Edited Version of May 24, 2000 Transcript
EIIP Virtual Forum Group Discussion

"Global Warming:
Is There A Win-Win Strategy for Emergency Management?"

Amy Sebring
EIIP Technical Projects Coordinator

The original unedited transcript of the May 24, 2000 online Virtual Forum presentation is available from the EIIP Virtual Forum Transcripts page. The following version of the transcript has been edited for easier reading and comprehension. Typos were corrected, date/time/names attributed by the software to each were deleted but content of discussions, questions, and responses are as stated by each participant. Answers from the speakers to questions by the audience are grouped beneath the appropriate question to facilitate meaning.


Amy Sebring: Welcome to the Virtual Forum! We are having a group discussion today on the theme "Global Warming: Is There A Win-Win Strategy for Emergency Management?" The background page is posted at <http://www.emforum.org/vforum/000524.htm> with some related links and the discussion questions, so please keep it handy. I will present some information about what is on the background page, and then we will proceed to our discussion. I will review the procedure for participating right before that part.


As I was researching this topic, I found there is no shortage of material available. Many individuals and organizations are involved in various aspects of this issue, and it also appears that a considerable amount of resources ($$) have been committed. We have provided just a few links on the background page, there are many, many more. I have selected ones that deal primarily with assessment of potential impacts of climate change.

The U.S. Assessment effort appears to be just getting underway. However, I have included a link to a recent Mid-Atlantic report as a sample of the kind of reports we may expect from the other identified regions. The EPA site appears to consolidate content from a number of resources arranged by state, and can point you to other areas of interest.

The international work going on in this area is best represented by the IPCC or Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. They have adopted a formal process whereby three major working groups review the known information and issue group reports and a synthesis report every five years. The last report, known as the Second Assessment Report (SAR) was completed in 1995 and the third (TAR) is underway and is expected to be accepted at a Plenary Session next April.

Executive summaries of the SAR are available from the IPCC Website, which is linked on the background page.

The three working groups are:

1) WGI -- The science of climate change, and it is concerned with "developments in the scientific understanding of past and present climate, of climate variability, of climate predictability and of climate change including feedbacks from climate impacts, progress in the modelling and projection of global and regional climate and sea level change observations of climate, including past climates, and assessment of trends and anomalies, and gaps and uncertainties in current knowledge." See their site at <http://www.meto.gov.uk/sec5/CR_div/ipcc/wg1/>.

2) WGII - Impacts, adaptation and vulnerability, and in its reports it "assesses the scientific, technical, environmental, economic and social aspects of the vulnerability (sensitivity and adaptability) to climate change of, and the negative and positive consequences for, ecological systems, socio-economic sectors and human health, with an emphasis on regional sectoral and cross-sectoral issues." This is the aspect we will focus on today and its site is located at <http://www.usgcrp.gov/ipcc/> and you may notice that this is the same domain as the U.S. Assessment.

3) WGIII - Mitigation of climate change, and its focus is "to assess available information on the science of climate change, in particular that arising from human activities. In performing its assessments the WGIII is concerned with the scientific, technical, environmental, and economic and social aspects of mitigation of climate change."

As I understand it, this has more to do with the potential measures such as reducing emissions, than with mitigation of potential impacts per se. Its Web site is located at <http://www.rivm.nl/env/int/ipcc/>.

I have also included a link to a new book on sea level change, and wanted to note that it is available for download in case you are interested in getting further information about this aspect.

In reviewing this wealth of information, I came across two pieces that I felt had the most relevance for the emergency management community, and both are linked from the background page.

The first is an article entitled "Winning and Losing the Global Warming Debate," and one of the co-authors is Roger Pielke, whom you may recall did a session with us last summer. He is with the Environmental and Societal Impacts Group at the National Center for Atmospheric Research in Boulder, Colorado.

The second is an excerpt from a special report by Working Group II entitled "Anticipatory Adaptation in the Context of Current Policies and Conditions."

Both of these pieces are fairly brief, and if you have not had the chance to review them yet, you may wish to do so afterwards. There are a number of quotes from them included in our discussion questions.

Our discussion assumes you have a basic familiarity and understanding of what the global warming issue is about, the concern that increasing air pollution will increase the greenhouse effect and over the long term, 100 years or so, raise the average global temperature, with perhaps dangerous consequences. However, I have included a couple of links on the background page with more introductory material, such as the White House initiative and the recent PBS Frontline special.

