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Research for Design: Finding the Problem (Week 1)

I remember learning about modes of storytelling and the theme of human vs. nature coming up. The motif seems to always be the human chasing a part of nature, or nature presenting an obstacle that keeps the human from achieving their goal, but the narrative never seems to be about when nature fights back.

It seems fitting that to start our final project, we’d interrogate the topic of climate change. It’s a large and complex problem, and not one that will be solved without a coordinated effort, but as my partner and I started thinking about it a picture became clear.

Mind Mapping

We started with an in-depth mind map of the topic listing anything we could think about without editing ourselves. We did move a few topics when we finished to were they better aligned and drew some additional lines, but overall we had a very good start to the associations of climate change.

Our solutions ranged from things like “too much plastic” to human intervention like “tourism and nature souvenirs eroding the coastlines.”

This provided a good start to begin our research, but before we moved forward, we added a list of assumptions to our Miro Board. Many of these branched into topics of personal responsibility and lack awareness.

These statements, although based on a series of conversations, had not been validated and required further research. So our broad survey began.

Identifying Pain Points

Soham and I went in different directions to see where we might find intersections for our research.

For mine, I wanted to focus on newer information from the last couple of years, and try to find new perspectives on how to talk about climate change beyond: is it a thing?

When it came to a broad survey of research, I turned to Last Week Tonight with John Oliver. Considering how much is out there on climate change, I wanted to try to get a multi-angle approach, and I knew that his segments were often well-researched and had titles of articles with facts he cited.

I began by watching three videos:

Each had their own nuggets of information that helped inform further research, but the one I found particularly interesting was his segment on floods.

Floods present a side-effect of climate change that could be fixed, and yet there seems to be no motivation to fix.

What Happens When a Coastal Home Floods

Let’s start with a basic fact: anyone in a home near a body of water, on a flood plane, is required to purchase flood insurance. Flood insurance is remarkably cheap, and here’s why:

  • It’s underwritten by the U.S. government with a program known as the National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP).
  • It’s been in place for about 50 years and was designed to protect insurance companies who were unlikely to insure coastal homes because of the risk involved.
  • The NFIP was designed with the idea that once people realized that their home was at risk, they would leave: but that has not been the case.
  • Coastal development has skyrocketed in recent years, and as a result, many of these developments have become what is known as a repetitive loss property, which continues to get aid from the NFIP again and again.
  • It’s also not need-based, so some of this money is going towards second-homes owned by wealthy individuals, while simultaneously trapping people who use these homes as their primary residences in a home they can’t sell.
Photo by Robin Ramos from Pexels

What has been tried already?

But can’t we reform the NFIP? Wouldn’t that solve the problem?

Well, Congress tried in 2012, but as a result, insurance premiums skyrocketed overnight and the reforms were rolled back.

The other option is for a government buyout, but those programs currently take years at which point the home could have flooded several more times and caused more of a drain on the NFIP.

What else is connected to floods?

Flooding doesn’t just impact coastal communities on the mainland.

I also looked at the state of Hawaii. In a book entitled The Value of Hawai’i. : Knowing the Past, Shaping the Future there’s a chapter on climate change by Chip Fletcher.

Fletcher writes that the rainfall on Hawai’i is essential to survival on the island and that intense rainfall results in flash flooding, mudslides, debris flows, road, and business closures, all of which have a significant effect on Hawai’i’s economy and tourism.

Hawai’i’’s risk of damage from climate change is increasing because humankind refuses to take meaningful steps to counteract global warming. However, our vulnerability is increasing because Hawai’i leaders have no recognized the problem as worth planning for. — Chris Fletcher, “Climate Change” in The Value of Hawai’i’

Where is this Going?

To further define our problem, Soham and I want to continue to do our literature review and begin primary research by releasing a survey on climate change.

We are hoping to narrow the scope to either a specific audience or a specific problem that affects a specific audience.

I am also going to poke a little further into the world of climate change law. I found two papers from law journals that discuss liability and outline this as a new area of law.

If I’ve made one observation this week though, it’s the fact that reason likely won’t change anyone’s mind regarding climate change and a more creative intervention will have to be devised.


Last Week Tonight with John Oliver: Floods (2017)

Love of Coastal Living is Draining U.S. Disaster Funds (Bloomberg)

FLETCHER, CHIP. “CLIMATE CHANGE.” The Value of Hawai`i: Knowing the Past, Shaping the Future, edited by CRAIG HOWES and JONATHAN KAY KAMAKAWIWOʹOLE OSORIO, University of Hawai’i Press, 2010, pp. 171–178. JSTOR, Accessed 18 Nov. 2020.




A graduate student with a background in writing takes an ideation and prototyping course at NYU Tandon. This is what happens.

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Lauren Busser

Lauren Busser

Grad Student at NYU Tandon. Associate Editor for Tell-Tale TV. Pop Culture enthusiast. Writer with a dog. Knits.

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