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Let's make climate change personal--with a map to show Americans how floods, storms and wildfire could impact their homes and businesses.



What if there were a Google Map that showed the best science on how your home or business would be impacted by floods, fires, storms and drought, 20 years from now? Would that change how you thought about climate change? What if every representative in Congress could see that map for their district?

The Sunk Investment project will create a U.S.-wide map showing businesses and homeowners the medium-term climate risks to their property. 

The map will serve as a central platform to present climate impact data in a publicly accessible and compelling format. This project will not seek to create new impact data, but instead build on existing work from academic and government researchers (such as the efforts at Cal-Adapt, FEMA, Our Coast Our Future, and Climate Central). Many of these researchers are currently developing independent climate impact data presentation tools. However, most of these resources are very limited in scope and intended for technical audiences.

Guided by a panel of researchers and a panel of targeted potential users, the map and database will be a one-stop platform for the best available data on projected climate impacts, such as floods, rising sea levels, droughts, heat waves, and wildfires. The website will present the map in a simple, easy-to-use format that transparently cites data sources.

Once users have viewed the personal property risks they face, the website will provide links to localized actions, such as contacting municipal officials, congressional representatives, and local climate organizers.

We want to take the climate conversation out of the environmental culture wars, and into a productive discussion about mitigating concrete risks to personal property, community and livelihoods.

Category of the action

Changing public perceptions on climate change

What actions do you propose?

We propose to create the Sunk Investment Database and Sunk Investment Map. 

The Database will be the first one-stop platform for climate risk geographical data, allowing researchers from across the country to submit new data on projected local and regional climate impacts. This database will be publicly accessible, making it a resource to anyone who wants to utilize data on the local effects of climate change. 

The Sunk Investment Map will visualize the Sunk Investment Database. The Map will be a website where business owners, homeowners, and other stakeholders can search for their property and see the potential climate risks it may face. 

The name of the effort is subject to change (from the current preliminary "Sunk Investment" title), depending on feedback from a User Advisor Panel.

Specific Actions:

1. Recruit User Advisor Panel: Recruitment of a focus group of business owners and other property holders from multiple regions of the country, and from across the political spectrum, for consultation on site design and promotion.

2. Recruit Research Advisor Panel: Recruitment of a panel of earth sciences researchers from academia and non-governmental organizations, to advise on data for inclusion in the database and map. 

3. Collect Initial Climate Impact Data: Collection of a dataset for an initial launch region, including at least two types of climate risk from the following list: floods, rising sea level, wildfire, drought. The data selected will be the best available that projects the increased extent and frequency of climate impact events in a medium-term range, from 2025 to 2050.

4. Development of Database: Development of infrastructure for the climate impact database.

5. Development of Map: Development of the design and technical infrastructure for the climate impact map.

6. Development of User Action Links: Development of localized links for users to take local actions and contact their elected officials.

7. Public Launch of Map and Database

8. Promotion and User Recruitment: An extensive outreach campaign to targeted user groups. This will be accomplished through measures including: features in online and print publications that reach targeted users; direct email and phone outreach to organizations of target users (such as Chambers of Commerce or home-owners associations); and focused social media promotion campaigns.

9. Open Data Submission Launch: After the public launch of the database and map platform, the core team will develop and debut a system for researchers to submit their data for inclusion in the main Sunk Investment map. The submissions will be reviewed by the Research Advisor Panel.

10. Public Resources Launch: The core team will make available the source code and tools for other researchers to use the map presentation platform for their own proprietary research. 

11. Ongoing Revisions and Updates: The content and design of the database and map infrastructure will receive ongoing revisions, to reflect the most recently available data and the input of the User Advisor Panel and the Research Advisor Group.

We plan these actions as a means to shift the cultural conversation on climate, by showing that climate chaos means real personal risks to homes and businesses, and connecting users with meaningful local outlets for action.

Up until now, advocates for climate action have made the case for mitigation with reasons that are too abstract and too general to seriously motivate most Americans. The abstract environmental and economic cases for climate action have failed to produce national legislative action on climate. However, the American political system has frequently been very responsive to protect the interests of property-holders.

Psychology and political science research has indicated that the case for climate action needs to speak meaningfully to what motivates people most to political action: clear threats to their personal assets and way of life.

The financial risks from climate change are enormous, as a vast amount of business, residential, and public infrastructure has been built in areas that are being discovered as vulnerable. The combined potential financial losses to the global economy from unmitigated climate change have been estimated at 5% to 20% of total global GDP. This project is inspired by research indicating that individual psychology and the US political system are far more responsive to concrete financial threats, rather than abstract issue advocacy.

The resources developed by this project will potentially be useful in shifting perceptions and informing decision-making for a wide range of individuals, including: homeowners, business owners, municipal officials, urban planners, and architects.

Who will take these actions?

The Sunk Investment core team includes three professionals from the cleantech, venture capital, and database development fields.  This core team will recruit further staff as needed to develop and expand the tool. 

Two advisory panels will guide the core team:

a. A User Advisor Panel will be composed of business owners and other property holders from multiple regions of the country, and from across the political spectrum, for consultation on site design and promotion.

b. A Research Advisor Panel will be composed of earth sciences researchers from academia and non-governmental organizations, to advise on data for inclusion in the database and map. 

Where will these actions be taken?

The Sunk Investment project will be built on a web-based database and map. The Sunk Investment team is based in the San Francisco Bay Area, but will involve collaboration and consultation with researchers and potential users in high risk areas across the United States.

How much will emissions be reduced or sequestered vs. business as usual levels?

What are other key benefits?

The Sunk Investment map provides a resource for educators at secondary and university levels to engage their students about the concrete risks to their area from climate change.

Journalists and other members of the press will be able to use the Sunk Investment map and database as an ongoing resource for stories on extreme weather events and future climate impacts.

What are the proposal’s costs?

The initial costs of the project include minimal expenses for web hosting of the Sunk Investment map and database. Initial labor is being provided on a pro-bono basis, but eventually expenses will include salary costs for an operating team of 4-5 staff, responsible for design, programming, scientific review coordination and promotion.

Both labor and web hosting costs will be provided through foundation grants, and potentially through donations from users of the map and database.

Time line

The Sunk Investment map will be developed by the core team, in consultation with the Advisor Panels, in Q3 and Q4 2013.

The public launch of the map and database are targeted for Q1 2014. This launch date is planned so that the Sunk Investment map can potentially contribute to political conversations on climate change preceding the November 2014 and 2016 US elections.

Related proposals


Climate Change Risk Perception and Management: A Survey of Risk Managers. Ceres (report). 2010.

Hunter Cutting. Right Here, Right Now: A Communications Guide to Climate Change Impacts. Climate Nexus (report). 2013.

Paul M. Kellstedt, Sammy Zahran, Arnold Vedlitz. Personal Efficacy, the Information Environment, and Attitudes Toward Global Warming and Climate Change in the United States. Risk Analysis. Volume 28, Issue 1, pages 113–126, February 2008.

Psychology and Global Climate Change: Addressing a Multi-faceted Phenomenon and Set of Challenges. American Psychological Association (report). 2010.

Stern Review on the Economics of Climate Change. HM Treasury (UK). 2006.