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Number 579 • December 1, 2011 | Past Issues













1) Durban Climate Talks: Existential Crisis or Theater?

There’s no shortage of cynicism when it comes to fixing climate change (or even admitting it’s a problem), so perhaps it’s no surprise that leaders are making little progress this week at the UN Climate Change Conference.

This year’s meeting in Durban, South Africa, marks the 17th round of UN Framework Convention on Climate Change discussions about what can be done to slow global warming. The work to be done this year includes a laundry list of items, but chief among them is hashing out the fate of the tattered 1997 Kyoto Protocol. Unlike the parent Framework Convention, the Protocol actually sets binding targets for reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

But many consider the Kyoto Protocol a failure because emissions have risen more than 25 percent since it was ratified. Of the increase, 58 percent is attributable to developing nations that aren't bound by the agreement, including a whopping 23 percent from China, according to The Economist. The United States, which opted out of participating, is close behind at 20 percent.

The Kyoto Protocol is set to expire in 2012, and leaders will need to decide whether to extend it or replace it with some other agreement. On one side of the fence sit poor and developing countries, which are more vulnerable to drought, extreme storms, and other climate change impacts. They, along with the European Union, would like to see a binding extension of Kyoto until 2015, according to the Guardian. On the other side are the big polluters—the United States, China, and India—and nations unhappy with their participation in Kyoto, such as Canada, Russia, and Japan. They propose not even beginning new negotiations until 2015 and possibly not implementing changes until 2020. Climate experts say that’s too late.

“I feel we are losing completely the scientific rationale for action,” Rajendra Pachauri, director of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, said in an e-mail to the New York Times. The increased frequency of extreme climate-change-related events "indicate[s] that inaction in dealing with climate change and delays would only expose human society and all living species to risk that could become serious.”

Council on Foreign Relations Fellow Michael Levi agrees politics are overshadowing the dire consequences of not limiting emissions. He said insistence on a legally binding agreement is probably what's holding up the game.

“A legally binding agreement that requires ambitious efforts from all can reassure nations that their individual contributions will matter. It thus makes sense to seek a binding treaty for everyone,” Levi writes in the Financial Times. “But this logic is flawed. Countries enter binding international agreements with an eye to ensuring that they will be able to comply with their commitments. The legally binding nature of an international deal can thus deter national ambition in the first place.”

Binding or not, there are those that say the Kyoto Protocol's fight to keep global warming from reaching 2° Celsius—a level considered dangerous and irreversible—is already lost.

“There is now little to no chance of maintaining the rise in global mean surface temperature at below 2°C, despite repeated high-level statements to the contrary,” Rolling Stone quotes a report by UK climatologists Kevin Anderson and Alice Bows as stating. “Moreover, the impacts associated with 2°C have been revised upwards, sufficiently so that 2°C now more appropriately represents the threshold between dangerous and extremely dangerous climate change.

If that outlook isn't bleak enough, we're probably accelerating toward the 2°C increase, according to the International Energy Agency. A report released by the IEA in early November states that fossil fuel infrastructure built in the next five years will essentially seal our climate fate. (A review of the report can be found in the Guardian).

Aside from tilting at the windmill of global emissions reduction, there is other work being done in Durban this week, including “relatively small and, to many, arcane questions of process and finance,” according to the New York Times. Most notably, world leaders will be creating the structure for a $1 billion Global Climate Change Fund outlined at last year’s Cancún Conference. The fund would help poor countries address climate change. Thought to be one of the less thorny issues, even those discussions are falling apart.

Sadly, the Durban talks seem to be propagating the feeling that no matter what is done, it will be too little, too late, and too disproportionate. Instead of a convergence of concerned leaders, we’re left with what an Economist editorial has termed a climate-change circus.

“What the world is seeing, though, is scarcely any action at all,” the editorial states. “Emissions are rising faster than ever. Some politicians, wrongly, think the scientific case for anthropogenic global warming is too shaky. Others, especially in straitened times, are reluctant to spend money on a distant and uncertain threat—especially when their peers are doing nothing.

“All these faults are on display at the UN’s annual climate-change circus, running in Durban until December 9th.”

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2) Scientific Lip Service: Will Obama Have Integrity by Putting Money Where His Mouth Is?

In a throwdown between scientific truth and political interests, scientists are supposed to emerge victorious.

So said President Obama in March 2009, when he issued a memo vowing to preserve scientific integrity by requiring that federal agencies create procedures to protect government scientists—including whistleblower protections. However, that sentiment seems to have fallen prey to bureaucratic lethargy. Now a group dedicated to protecting scientists from political influence has issued a wake up call.

Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility filed a compliant Wednesday with the Department of the Interior alleging that Bureau of Land Management officials excluded important information from environmental impact analyses, according to NPR. More than just a request to examine the situation, the complaint is a test of the how the president’s integrity order will be carried out.

“To us, this is exactly the sort of abuse that the White House directive was designed to prevent,” PEER lawyer Jeff Ruch told NPR. “And so we will file a formal complaint, under one of the few policies that exist.”

When first announced, the memo was seen as a much-needed assertion of the importance of sound science in political decision making.

“The president restated the centrality of science to the issues,” Alan Leshner of the American Association for the Advancement of Science told USA Today at the time. “I've never seen the scientific community so pleased by a presidential action. It really is a historical attempt to establish the clear role of science in underlying policy.”

Nearly three years later, with only a handful of policies in place—out of the 20 or so agencies the White House expected to respond, according to NPR—the situation could be seen as less affirming. It’s unclear who has yet to comply because there’s no guidelines regarding how an agency post its policy, or even what policy it makes.

“If an agency delivers a ham sandwich and says, ‘This is our policy,’ the White House wouldn’t reject it,” Ruch told Bloomberg News in August, calling the process “inordinately late and lax.”

As of the writing of that story, the list of agencies with draft or final policies included the departments of the Interior and Commerce, the Environmental Protection Agency, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the National Science Foundation, and NASA. The departments of Defense, Energy, Transportation, and Homeland Security had yet to make their policies known, according to Bloomberg. There is a December 17 deadline for agencies to submit their final drafts to the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy, according to NPR.

The PEER test complaint is one of several at the Department of the Interior being handled by Scientific Integrity Officer Ralph Morgenweck, who indicated the process for handling the complaint is just as unclear.

 “I think it puts everyone on notice that you can make a decision and ignore the science—you do that at your risk—but what this policy is really getting at is not to mischaracterize that science,” he told NPR. “We don't really know how the policy is going to work until we actually get into the practice of it. And we're into it now, and so we're learning as we go along.”

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3) IPCC Special Report: Extreme Weather Calls for Extreme Measures

There’s no arguing—the world is getting warmer, weather events will become more catastrophic, and we’re causing it. That’s the gist of a report recently released by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. Despite the seriousness of the situation, the IPCC says there are ways to lower our risk.

The special report, Managing the Risks of Extreme Events and Disasters to Advance Climate Change Adaptation (known as SREX), finds that the earth’s current warming trajectory will likely manifest in hotter days and more heat waves, storms, and floods, and possibly lead to droughts and to more frequent and intense cyclones and tropical storms.

“It also underlines the complexity and the diversity of factors that are shaping human vulnerability to extremes—why for some communities and countries these can become disasters whereas for others they can be less severe,” IPCC Chair Rajendra Pachauri said in a press release.

Although the full report won’t be available until February, a summary for policy makers was released in mid-November in advance of the UN Climate Change Conference being held this week in Durban, South Africa. The assessments are based on a range of scenarios and models to be used for adaptation planning.

While the outlook is dire, there are a number of responses that could steer us from the worst-case scenarios to more moderate outcomes, the IPCC stated. There are also measures that can be taken to reduce the impacts of climate-related weather, but in both cases, changes need to start now rather than later.

“This is a window into the future if our political response doesn't change quickly,” Jake Schmidt of Natural Resources Defense Council told the Guardian. “This report should be a wake-up call to those that believe that climate change is some distant issue that might impact someone else.” be a wake-up call to those that believe that climate change is some distant issue that might impact someone else.”

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4) Resolve to Be a Part of the 2012 Hazards Workshop

The Natural Hazards Center wants to hear your ideas for session topics and speakers for its 2012 Annual Workshop. But think quick—the submission period will be open until New Year’s Eve.

The 37th Annual Natural Hazards Research and Applications Workshop will be held Saturday, July 14 through Tuesday, July 17, 2012, at the Omni Interlocken Hotel in Broomfield, Colorado.

The Workshop exists so researchers, policy makers, practitioners, and students from far-flung corners of the hazards and disasters community can meet and discuss the latest developments in their fields and how society might best respond. We need your help figuring out who needs to be there and what they should talk about.

Please take a moment to fill out our online form—as many times as you like—before December 31. We'll take your ideas, fuse them together, and look forward to a new set of lively conversations in July.

5) Call Outs: Calls for Papers, Abstracts, Proposals, and More

Call for Papers
Human Dimensions of Wildland Fire Conference
International Association of Wildland Fire
Deadline: December 15, 2011
The International Association of Wildland Fire is accepting papers for its Human Dimensions of Wildland Fire Conference to be held April 17-19 in Seattle, Washington. Papers addressing communication, economics, mitigation, applied science, and other related topics will be considered for oral, poster, or special session presentation. Non-technical abstracts of 350 words or less should be submitted online.