It is not my intent to get into a debate today about the underlying science of global warming, but rather to discuss whether, or why this topic has relevance to the emergency management community. My impression is that whether or not we want to, sooner or later, (if not already) we will be drawn into this discussion, so despite our particular opinions, how are we going to be dealing with it? Do we need to be thinking about a strategy, and if so, can we find a win-win strategy?

Now we will get into our discussion. If you have not done this before, how we handle it is thusly: please look ahead on the background page to the next question. If you have a response, go ahead and prepare it, that is, type it in, but do not hit send until we are ready for it. For example, please start preparing any response you may have for Question 1. We will NOT be using the question marks today. Your responses may reflect the type of organization to which you belong, which may not necessarily be government per se. That is fine, although you may wish to indicate from what perspective you are responding.

Let's begin by assuming we do need some kind of strategy for the sake of the discussion, and let's start with what we mean by a win-win strategy in general. If you have a response to Question 1, please go ahead and pop it in now.

[Group Discussion]

Question # 1:

What is a win-win strategy?


J. P. DeMeritt: Yes, there is a win-win strategy. It depends on our seeking remedies to the potential consequences of climate change, not the causes.

Ray Pena: I don't like the term win-win. It implies at least two camps. If I mean that a proposal will result in nothing but good, then that is how I frame it.

Amy Sebring: Ok, I am just looking for definition of win - win at the moment. The idea of a win-win strategy is also referred to in this literature as a "no-regrets" strategy. That is, certain actions may be taken now for reasons other than global warming, but may be expected to have a beneficial effect in that area as well. For example, we may wish to reduce air pollution for health reasons, quality of life reasons, or reasons related to ecosystems. These may produce relatively short-term benefits. However, they may also be beneficial in the long term. So Ray, perhaps "no regrets", removes some of the two camps idea. I am thinking of it as a way to be "right" no matter what happens!

Ray Pena: Yes.

Cam King: A result whereby all parties benefit - hopefully where strategic alliances have been used to reach a consensus on an action or activity.

Amy Sebring: Let's go on. A recent example of at least an attempted win-win strategy related to the Y2K issue,

Question # 2:

What was the attempted win-win strategy for Y2K? Did it succeed?


Ray Pena: If by this you mean that "preparing for Y2K is also preparing for other hazards", than I say it succeeded to some extent.

Cam King: There were many win-win situations. Disasters were avoided but it raised the awareness level of people to the need for personal and business emergency management activities

Amy Sebring: The emergency management community developed a strategy that more or less stated, if you keep a disaster kit on hand for any kind of emergency such as winter storms, etc. -- then you will be prepared if anything happens with Y2K.

Darla Chafin: From an emergency management perspective, it did succeed. People were prepared. In becoming so, their awareness of the need for preparedness was increased. If something had gone wrong, there were contingencies in place. There were improvements made to systems.

Avagene Moore: With dire predictions of collapse of the world as we know it due to computer failures, we developed strategies to make sure all systems were go. I think we were successful, a win-win.

Lynn Orstad: Actually it was not a win-win as we found that people returned their "emergency supplies" the first week in January.

Amy Sebring: Did the public confuse this preparedness message with the dire and unrealized predictions for Y2K? Is this cautionary for us as we look at global warming?

Avagene Moore: We looked ahead and did what we could to prevent disaster.

Ray Pena: Amy, some did, and yes.

Lynn Orstad: But the preparedness has not continued now that "Y2K" became a non-issue.

Avagene Moore: With proper education and facts, there is no need for panic. It is smart business to prevent/avoid disaster.

Cam King: We were able to take advantage of the Y2K hype and apply it to other situations such as ice storms and community isolation.

Linda Underwood: Much city equipment and many systems were checked out for Y2K and are now more up-to-date than they would have been for years.

J. P. DeMeritt: I think this is an important point. Y2K debate showed people a wide variety of futures. We need to do the same with global warming.

Avagene Moore: The preparation for Y2K had a much broader application and educational benefit, in my opinion.

Lynn Orstad: Unless a particular "disaster" has an immediate effect on people, then it is rare that it becomes a concern for them.

