Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Farmers and Climate Change – They’ve got the instinct

In the last few weeks, several articles have appeared related to climate change and agriculture. The New York Times cover story was one entitled “Temperature rising: A WarmingPlanet Struggles to Feed Itself.” There also was a big spread in the Economist entitled “Hindering harvests:Changes in the climate are already having an effect on crop yields—butnot yet a very big one” 

However, it was a Nov. 28, 2010, op-edpiece in the NYT that really moved me. Jack Hedin, a farmer, eloquently described how climate change has affected his farm – the legacy of a homestead his grandfather established in the late 1800s. His description of the unexpected forces that reshaped his farm really helped me to grasp it – more than all of those big-model descriptions and dire warnings of the depletion of our food stocks. 

If I were in the food business, I would want to talk to farmers like Jack Hedin to get a leg up on how this is really going to affect my operations.  If you know a farmer, ask him to tell you about climate change and his farm.  Then think about what that means for your business.  I’m eager to hear from you on what these conversations with the world’s weather experts tell you. 

I had a conversation like this myself with Ken, a wild urban farmer in Chicago.  He talked to me about the changes in how we predict weather changes. In the past, it was the smell of rain, the look of a bank of clouds, the shift in the wind. Today, we benefit from extraordinary weather satellite data.  And then Ken shared that climate change is forcing such incredible resource demands for more irrigation and more pesticides. The conversation reminded me, thinking of the world’s food, of a quote on my desk, which says:  “The best starting point for (climate change) adaptation is to be rich.”

The Economist reported last week that the price of wheat in Texas is more than $8 a bushel, compared with last year’s average of $5.25.  Perhaps everyone will need a bit more cash. 

Monday, July 25, 2011


I spoke at NOAA's Coastal Zone Management  conference last week and heard from the audience of scientists that executives are more likely to engage if they understand climate science.  This blog relays some climate science through charts I find particularly compelling.  

Climate scientists will tell you the hot summer we are experiencing is weather, not climate change. But this is what a climate changed environment will feel like. Projections show that, by the end of the century, Chicago will experience over 70 heatwaves (in the higher emissions scenario) like the 1995 that took over 600 lives.The following data are from Katherine Hayhoe, a climate scientist at the Texas Tech University.
Hayhoe et al. 2010. Journal of Great Lakes Research
That will have an impact on morbidity, unless we adapt including decreasing the urban heat island effect, increasing the functionality of cooling centers and improving communications to the public.

In addition to heat-related illness, extreme heat has wide ranging impacts.  One we can quantify:  the increased demand for cooling.  Dr. Hayhoe spells out the increased demands placed on a Chicago region electric utility in a climate changed environment.

Among other impacts, public health is likely to suffer, even in the developed world. A fascinating document from Climate Health and Change: Framing the Issue (Accenture, GlaxoSmithKline, and Oxford) helps to describe these health impacts.  

For instance, climate change will exacerbate current vector-borne disease through increased infection rate, increased geographical coverage, and increased rate of breeding. 
Climate change will impact air quality and increase ground-level ozone, particularly in urban areas, leading to an increase in cardiorespiratory disease and cancer.

Young children, the elderly and those with preexisting health conditions are particularly vulnerable.  

Executives - engage!

Monday, July 18, 2011

Are You Vulnerable to a Climate Change Lawsuit?

This post comes from Guest Blogger Harlan Loeb, Edelman's Excutive Vice President & Director of U.S. Crisis & Issues Management Practice.

