Last month I revisited New Orleans for the first time since Hurricane Katrina to participate in the American Public Health Association’s 2014 Annual Meeting. Close to 13,000 health professionals gathered in the same convention center that in August of 2005 served as the only other major shelter for survivors aside from the Louisiana Superdome. Traveling through its halls tracking the growing number of highly attended climate and health focused workshops was both heartening and haunting. In a city known for atmospheric vestiges of its past taking center stage in its present, it was difficult to look out over the huge exhibit hall with all the engaged attendees and vitality sparking across the booths and poster sessions without taking more than a few pauses to envision how different the reality was for the thousands who gathered in that same place when one of our nation’s most deadly storms raged and the levees failed almost a decade ago.
Despite the tremendous economic, environmental and health challenges that persist in Katrina’s aftermath, New Orleans also conveys a strong sense of resilience and a palpable commitment to sustaining its traditions. Visible innovation in sustainable design and city infrastructure reveals that Katrina’s harsh lessons are in many cases bringing forth a renewed community that is being rebuilt for healthier, cleaner living with, for example, increased urban farming, solar panel-fitted homes and a new fleet of hybrid buses. This energy was echoed in a dynamic Federal Climate Town Hall hosted at the conference by the U.S. Global Change Research Program where a brand new Climate Resilience Toolkit was launched as part of the President’s Climate Action Plan to provide cutting-edge, but practical tools, to help people better understand and manage their climate-related risks and opportunities.
The Town Hall presenters shared that though the first iteration of the toolkit is a product of a number of collaborating federal agencies and experts – not a typical recipe for plain speak, user-friendly resources – it is designed to be a continuously evolving resource that will be added on to by well-vetted non-profits, businesses, academia as well as state and local governments.
So what does version 1.0 of the toolkit offer to help New Orleans’ residents and people across the country to better prepare for and respond to extreme events, and how does it deliver on its goal of showcasing ‘win-win’ opportunities for improving the environment, creating new jobs and protecting their health? Here are just a few of highlights that reinforce some of the key findings of ecoAmerica’s 2014 American Climate Values Report:
1. Focus on Solutions
From surfers to farmers, to waterfront restaurant owners, the toolkit provides a series of Taking Action stories focusing on real examples of how communities and businesses are already harnessing a variety of tools and strategies to improve their ability to get out ahead of climate-risks to stay safe, operational and profitable.
2. Make it Personal
Do you live by the sea where addressing coastal flooding is key, or are you in the Maine woods where reports of West Nile Virus is newly making its way north? The Topic narratives portion allows users to identify not only what climate threats may be most immediate and relevant to them, but as important, to find out about climate solutions tailored to their specific geography.
3. Put a Human Face on Climate
Through the Maps feature, users can visit a map of the United States that highlights where federal and state agencies have centers that can provide specific regional climate information. Most uniquely, it doesn’t stop at naming the centers, but introduces users to the actual climatologists and experts who run them.
At the APHA’s Town Hall on Climate and Health, I learned that the new toolkit had received over 154,00 views during its first week and that in less than two weeks, it had already been downloaded over 289,000 times. Perhaps not surprisingly given that its audience is as much mainstream America as climate-focused experts, the health section is by far the most visited.
Clearly there is a strong market for accessible tools that share climate information in a way that makes it highly relevant to people and the places and the things, like their health, that they care most about. We look forward to sharing updates as the toolkit expands and builds upon its mission to inspire Americans to look out for opportunities to learn more and take action to build toward a vision of change and innovation – a vision that is helping beloved NOLA emerge stronger and better equipped to protect and preserve its proud heritage and aspirational future.
If a visit to the Climate Resilience Toolkit whets your appetite to learn more about other strategies for successfully communicating around climate to engage a broad audience, please make sure to mark your calendar for December 11th and join us to learn about ecoAmerica’s new guide, Connecting on Climate: A Guide to Effective Climate Change Communication through a free online webinar .