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Crowdsourcing capital for climate change vulnerability assessments will enable local communities to have authority over their own adaptation



One of the largest barriers in Climate Change adaptation today is completing vulnerability assessments. This is because they require expensive and complicated models such as ADCIRC that must be down scaled to the local area.  In the current system we depend on each individual party to scope, procure, and collect data for their own study that often overlap with other organization's studies. But many small businesses, NGOs, and even some governmental organizations cannot afford to procure these studies themselves. By crowd sourcing funding for regional studies each community can raise money to fund one collective assessment down scaled to their region. This will allow small organizations to piggy back on the larger organizations studies that overlap their geographic area. It will also enable homeowners to assess their property's vulnerability, a virtual impossibility today. Furthermore it will enable a community to decide for itself whether adapting to climate change will be beneficial for them, and will not have to wait for action in the government. Additionally these group studies will open dialog between organizations to make comprehensive region wide planning easier. 

Category of the action

Urban adaptation

What actions do you propose?

I propose a new website and service that enables local communities and organizations to crowd source climate change vulnerability studies. Essentially after several pilot programs of assessments in choice areas an average price per km^2, asset location, or other metric will be derived. This will be the starting point for the price goals for the crowd sourcing. Participation would happen two ways; the first is everyday people that would like to see their community more resilient to climate change. They could donate $1 to $100,000 and pledge their support to a more resilient community. The second way would be for businesses, NGOs, and even home owners that would like to put assets into the model to assess their vulnerability. These participants would pay a standard amount either per asset or per GPS point.  Say, hypothetically, a normal study costs about $1000 per km^2 with and additional cost of $250 per asset. For a Boston (232.14km^2) based study the goal would be set to $232,140 for the study to happen, and could go above if more assets were assessed. This would then be raised through personal donations, and organizations paying $500-750 per asset and $1000 for any expansion (km^2) of geographic area. This would be much more cost effective way of paying for overlapping models. The climate change predictions for Boston are all the same, but today each organization must run a new model with their assets over the same area. By combing these entire asset list and running one model across the region cost per asset and cost per km^2 would drop dramatically and allow for better modeling to be procured. Additionally this service will help regions scope and complete these assessments with expert advice on what kind of model to run, what to include, and the appropriate cost for climate modeling. Furthermore the structure of each model would vary. Whether a community wants professional mapping of assets to be done or have each organization collect data about their own assets is up to them. Each assessment will be tailored to the needs of the community and what they are trying to achieve in adaptation. Today all most all adaptation measure can be installed with a positive cost benefit ratio. However that C/B ratio must be known to justify action, which requires an expensive model to quantify. This is the major hurdle in climate change preparations today; there is often not enough information to justify action even when it its clear action will be cost effective. This new service aims to solve that by combining individual studies to ultimately supply cheaper hard numbers on cost benefit ratios of adaptation actions. Once a community has the results from the study it will be up to them to decide how to move forward in adaptation.  A community based model will also open up dialog for larger community scaled adaptation solutions. Instead of individual parties all building concrete walls around their own property the community might decide that a installing a large scale, green infrastructure, flood-able, marsh might be a more time and cost effective solution to sea level rise. Additionally these dialogs could also crowd source adaptation action. Instead of the city plating trees to reduce urban heat island effect, a costly and low priority item for the city, a community might decide that if they all plant 2 trees each it would be quicker, cheaper, and more effective solution. This web site is a small way to make people rethink climate change adaptation, and change the rhetoric from protecting my property to protecting all our homes.

Who will take these actions?

This service could be executed by the government or a private business but a non-profit NGO would be the best fit. This new NGO will set up a Kick-starter like website that enables individuals to create and participate in local projects to model climate change vulnerability. Local individuals and businesses can suggest new areas for study; expand existing projects to cover their assets, and piggy back on existing projects, all online. This NGO would consist of several key people including web designers, climate change modeling experts, financial analysts, and a procurement specialist. Ideally this NGO would not actually model anything but rather put each project out to bid and select modelers based on price, quality, and speed, among other factors.

Where will these actions be taken?

I am currently facing many of these problems in my job in Boston MA, and it would be a perfect location for a pilot program. However after the site gets up and running and several studies been completed, this service would span the globe. Everyone from Luxemburg to Niger will be able to participate in climate change vulnerability studies. This also opens up opportunities for social justice campaigns to fund impoverished areas’ assessments. As far as a central office location somewhere in the US would be ideal however this proposal could work anywhere there is an internet connection. 

What are other key benefits?

This service could open up new doors for climate change action today. In my experiences demand for climate change action is often geographically correlated. Here in MA there is a lot of talk and some projects underway to adapt to climate change, but in other states the rhetoric still seems to be focused on denial or non-anthropogenic climate change. This site will allow all of the tree huggers in MA to move forward on climate change adaptation without money or policies from the federal government. At the same time allowing denial states to flood in their own watery grave. Furthermore these studies will promote awareness in communities. Ideally whenever an area’s project reached the minimum amount for completion of the study a notice would be sent out to the local businesses and homeowners asking if they would like to join the study. This will provide a cheap and extremely easy method to do a vulnerability assessment, to someone that might have never thought of doing one before. 

What are the proposal’s costs?

This proposal has very minimal costs essentially web hosting, and salaries for the employees would be the only expenses. But this could be partially or fully funded by fees added to each assessment. This site would probably require roughly 50-100 employees at $250,000, salary + benefits, so between $1.25 million and $2.5 million per year. In addition an office location would be nice but could easily be forgone for sustainability and cost purposes requiring employees to work from home. Considering each study will cost roughly between $500,000 and $10 million a simple 5-10% surcharge per study will cover all business expenses. If we assume 100 assessments a year and $2.5 million per assessment just 5% is $12.5 million which would easily cover the expenses. 

Time line

Because of the nature of this project and its completely web based application this site would be running in 1-3 years. Hopefully after several months of use we will be able to put our first assessment out to bid and have model outputs 6 months after the bid is awarded. But once several studies have been completed the process will become streamlined and could pump out several hundred assessments each year by the 5th year. Once a community has completed an assessment the site will act as an open source of information as well as an open forum for planning and collective action in each community, around 5-10 years after launch. Hopefully by 50-100 years from now all places will have completed assessments and are already adapting or adapted. But most variable part of climate change is human activity, so almost all models will have to be rerun every 5 to 10 years depended on changes to the assumptions. This site will serve as a means to collectively reassess climate change impacts. 

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Image credit: Surging Seas 2.0 Climate Central