Chip Hines: It focused attention on technological issues that will continue to become more important to us and provide new vulnerabilities. At the same time it provided attention to get funds for improvements that might not have been done otherwise.

Amy Sebring: In this next excerpt from Roger's article, he points to the drawbacks of the debate over whether or not global warming will occur.

Question # 3:

"From the standpoint of the impacts of climate on humans and the environment, we are all losers ... because the [global warming] debate has ignored the need for society to adapt to climate." What is "adaptation" and what is it usually called in emergency management circles? Hint, we are looking for a one-word answer to #3.


J. P. DeMeritt: Mitigation! And that seems to be the answer to many of the following questions. The question is how to tailor our mitigation efforts.

Ray Pena: I think adaptation is usually thought of as mitigation, and I think this is a mistake.

Cam King: Adaptation = planning and preparedness along with improvisation.

Amy Sebring: Perhaps mitigation is thought of too narrowly, Ray?

Ray Pena: Yes, absolutely, but also adaptation is viewed too narrowly.

Daryl Spiewak: Contingency planning is a possibility.

J. P. DeMeritt: Contingency planning has to be part of it, Daryl. There are many possible outcomes from global warming -- including sea level drop. How many people have considered that?

Question # 4:

What are some examples of adaptation needed currently that would apply as well to postulated global warming impacts, such as more frequent or severe drought, higher sea levels, more extreme weather events, more severe flooding?


Amy Sebring: One example that comes to mind in the case of drought is the recently issued report of the National Drought Policy Commission. See <http://www.fsa.usda.gov/drought/>. This was a result of current concerns, and its focus is on mitigation and preparedness.

J. P. DeMeritt: We are already short fresh water in many parts of the world. I think mitigation must include ways to conserve the resources we have and develop new sources.

Daryl Spiewak: Sea level drop doesn't seem to be much of a possibility to me. Melting of the ice caps coupled with more rainfall and floods in some areas with droughts in others. I guess that would be a local problem.

Ray Pena: I think adaptation can be another term for emergency management, Amy. Hence, all appropriate mitigation/preparedness/response and recovery activities apply.

Daryl Spiewak: We could look at Global Warming and its effects as just another potential hazard.

Avagene Moore: Codes and regulations about building along coastlines.

Cam King: Adaptation needs to look outside the "box" at solutions not normally considered in emergency planning. What can we use from research being done outside of our "box"? Some of this was done in the IJC report on the Red River.

Ray Pena: The biggest thing, as always, is education. Helping people to make the best decisions they can make.

Question # 5:

The IPCC Second Assessment defines "adaptability" as "the degree to which adjustments are possible in practices, processes, or structures of systems to projected or actual changes of climate. Adaptation can be spontaneous or planned, and can be carried out in response to or in anticipation of changes in conditions." What terms are used in emergency management as synonyms for adaptability? This relates to Ray's comment.

Avagene Moore: All hazards planning and preparedness. Hazards vulnerability.

Amy Sebring: Other suggestions?

Ray Pena: Avagene, that is where emergency managers should spend most of their time.

Chip Hines: CEM.

Amy Sebring: What comes to my mind is the idea of disaster resilience, which encompasses all phases. Or disaster resistance if you prefer that one.

Ray Pena: Or sustainability, Amy?

Amy Sebring: That's a good one also, Ray.

Avagene Moore: Yes, any of those terms will work.

Amy Sebring: The report notes that vulnerability increases as sensitivity increases and adaptability decreases. This is not an abstract notion as we see it reflected daily in impacts in the developing world in particular. Look at the recent flood event in Mozambique. That was an instance of a high sensitivity to the flood impact, and low adaptability. According to Working Group II, the situation we see currently can only worsen, that is, those most likely to be impacted severely by disasters are those who have the least ability to deal with them.

Ray Pena: The "sustainability" movement is major. Really big here. A local sustainability group was very helpful in our Y2K efforts.

J. P. DeMeritt: In either case, I believe the foundation is a clear understanding of the potential future consequences of our choices today. We need better foresight mechanisms to produce disaster resistance and sustainability.

Avagene Moore: I like your comment, J.P. However, I think most EM practitioners are so absorbed with the here and now that there is little thought given to foresight.

Amy Sebring: Question 6 is the heart of the issue.

