a week long course, with all the tools, videos (like below) and exercises a community needs to do a thorough assessment. All that’s needed is the citizens.

Note: This is a somewhat time intensive program, but wouldn’t have to be used in every CERT class. Instead, it could be done once up front for a community, and the findings would be used to tailor the curriculum of the CERT classes. And then, new assessments would probably have to be done at regular intervals as the climate changes / solutions change.

Tools – There are lots of great regional tools in the Climate Toolkit, but the first thing an individual should do is check out the The Climate Explorer: a well-designed, interactive map that allows you to plug in your location and see the historic and projected climate variables (including temperature, precipitation, and more) for any county in the US:

Habitat Seven built this tool and do lots of other great design work in climate as well!

Expertise / Info — You can also connect with local climate scientists and service centers to help you with your local plan, as well as others working on adaptation in their communities. And there is a robust knowledge-base on specific subjects that will need to incorporate adaptation into their future strategies, like food, built environment, and health.

There are even online self-guided courses!

You may be wondering, what specifically would come out of a Climate CERT course? Below are just a few examples (and by no means complete) of potential education and volunteer outcomes:

  • Education around drought and water conservation/re-use plans
  • Best practices to personally avoid heat exposure & first aid for heat stroke
  • General tips for creating climate resilience at home
  • Creating defensible space along your property for wildfires (SoCal)
  • Urban farming training / Food Independence
  • How to work with your community to combat heat islands in cities
  • Community involvement in building out flood defense systems & storm surge gates
  • Considerations around Managed Retreat*

*Managed Retreat is a sensitive topic and one that a local government can’t just spring upon a community. So it would be good to lay everything out in conversation preemptively, so residents have a framework for what it could actually entail if it were ever to happen to their community.

Where Do We Go From Here?

So with CERT & The Climate Toolkit, it’s clear we have the infrastructure and educational resources to build a Climate CERT. The question is now, how do we actually start to get this accomplished?

We need to first prove out this program: getting the curriculum and structure in place. This can be done independently to start, but ultimately needs buy-in from the regulatory agencies. So it makes sense to propose this first as a pilot program in one municipality.

And when thinking about a community who can guide this pilot effectively, for my money, there’s no better place than where CERT got its start, Los Angeles.

Los Angeles has a very active CERT community, and has shown its commitment to combatting climate change with the release of their own LA Green New Deal – an ambitious plan to have: 50% renewable energy in 5 years, plant 90K trees in the next 2 years, recycle 100% of waste water in 15 years , and electrify 100% of buses by 2030 … just to name a few. So Climate Change is top of mind for the city and something they’re putting resources towards.

So I’m proposing to petition the city of Los Angeles / LAFD to create this initial Climate CERT pilot project, with the hopes of eventually submitting it to FEMA / Citizen’s Corp, for National adoption.

I’ve put together a petition on change.org, to send to the Mayor Garcetti’s Office and hope you’ll join me in signing it:

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Eric Slatkin

Written by

Creative interested in the solutions necessary to help combat Climate Change. Formerly CD at Tastemade, CHOW/CNET. These days, Content at LIVEKINDLY.

Age of Awareness

Stories providing creative, innovative, and sustainable changes to the ways we learn | Tune in at aoapodcast.com | Connecting 500k+ monthly readers with 1,200+ authors