White House goes local on climate change

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White House officials launched a new initiative Wednesday that they said would help local communities plan for the effects of climate change by providing them with troves of government data.

The Obama administration hopes to “leverage open data resources and other data sets to make communities more resilient,” White House adviser John Podesta told reporters.

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The first data set made available Wednesday on Climate.data.gov maps expectations for changes in coastal flooding and sea levels in an attempt to help localities prepare, Podesta said.

“Hundreds of thousands of infrastructure and geographical features across the U.S. will be made public by the [U.S. Geological Survey], the Department of Homeland Security, the Department of Defense and the National Geospacial Intelligence Agency,” Podesta said. “These data will be crucial to helping communities prepare for floods and other climate impacts.”
 
John Holdren, director of the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy, said the data release fits into the president’s climate agenda, which includes making communities tougher toward the climate change effects that cannot be avoided.

“People are going to need to understand what is happening and what is likely to happen in order to manage and minimize the impact of those changes,” Holdren said. “And good data in forms that are accessible, usable and comfortable are essential to that process.”

The White House invited representatives from Esri and Google Inc. to speak about what they are doing to help the cause.

Esri is making detailed city maps available in a form that municipal planners can use, “so that people who are working on keyboards doing management in planning departments or emergency responder departments in local governments … can read this new geographic information directly into their workflows,” Jack Dangermond, president of Esri, told reporters.

Esri’s data is already available, Dangermond said, but the new initiative will make it more readable and usable for cities.

Google is donating a petabyte of storage, or a million megabytes, to host open climate data, said Rebecca Moore, engineering director for Google’s Earth Engine.

Google has previously released very detailed elevation maps to help people understand granular predictions about rising sea levels, Moore said. It has also mapped other effects of climate change, like shrinking forests.

“There had never before been a place you could go and ask, ‘Where is there deforestation happening?’ ” Moore said. “People are hungry for this information.”

The White House will unveil future data sets to boost resilience to other effects of climate change, Podesta said, though he declined to go into details.

“Increasing preparedness and resilience so regions, communities, businesses and individuals would be better able to address and manage the impacts of changes in climate that we’re no longer able to avoid. Climate change is already under way,” Holdren said, adding that increases in droughts, wildfires, unusual heat and flooding can all be traced to climate change.