Question # 6:

According to both Roger's article and the Special Report of Working Group II, "A key message of the regional assessments in this report is that many systems and policies are not well-adjusted even to today's climate and climate variability. This situation suggests that there are adaptation options that would make many sectors more resilient to today's conditions and thus would help in adapting to future changes in climate." Is this key message generally known in the emergency management community? Does it suggest a strategy?


Amy Sebring: Speaking for myself, in doing this preparation, this was the first I had come across this "key message," since most of the focus has been on the scientific debate itself, as Roger points out.

Ray Pena: Amy, yes and yes. But, the strategy is not (or shouldn't be) really anything new for us.

J. P. DeMeritt: The "key message" may be previously missing to the EM community, but futurists have been saying this for the last 30 years. That's why I think it essential we ally ourselves more closely.

Avagene Moore: Perhaps that is true if the playing field was level. Shouldn't be new but is it?

Ray Pena: Our job is mostly emergency preparedness - planning, training and exercising. Our duty is to help the people we serve to make the best emergency management decisions they can make, throughout the EM process.

Avagene Moore: I don't think the key message is generally known in the EM community.

Amy Sebring: I don't think this aspect of the global warming issue is generally recognized.

Darla Chafin: I think it isn't stated in relation to the future. It may be known but the public does not want to deal with it. We are gamblers at heart.

Ray Pena: We have to accept that, despite our best efforts, the people we serve will make decisions that we don't believe are in their best interest from an emergency management standpoint.

Gil Gibbs: I find a "head in the sand" attitude among people new to the "hurricane prone" areas here, with no idea of or planning for an inevitable storm.

Amy Sebring: Gil, your problem will go away because Port Aransas will be under water in 100 years! (maybe). Ok, let's move on. The next question points out some of the potential options. Two of these are ones we should be very familiar with, public education and the issue of subsidies. For example, disaster assistance in this country is thought by some to be such a subsidy.

Question # 7:

Do we have the political will to take meaningful action on these issues? Are there any hopeful signs?


Ray Pena: I believe it to be more a question of priorities. Emergency management activities are not high on the list.

Amy Sebring: Another of the suggested actions is to fully account for costs.

Chip Hines: Well, I suppose Project Impact is an attempt to help reduce costs

Darla Chafin: Project Impact is a step in the right direction. I'm not sure of its future, but it is a chance to invest in safety of a community and the prevention of disaster.

Amy Sebring: The example is environmental, such as "green accounting" but we still do not have a good handle on the true costs of disasters and how to measure them, let alone include them in some kind of accounting.

Chip Hines: Certainly earthquake zoning regulations have made a bit difference.

Ray Pena: Amy, we may never have that "good handle."

J. P. DeMeritt: The idea of accounting for costs is important. Hazel Henderson has developed a set of indicators that measure more than dollars in computing economies. Her measures may help.

Amy Sebring: I think there are some hopeful signs such as limiting the number of times a flood victim gets bailed out.

Daryl Spiewak: I don't see that "accounting" will make any difference. The Corps does this with their flood control dams after every flood. They say the dam saved XXX dollars. You don't see us building new dams to save even more money. Just different priorities.

Avagene Moore: Unfortunately, public education efforts may not produce much return. A lot of people, including people in the EM community, think that the huge sums put into and paid out for disaster assistance will keep people from doing anything differently as far as mitigation.

Amy Sebring: What about in cost-benefit analyses of projects, can you put a dollar value on suffering and death?

Cam King: Unfortunately, many feel the government owes us a "100%" recovery and view are prepared to stand up and tell people that firstly, they are responsible. The political leadership just hope that a major disaster won't happen in "their watch". At what point is personal responsibility required?

Amy Sebring: Yet few are willing to cut off subsidies entirely. Even hazard insurance is thought by some to be a subsidy.

Avagene Moore: In a way, disaster assistance is being looked at as another free handout program.

Joanne McGlown: Lawyers put a dollar value on suffering an death every day!

J. P. DeMeritt: The problem is that it's hard to analyze the benefits of emergency management since we can't be certain disasters will happen to any particular community. Likewise, many things can't be accounted for in monetary terms, and are dropped from consideration.

Amy Sebring: True Joanne! I have previously thought that we should line up some plaintiff's attorneys!