The flood waters receeded along the mighty Mississippi. Now look for a possible surge of climate change-related lawsuits to follow. Tort cases brought against companies by stakeholders who claim the companies knew a risk of a major flood risk existed and should have done much more before the deluge to mitigate the damaging effects to business continuity, employee safety and operational stability.
Ever since Hurricane Andrew struck Florida and Louisiana in August 1992 and Hurricane Katrina pummeled the Gulf coast 13 years later, a roster of climate-change lawsuits has evolved.  Right now, three climate tort cases are wending their way through the U.S. legal system. In one of the cases, Connecticut vs. American Electric Power, the U.S. Supreme Court is expected to issue a ruling by the end of June. 1 
The climate-change issue is controversial. No agreement exists, to be sure, that global warming is triggering the extreme weather systems that just this year have triggered monstrous tornadoes, torrential rains, record-breaking snowfalls and even months-long droughts. Still, trending data and other signs point to our planet growing warmer as carbon dioxide and other pollutants damage its fragile ecosystem. 
Whatever is affecting climate change, however, corporate leaders today can’t look backward any longer to historical records. Companies are now expected to be able to anticipate risks that appear to be happening more frequently and more intensely.  In other words, companies facing such lawsuits aren’t simply measured on whether they had adequate insurance, financial reserves or cash on hand.  Stakeholders will nail them if they knew a risk existed but failed to do the qualitative, values-based analysis that now shapes the corporate character of a company.
Some companies such as Chiquita Brands International and Entergy have been working actively to consider ways to decrease their impacts on climate change.  Chiquita Brands has led through efforts to conserve water and promote biodiversity. It has joined in the Costa Rican National Climate Change Strategy and participates actively in two environmental working groups dealing with climate change and air quality. For a decade, Entergy, the global energy company, has addressed climate change; since 2001, it has decreased carbon-dioxide emissions more than 16 percent below its reduction-campaign goal for the period.    
What can companies do in light of this emerging new class of climate-change litigation?  Here are some suggestions:  
·         Ensure you have a climate-action plan in place, or develop one if you don’t, and it should focus on capabilities rather than function.
·         Make sure your board of directors is very involved in the climate-change issue; it should consider naming a sustainability or social-purpose expert as a director or an advisor, someone who can wed together the organization’s social responsibility, its operating stability and the qualitative risks it has considered.
·         Don’t worry solely about risks, but determine what opportunities could develop from putting a climate-action plan in place.
As climate-change litigation is developing, force majeure is not the force to be reckoned with any longer. Rather, it has much more to do with the affirmative decisions made before a climate-related event occurs. 
1. The cases are Connecticut vs. American Electric Power, Kivalina vs. ExxonMobil Corporation, and Comer vs. Murphy Oil.

Friday, July 15, 2011

Asking the Climate Question: How to Create a Climate Adaptation Plan

Asking the Climate Question: How to Create  a Climate Adaptation Plan
So let’s save ourselves some time and use not only public resources but the example of a public process to ensure we are climate resilient. 
Here are five steps to climate resiliency with excellent city resources to enhance your company’s preparedness:  
1.    Review local climate-change impact projections.
2.    Identify relevant vulnerabilities.
(Chicago’s are extreme heat, extreme precipitation, ecosystem changes. New York’s includes inundation.)
3.    Prepare an economic risk analysis.
4.    Create adaptation strategies
5.    Use a short- and medium-term plan that:
a.    Focuses on existing adaptation.
b.    Considers, especially, adaptations that also mitigate greenhouse gas emissions.
c.    Sets as priorities adaptations with a collateral improvement to your bottom line and your employees’ quality of life.

In a climate-related crisis affecting your business, who serves as chief spokesperson?

In a climate-related crisis affecting your business, who serves as chief spokesperson?
Edelman’s most recent annual Global Trust Barometer, finds that CEOs must assume that role in crisis situations. But deputies play key roles, too, and need to develop their own pitch.   

Since your CEO can’t be everywhere at once during a crisis, deputies need to be able to respond to questions from the press, the community and other stakeholders with responses to general questions and those with much more specialized content.  Here is one possible explanation:   
“You know, we are seeing more and more of these sorts of events, and we are using lessons learned to inform our crisis prevention and response plans to ensure that damage to the community, our employees, and our consumers are avoided and minimized.  For my division XYZ, this week’s experiences have taught me the following as we work to (whatever the major crisis response phrase is – restore service, deliver product, reopen stores…):

That’s a confident answer that builds trust through transparency by laying out a plan.  The three major elements to this working for your company are:
1.      A chief who trusts his deputies and vice versa.
2.      A pre-emptive internal process that gives deputies a chance to ask climate-related questions of their work and to plan scenarios about how to decrease risk should certain weather events increase in frequency and intensity.
3.      A continuous-improvement process that activates the three lessons the deputy spoke of in the heat of the crisis.
This post explores an issue dear to my heart:  True leaders are those who prevent crisis and also are poised to use a crisis to put a good idea into action. When a crisis strikes, all hands are on deck, barriers are lifted, and the opportunity occurs to leapfrog barriers and propel your company forward.  If you have your A, B, C on your wish list, the crisis lets you move them into reality.  Consider that when you are dreaming about your company’s next big break – and your own. 

