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Hoover Tower with SEQ PV panels

Virtual climate resiliency summit stresses cooperation and connections

Apr 23, 2020
Precourt Institute

By Kate Gibson

When Russell Furr, Stanford University’s COVID-19 response lead and associate vice provost for environmental health and safety, discussed the connections between climate resiliency and the COVID pandemic, he displayed a picture of a beach. Half of the beach was completely empty, and the other half was filled with people. 

The crowd was thickest right at the dividing line between the populated stretch of beach and the empty sand. The picture was from Florida. Most Florida counties closed their beaches in response to the pandemic, but one county kept their beach open, Furr said during Sustainable Stanford’s virtual summit on climate resiliency on Tuesday. The photo illustrates the need to step back and think about organizational and collective behavior in addition to individual human behavior, he said.

The panelists included (top row, from left) Fahmida Ahmed Bangert, Erin Cooke, Jasneet Sharma;
(middle row, from left) Nuin-Tara Key, Rinaldi Wibowo, Russell Furr; and (bottom row) Sally Benson

One county’s decision to keep its beaches open “has a big impact and will have downstream effects over the whole community at large,” Furr explained. 

Themes of connection and collaboration were a common thread at the summit, which brought together experts from state and local government, and San Francisco International Airport, as well as from Stanford.

"The Office of Sustainability designed the panel and unveiled it on Earth Week to show the kind of regional planning that is ahead of and congruent with the climate developments of this decade," said Fahmida Ahmed Bangert, director of Stanford’s Office of Sustainability and moderator of the panel.

Sally Benson, co-director of Stanford's Precourt Institute for Energy, spoke about Stanford’s ambitious climate goals and the university’s work to achieve these goals through off-campus solar generation and the electrification of its heating through the Stanford Energy System Innovation project. 

“What’s really emerged is a partnership between the sustainability and energy management office and the academic part of the campus,” explained Benson, who is also a Stanford professor of energy resources engineering. 

This partnership has yielded important insights about climate resiliency at Stanford, she added. One such discovery is that the large thermal storage provided by Stanford’s Central Energy Facility is not only key to the university's energy efficiency gains, but also allows for flexibility, and in turn, energy resilience.

Another product of this collaboration between the academic and operations areas of the university is the Zero Emissions Energy Solutions project. Benson said the initiative would like to create a learning community to accelerate the pace of decarbonization and increased resiliency.

Information sharing is a vital part of collaboration, both to raise awareness and promote action, said Jasneet Sharma, Santa Clara County’s director of sustainability. Sharma’s office conducts vulnerability assessments to better understand how various climate hazards will affect local residents, businesses and community services. Silicon Valley 2.0 is a vulnerability assessment tool developed by Santa Clara County. The tool enables the county and jurisdictions within it to estimate climate change impacts and identify adaptation strategies.

Nuin-Tara Key, deputy director of climate resilience in California Gov. Gavin Newsom’s Office of Planning and Research, shared the adaptation clearinghouse her office has developed to foster the incorporation of climate adaptation and resilience into policy and decision making.  

Key explained that the role of the Governor's Office of Planning and Research is to support the alignment and coordination of state and local efforts on climate adaptation and resilience. The agency also focuses on making sure climate adaptation efforts promote equity and protect vulnerable communities.

“We recognize that a resilient California is one where no communities are left behind,” said Key.

The San Francisco airport works with agencies, neighboring communities and other groups as
part of its response to sea level rise and flooding risk

The San Francisco airport works with agencies, neighboring communities and other groups as part of its response to sea level rise and flooding risk, Erin Cooke and Rinaldi Wibowo, who both work for the airport, said during the summit. Managers of the airport, which sits at just 13 feet above sea level, plan to use hard armoring such as bulkheads and seawalls to protect its runways. However, recognizing the resiliency benefits of nature-based flooding protection, they work with others to promote wetland restoration elsewhere in the Bay.

The virtual summit sparked potential new avenues of collaboration. “I hope this is just the beginning of us forming a closer community where we can share what’s working and learn from others,” said Benson.

Sharma noted that Benson shared “fabulous examples” of climate resiliency implementation in her remarks. “I was quickly making notes of some things we want to loop back with Sally on that apply here at the county as well,” Sharma said. 

Bangert echoed these sentiments. Quoting Stanford alumnus and co-founder of Earth Day, Denis Hayes, she stressed the importance of coordination for building momentum.