Avagene Moore: As taxpayers, we should be able to think of disaster assistance in monetary terms. It is costing every one of us.

Ray Pena: All of these "subsidies" are reasonable, so long as decisions for them are informed. Our job is to make sure these decisions are informed.

Joanne McGlown: Perhaps it is time to analyze the benefits of emergency management. We do have the capabilities to project likelihood of certain disasters. Legal approaches coupled with economic analysis may provide an answer.

Daryl Spiewak: We can change most people's behavior, but we would have to be very mean. Damages are a personal responsibility. We don't care how damaged you are. You pay for your own recovery. With a few well-publicized examples people will begin to get the message. But could we take the suffering portrayed on TV? I doubt it. So we continue to reward people who don't prepare.

Amy Sebring: Ok, moving on. The section of the Special Report on regional impacts concludes with "Additional analysis of current vulnerability to today's climate fluctuations and existing coping mechanisms is needed and will offer lessons for the design of effective options for adapting to potential future changes in climate."

Question # 8:

Can emergency managers and disaster researchers contribute to this analysis? If you think so, then how?


Amy Sebring: For example, are emergency managers participating in the current U.S. Assessment? I think there may be some individuals, but do we need a more organized approach to input? Is the U.S. Assessment even considering existing literature such as the recent natural hazards Second Assessment summarized in "Disasters by Design?" or are different disciplines and agencies working on the regional assessments? I don't know for a fact, but my guess would be that this is generally in the hands of the "environmental" disciplines and agencies that may or may not have all the expertise in this area.

I am sure we could find out by going down the lists of participants in each of the groups, which are posted on the U.S. Assessment site. There is also a similar assessment going on in Canada, as well as other parts of the world. I did not review the Canadian material in any depth, but the main site is located at <http://www.climatechange.gc.ca/>.

Ray Pena: Amy, yes and yes again. We can contribute through our local hazard vulnerability assessments.

Amy Sebring: And I should include the broader emergency management community as "stakeholders." Should we be more involved in the national and international assessment?

J. P. DeMeritt: I think we can develop plausible scenarios describing what living in a disaster future might be like and ask people if they'd be willing to live in those futures. We contribute as emergency managers by explaining how our current choices effect those futures.

Avagene Moore: I think we should be more involved but don't know that anyone is actually looking to the practitioner for input. There is still a huge gap between research and practitioner.

J. P. DeMeritt: Amen!

Ray Pena: Avagene, you got that right!

Daryl Spiewak: Educating the politicians would be better. They are the ones who set our policy and have the bully pulpit to bring about change.

Ray Pena: We don't even speak the same language!

Chip Hines: I think that it is important that emergency managers are involved, but I would bet that it isn't extensive.

Amy Sebring: I tend to think we should be more involved, and I suspect that there would be resources brought to bear if we could direct them to the needed areas.

Cam King: Emergency Planners and Researchers need to move into the forefront on some of these issues. There are few, if any, other disciplines that affect every person and every activity in a community as our profession. We need to "lead the charge" not just be one of the followers.

Avagene Moore: I am not saying that it is the research community's fault either. I feel the EM community needs to be more active via caring about research, using it, studying it, etc. I think that rarely is the case.

J. P. DeMeritt: Of course we do, Ray! We speak of money and people's health and welfare. Unfortunately, politicians are like most people and don't know how to deal with the uncertainty of the risks we face.

Ray Pena: To some extent, I think our not working together is intentional.

Chip Hines: We truly need a wide range of experiences working together. First responders have important practicalities to bring to the table, and the dynamics of them talking issues with planners and futurists could really allow the analysis to mover forward.

Daryl Spiewak: We have to learn to appeal to people's emotions. Cold facts and hard numbers don't bring about change.

Amy Sebring: I think there is an opportunity presented here if we grab it, with some caution.

Amy Sebring: Which leads me to the next question. I failed to provide the reference in the quote in Question 9, but it is the concluding thought from Roger's article, "Unfortunately, in spite of high moral rhetoric from both sides the [global warming] debate itself stands in the way of further progress. We need a third way to confront climate change ... Climate changes. Let's deal with it."

Question # 9:

Let's look at the downside of getting involved. Given the current state of the debate, in the U.S. at least, does emergency management stand to win by associating disaster mitigation with this issue? Or is it potentially a lose-lose situation? What are the dangers or pitfalls?