Call for Nominations
2012 National Awards in Excellence and Lifetime Achievement Award
Western States Seismic Policy Council
Deadline: December 30, 2011
The Western States Seismic Policy Council is now accepting nominations for its 2012 National Awards in Excellence and the 2012 Lifetime Achievement Award. National Awards in Excellence recognize programs, projects, and products that significantly contribute to earthquake risk reduction. The Lifetime Achievement Award honors a practicing leader in earthquake risk reduction whose career demonstrates an extraordinary commitment to reducing risk. Nomination guidelines and eligibility are available online. Self-nominations are not accepted.


Call for Comments
Emergency Mass Shelters Guide
National Fire Protection Association
Deadline: January 27, 2012
The National Fire Protection Association is accepting comments on proposed guidelines for the use of large buildings as long-term emergency mass shelters. Opinions on the need for such guidelines, available resources, and possible collaboration are welcome. The full proposal and information on how to submit feedback are online.

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6) Some New Web Resources

[Below are some new or updated Internet resources we have discovered. For an extensive list of useful Web sites dealing with hazards, see]

Water Supply Stress Index
While world leaders are talking climate in Durban, you can use the Water Supply Stress Index to project what climate change might look like in your own backyard. This Eastern Forest Threat Assessment Center tool allows users to enter variables like temperature, precipitation, land cover, and water use in order to simulate future water and carbon sequestration. Although the site warns that the projections are no crystal ball, the tool can help planners, researchers, and anyone else get a clearer view of climate change in their neighborhood.


Rad Resilient City
What more rad than living through a nuclear threat? Pretty much nothing, which is why anyone responsible for preparing their community for nuclear fallout should check out this site. Rad Resilient City is a detailed checklist meant to help cities prepare for a nuclear incident. Whether it’s raising awareness, communicating issues, assessing shelters, or planning for evacuation, Rad Resilient City has resources and an easy to follow action plan that can be implemented at your own pace.

Flu Near You
It might seem like everyone you know is down with the flu, but what’s the real diagnosis in your area? Flu Near You is crowdsourcing the misery so you’ll know what you're up against. Visitors can register to provide flu updates, or just browse trends, see flu activity, and find health resources close to home. And if you really want to stay on top of the bugs in your burg, you can sign up for e-mail or RSS feed outbreak alerts.


Digital Coast Needs Assessment Survey
A recent American Planning Association survey of coastal community planners identified a resounding need for more GIS data, especially that related to elevation and sea level rise. More training on available GIS tools and assistance communicating with policy makers were also high on the list of coastal planners' needs. Full survey details are available online, including capacity, communication, and needs broken down by region. A project history, key findings, and overview are also included.

Ocean Today
Watching Ocean Today videos on your laptop might be slightly less stimulating than the full-effects version available at the Smithsonian, but for most of us it’s a lot more convenient and just as edifying. Along with a wealth of general ocean info, visitors will find hazard-specific offerings on topics such as tsunami tracking, sea level rise, and hurricane survival. And the two- to three-minute films are updated often, so you can get educated on recent events like the Japanese tsunami and the Gulf Coast dead zone.


Catastrophic Risk Finance and Insurance Information Portal
If you’re looking for a little light reading on the world of financing catastrophic risk, this new resource from the Florida Catastrophic Storm Risk Management Center is for you. With over 200 resources searchable by author, title, subject, or date, you’ll find what you’re looking for in no time. The collection of risk databases, journals, papers, and legal info works both ways, so if you have something to contribute, don’t be shy.

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7) Conferences, Training, and Events

[Below are some recent announcements received by the Natural Hazards Center. For a comprehensive list of upcoming hazards-related meetings, visit our Web site at]

January 4-7, 2012
Fifth International Perspective on Water Resources and the Environment
Environmental and Water Resources Institute, American Society of Civil Engineers
Marrakech, Morocco
Cost and Registration: $600, open until filled
This conference will look at water resource issues, including sanitation, flooding, groundwater management, supply, and climate change impacts. Topics include weather modification, desalination, urban watershed management, tsunami impacts, and industrial facility disaster prevention.


January 9-11, 2012
Behavior of Steel Structures in Seismic Areas
Lehigh University
Santiago, Chile
Cost and Registration: $800, open until filled
This conference will present new strategies for minimizing earthquake-induced damage to steel structures. Topics include retrofits to critical structures, building collapse behavior in extreme seismic events, structural redundancy, innovative joint connections, deterioration modeling, and retrofit of historical buildings.


