Given the wide range of mapping tools already available, I find it somewhat astonishing that the U.S. Department of Energy awarded a company called Azavea $1.5 million to create a mapping tool for communities to use.
The company’s press release says “Reports of the potential risks and impacts from climate change are often presented as an abstract set of impacts – like sea level rise or weather volatility – that will occur at a national or global scale. However, most people find it difficult to relate to these kinds of abstract threats or concerns. Rather, it is easier to understand impacts that will affect us in our local community. The Climate Impact Assessment Service aims to create online software tools that will enable local planners, designers and decision-makers to calculate climate impacts based on concerns specific to their local communities. These local impact risks include extreme weather events, regional food yields, water supply, fire risk, and urban energy demand specific to their communities.”
I do wonder where they will get their data inputs for this tool. Given that the science is far from settled about the regional extent and impacts of climate change, it seems as though Azavea’s products will either be the result of guesswork or wishful thinking.
Their target market, according to Azavea, includes governments, utilities and insurance companies. I hope they all get a second opinion.
Current climate models are unable to resolve broad climatic projections to even the level of continents, let alone ‘communities.’ There isn’t an honest scientist out there who could tell you what climate change will bring to even communities as large as Los Angeles, let alone smaller cities and towns.
I see lots of potential for misuse and waste in this. I do hope I’m wrong. However, I have a real concern that pessimistic assumptions are getting baked into every instrument used to prepare for climate change. The central estimate of sensitivity (3.0, which is looking too pessimistic), the ‘BAU’ emissions scenario for RCP 8.5 (which was never meant to be a prediction), the high end prediction for sea level rise (98 cm, of which the first 15% of the decade has seen exactly 4.8…) all are being used for planning purposes and all seem too pessimistic by a country mile.
Climate scientists don’t know what will happen to storms as climate change continues. They don’t know globally. They don’t know continentally. They don’t know locally. So how is a mapping company going to show storms? The same is true for floods and heating events, whether they be drought or heatwaves.
It seems likely that their product is meant for use in convincing planning committees and other funding organizations to spend money on what the map will show. But what the map will show will not be based on science. It will be based on… other methods of prognostication.