Daryl Spiewak: As EMs we can "deal with it" by presenting options for the various futurist's predictions.

Amy Sebring: Speaking of emotions, I think we need to avoid appearing or being confused with alarmists, as in Y2K, perhaps.

Cam King: Disaster management must be a (but not necessarily "the") leader in the field.

Ray Pena: Amy, this is a political decision. Not ours to make.

Daryl Spiewak: True, Amy.

Amy Sebring: However, this is about future generations after all. What do we owe them as our legacy?

Chip Hines: Yes perhaps an amicus curiae approach: EM provides information on the impacts and possibilities without taking sides.

Avagene Moore: If we get into the argument of whether or not global warming is occurring based on the 'experts', we could be in a losing position. If the issue is based on predictions, say for drought this summer, via NOAA, NWS, etc, and the types of education and planning needed, that is a win-win.

Amy Sebring: I think we owe it to future generations -- and we are talking about our grandkids here -- to do whatever we can to see that sufficient emphasis is placed on "dealing with it" and I agree with Cam.

Avagene Moore: Everyone is interested in the weather. Tie it to weather and long-range predictions.

Amy Sebring: The question I would think you are likely to get that way Ava is "They cannot even predict next week, how can they predict 100 years?" Running out of time. Question 10 is more or less a rhetorical question.

Avagene Moore: Perhaps so. But there are records that show what is happening over the long haul. Whether we are in a 10 year dry spell or what, we can use it to our advantage.

Question # 10:

Do you think the field of emergency management will be obsolete any time soon?


Ray Pena: No.

Amy Sebring: I think the answer is obvious to most of us, especially witnessing the disaster impacts world-wide in just the last ten years. But if you have a comment in response or any other final thoughts on this issue, please go ahead and put it in now.

I think we must avoid the debate about whether it will happen. Tell folks what is needed now to deal with disasters, and hope that it will prove a beneficial legacy to the future, no matter what happens -- "no regrets".

Ray Pena: All of us "do" emergency management. It can never become obsolete.

J. P. DeMeritt: Please don't tie it to long-range predictions! As a futurist, I avoid the "P" word whenever possible -- it suggests more certainty than actually exists. I think we win when we deal with potential consequences, not whether those disasters are certain to occur. as in question 10: Possibly. How do you define _field" and "obsolete"?

Cam King: NO! If anything. it will get busier.

Avagene Moore: The field perhaps, the need no. By that I mean, there may be a tremendous paradigm shift in who does the job.

Daryl Spiewak: No, because people have been trained to expect the government to take care of them and they have been rewarded (disaster assistance monies) for it.

Amy Sebring: Yes, somebody is going to have to cope.


Amy Sebring: Thank you very much for your participation and good comments today. Avagene, next week please?

Avagene Moore: Thanks, Amy. Before doing next week's announcement, I wish to commend you on an excellent forum today. I am sure I speak for everyone online -- the background materials were great! Audience, please go back and read if you have not! You went the extra mile in researching this -- thank you, Amy!

Next week, we are pleased to present "EM/2000: Specialized Software for EOCs" by Specialized Disaster Systems International, Inc. David Hancock, SDSI, will be our speaker on Wednesday May 31, 12 Noon EDT. Make plans to be in our audience for this Tech Arena session.

As follow up to our April 19 session on the National Dam Safety Program with Don Bathurst, FEMA Office of Dam Safety, want to remind everyone that FEMA is sponsoring the first National Dam Safety Awareness Day on May 31, 2000. The event will be held in Washington, DC, and is scheduled to coincide with the anniversary of the 1889 Johnstown flood.

The national event will be broadcast in June on the FEMA.gov site and via FEMA's Emergency Education Network (EENet) station. For more information, see <http://www.fema.gov/mit/damsafe/news/news0001.htm>.

That's all for now, Amy.

Amy Sebring: Thank you, Ava. As usual, I will get a text transcript late this afternoon most likely, and the reformatted version will be available early next week. This concludes our regular session, but you are welcome to chat further.

[Addendum: Shortly after the session concluded, the current edition of WeatherZine was issued, with a related editorial by Roger Pielke. See the online version at <http://www.esig.ucar.edu/socasp/zine/> ]