February 20-24, 2012
Fourth International Maar Conference
Massey University and University of Auckland
Auckland, New Zealand
Cost and Registration: $772, open until filled
This conference will share recent research on maar and cinder cone volcanoes. Topics include magmatic systems, eruptions, environmental and economic factors, community risk assessments, volcanic risk models, emergency planning, and mitigation strategies.


February 27 to March 1, 2012
Second National Flood Workshop
Weather Research Center
Houston, Texas
Cost and Registration: $300 before December 15, open until filled
This conference will present interdisciplinary discussions on flood mitigation regulations, floodplain management, and technological advancements in remote data acquisition and modeling. Topics include Tropical Storm Allison, advanced flood warning systems for low water crossings, storm surge, and hurricane impacts on inland communities.


March 19-12, 2012
Sustainable Water Management
American Water Works Association
Portland, Oregon
Cost and Registration: $595 before February 17, open until filled
This conference will address sustainable water management from technical, legislative, and regulatory viewpoints with an eye toward integrating resources. Topics include low-impact development, aquifer storage and recovery, climate change impacts, drought preparedness and response, and sustainable irrigation.


April 25-27, 2012
Urban Water Conference
Wessex Institute of Technology
New Forest, United Kingdom
Cost and Registration: $1,903, open until filled
This conference looks at the design, construction, maintenance, and control of urban water systems. Topics include pollution sources, water recycling systems, water supply networks, leakage and losses, storage tanks, and industrial wastewater.

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8) Jobs, Jobs, Jobs

[The following job postings provided an overview of some selected openings in hazards-related fields. For more information on a particular job, please follow the links provided.]

Resilience Initiative Managing Director
The Rockefeller Foundation
New York, New York
Salary: Not posted
Closing Date: Open until filled
This position will lead the foundation’s new disaster resilience initiatives, including managing the $6 million Development Sustainable Employment in a Green U.S. Economy (SEGUE). Responsibilities include defining resilience indicators and measures of success, representing the foundation in diverse communities, meetings, and conferences, and working with directors of climate change initiatives to communicate the foundation's overarching goals. A master’s degree in environmental science or urban planning, ten years of experience in complex domestic or international planning projects, and excellent leadership and innovation abilities are required.


Principal Research Scientist – Security, Energy, and Environment
University of Chicago National Opinion Research Center
Bethesda, Maryland
Salary: Not posted
Closing Date: Open until filled
This position will support research projects in security, energy, and environmental policy, including those on disaster preparedness and response, land use issues, and climate change mitigation. Responsibilities include conducting and overseeing research, delivering research findings, managing staff, and administering contracts. A master’s degree and ten years of experience in a field related to security, energy, or the environment are required. Experience with program management and quantitative analysis is preferred.


Program Specialist
National Center for Food Protection and Defense
Minneapolis, Minnesota
Salary: Not posted
Closing Date: Open until filled
This position will improve state-level preparedness for food and agricultural disasters. Responsibilities include evaluating state vulnerability to agricultural contamination, identifying best practices in food defense, managing and analyzing data, and identifying grants in the area of food defense. Five years of education or experience in a health, food, or agricultural field is required. Computer programming experience is preferred.


Emergency Management Analyst
Wackenhut Services, Kennedy Space Center
Orlando, Florida
Salary: Not posted
Closing Date: Open until filled
This position will assist with the development and maintenance of emergency plans, checklists, and procedures. Responsibilities include training first responders, participating in emergency response procedures for all launches from Cape Canaveral and Kennedy Space Center, and activating and operating the emergency operations center as needed. An associate's degree in emergency management and five years of emergency management experience are required.


Senior Disaster Recovery and Mitigation Manager
Wal-Mart Stores
Bentonville, Arkansas
Salary: Not posted
Closing Date: Open until filled
This position will manage Wal-Mart disaster response and recovery efforts nationwide. Responsibilities include hiring restoration and reconstruction contractors, identifying mitigation and resilience opportunities, and conducting cost-benefit analyses for proposed mitigation measures. A bachelor’s degree in emergency management and two years of project management experience are required.


Senior Urban Planning Advisor
UN Human Settlements Programme
Yangon and Nay Pyi Taw, Myanmar
Salary: Not posted
Closing Date: December 9, 2011
This position will develop the Myanmar Safer Settlements and Urban Research Program. Responsibilities include writing development guidelines, establishing an urban research and development institute for Myanmar’s Ministry of Construction, and proposing amendments to existing urban planning regulations. A graduate degree in urban planning and 15 years of experience in international planning are required.

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Contributions of jobs, conferences, and other content to this newsletter can be sent to Please include “for Disaster Research” in the subject line.

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