Should there be a national climate change service, much like the National Weather Service that provides near-term data to help consumers and businesses plan their day?
That's the idea being batted about by scientists who want to make information about climate change more accessible to ranchers, forest managers and local communities for long-term planning, said Jonathan Overpeck, co-director of the Institute for Environment and Society at the University of Arizona, at the American Geophysical Union's fall meeting in San Francisco Monday.
A climate change agency would provide regional data that can be put to work by local communities. Much of the climate change research looks at trends over large geographical areas. More work should be done to narrow the focus in order to explain the impact of climate change on people's everyday lives, Overpeck said.
"We need to address what users in the United States need," Overpeck said. "If you are a forest manager and you want to prescribe burns to prevent catastrophic fires, you have to take into account far more than just weather. We can help decision makers understand the broader context."
Creating a climate change service, or having a depository of regional climate change data also could benefit greentech companies. Understanding which region in the country will become warmer, colder or rainier could help solar and wind energy developers determine the ideal locations for their projects. It also will help spur the development of clean water technologies.
The timing to push for a climate change agency is right. President-elect Barack Obama has made climate change a key policy issue for his administration. He has created a new White House post to coordinate energy, climate change and environmental policies across federal agencies (see Obama Names Energy and Environment Leaders).
Many states and cities are already crafting plans to reduce emissions and support renewable energy and clean water initiatives (see California Approves Climate Change Master Plan).
The federal government has been funding some research that looks at the regional impact of climate change. For example, the National Research Council released a report earlier this year that examined the impact of climate change on the country's transportation system.
The report, "The Potential Impacts of Climate Change on U.S. Transportation," delved into regional impact and concluded, among other things, that airports and roads in San Francisco and Oakland could be inundated by seawater as a result of rising levels caused by climate change.
The National Oceanic Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) has been running a research program looking at regional climate change impact. The program, Regional Integrated Science and Assessment (RISA) began in the mid-1990s to study El Niño after receiving requests for information from ranchers, water managers and other local officials.
Managers of the Colorado River, which feeds western states including California, already use RISA research on the prehistoric climate to help predict what large-scale changes could take place in the future, Overpeck said.
A consortium of 70 universities has been in place to try to make climate data more relevant to local policy makers and industries. The University Corporation for Atmospheric Research (UCAR) in Boulder, Colo., manages a variety of research programs that produce tons of data on greenhouse gas emissions and the impact of climate change on the society and national security.
Still, more can be done to match scientists and their knowledge with community planners, advocates say.
"Water utilities are considering climate change in their long-term planning," said Jack Fellows, UCAR's vice president for corporate affairs at the AGU meeting. "Regions that don't involve in the planning will lose out economically."
Water utilities and other local governments that pay attention to climate change will make good customers for companies in water technologies.
Many venture capitalists are pouring money into technologies to produce clean water. Miox in Alburquerque, N.M., for example, raised $19 million from DCM, Sierra Ventures and Flywheel Ventures earlier this year to develop water-treatment systems (see Green Light post).