Climate Adaptation: Basic Risk Management

Climate Adaptation: Basic Risk Management
Climate adaptation fits squarely in your corporation’s risk-management platform.  Every cent spent to decrease the risk of loss of employee work time, supplier-chain disruption and building livability will be worth it.  That’s why it’s important to consider what climate change adaptation means for the success of your business today and in the future.  

For this discussion, let’s just consider the generic adaptation required for companies regardless of the geography of their facility holdings.  Factors that may require adaptation response include Extreme heat in the summer, significant changes to ecosystems, growing flood risks, extreme rain and snow events, and additional stresses on health.  If your company has coastal and western holdings, we’ll discuss another time the risks of sea-level rise, land inundation and severe water shortages on operations.

For context, consider that scientists predict Chicago will experience more than 30 days a year of temperatures above 100O F by the end of the century compared to an average of just one day annually in the last Century. (And note that in 2010, 10 U.S. states had their hottest summer on record and all but 7 states posted above-normal temperatures. Summer nighttime heat records were set in 37 states and the June-August global land surface temperature was the warmest on record.)
In addition, the extreme snows this winter, as well as unpredictable wind and rain storms that took lives and ravaged neighborhood infrastructure this summer, contribute to the predictions that we will receive much more precipitation when we do not need it – and less when we do.  
So being climate-change ready this summer may be as simple as:
·         Ensuring that your company has a strong telecommuting infrastructure for days employees cannot get to the office.
·         Reminding employees up and down the chain to drink water, seek cooling centers and stay out of the sun on days of extreme heat.
·         Allowing employees to leave the office in advance of a storm that might cut off transportation from work to home (especially crucial for employees caring for elderly or disabled relatives at home or responsible for transporting children to and from school).
It also could entail taking careful stock of any of your holdings within the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s 100-year flood plain; ensuring that any toxic materials (deicers and fertilizers, in addition to industrial materials) are stored away from areas that could flood; and considering the probable impacts of a power disruption on your operations – disruptions to plumbing and other easy-to-forget situations as well as to your computers and network, elevators and phones.

‘No Regrets’ Climate Adaptation: How to Reap Collateral Benefits

Have no doubt: Corporate leaders can play a pivotal role in climate adaptation and in improving our collective quality of life. 
To do so, however, they must direct their energies and innovation capital into putting a price on carbon, enhancing electricity’s smart grid, innovating renewable energy sources and supporting disruptive technologies like electric vehicles.
For those seeking more immediate action, look no farther than our extreme winters. Local and national governments have addressed this climate adaptation challenge for several years. It’s time for corporate leaders to become more aware of this growing effort to enhance our resilience to changes in climate.
Many companies’ nimble spirits will embody this resiliency.  Others will need to make significant changes – often with hefty collateral benefits – to improve their futures. Here are three climate mitigation actions that also create great climate adaptation:
1.    Green roofs not only reduce emissions from (and the costs of) heating and cooling buildings, they also help lower the urban heat island, or localized extreme heat, and absorb excess water runoff from extreme rainfall. 

2.    Water-conservation planning and execution not only decrease the significant emissions associated with pumping, purifying, transporting and treating water, but they also help decrease the impact of drought and water shortages on your business. 

3.    Telecommuting and web-conferencing systems not only reduce your company’s travel carbon footprint, they serve as valuable tools when extreme weather events disrupt your office operation.

What’s the biggest collateral benefit your company can gain from adapting to climate change?  And set me straight here: What do you think your company’s biggest climate adaptation costs are going to be?