This week the White House announced a new Climate Data Initiative that is intended to combine private sector innovation and resources with the power of federal data from NOAA, NASA, the US Geological Survey and other federal agencies on key issues like coastal flooding and sea level rise.  That’s sound science and wise use of scarce federal resources worth noting. 

The idea is that providing this information will help communities “develop data-driven planning and resilience tools for local communities.”  This is precisely the type of government effort that should receive support from both Democrats and Republicans.  Indeed, it’s a direct outgrowth of efforts undertaken in the Bush Administration through the U.S. Climate Change Science Program.  Even partisan Republicans can congratulate this Administration for carrying those efforts forward. 

The second feature of the initiative is an even better idea:  an “innovation challenge” from NOAA and NASA that urges researchers and developers to create data-driven simulations that can be used to educate vulnerable communities about potential sea level rise and flood events.   This is future life-saving stuff and a worthy effort in the face of fiscal belt-tightening and general partisan gridlock on climate issues. 

And better still, the White House also noted complementary actions from key private sector companies:  Esri is partnering with cities to help state and local governments conduct resilience planning and Google is donating one petabyte of cloud storage and 50 million hours of high-performance computing for climate data. 

These actions are surely not sufficient in the face of the global climate challenge – but they are necessary.  Just because policy-makers can’t agree on steps to mitigate global warming doesn’t mean we shouldn’t take any action to adapt to it.  While it may be unclear at this point exactly what the magnitude of damage will be, climate science is clear that loading greenhouse gases into the atmosphere is having a measurable impact on temperature, sea-level rise and ocean acidification. Contingency planning to deal with the consequences is the right thing to do.

Conover is managing director of the Energy, Environment and Sustainability Practice at Grayling and was director of the U.S. Climate Change Technology Program in the George W. Bush Administration.