Sonoma Valley Scientists invited to meet by White House

Posted on October 1, 2016 by Sonoma Valley Sun

Three Valley residents, Caitlin Cornwall, Research Program Manager at Sonoma Ecology Center; Lisa Micheli, CEO of Pepperwood Preserve;  and Jay Jasperse , Director of Groundwater Management at Sonoma County Water Agency; were among fourteen from Sonoma County invited by the White House to the launch of its Partnership for Resilience and Preparedness (PREP).  The event took place September 22 at the Ford Foundation headquarters in New York City.  Cornwall, a biologist; Micheli, a hydrologist; and Jasperse, an engineer, are part of the Sonoma County Climate Resilience Team (SCCRT).

Dr. John Holdren, leader of the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy, and Dr. Lisa Micheli, President of Pepperwood, the local NGO which facilitated the creation of the data shared via the new Sonoma County Climate Resilience Dashboard. Dr. Micheli studied with Dr. Holdren at UC Berkeley in the 1990s where he founded the Energy and Resources Group. (credit:Lauren Zelin, World Resources Institute)

The date for the PREP launch was chosen to coincide with UN Climate Week.  New York City was gridlocked with people from foundations and organization from around the world addressing climate change.

Sonoma County is the only local entity participating with a heady list of partners including U.S. Dept. of the Interior, Google, IBM, Amazon, NASA, NOAA, and eleven other large national and international entities.

How was our county chosen by the White House?  Both Cornwall and Micheli mentioned the Water Agency’s staff’s advocacy in Washington, DC. and the two scientists attribute the selection of Sonoma County to the unusual and successful partnerships that have been forged to tackle the county’s climate vulnerability. These collaborations are a credit to both broad-minded local government, agencies and and elected officials – and broadminded local non-profits, who see the benefit of working together and partnering with leading scientists. Cornwall points out that the level of buy-in reflects awareness that the county’s economy, based on symbiotically-related agriculture, natural beauty and tourism, is highly vulnerable to the risks and hazards of climate change.

Jasperse is no stranger to large international convocations. He served on a 12-person NATO delegation that met in Egypt with representatives of developing countries to discuss reliability of water supply and water quality. He also traveled to South Korea as part of an 11-person National Science Foundation delegation.

Caitlin Cornwall, who represented both the Sonoma Ecology Center and the North Bay Climate Action Initiative at the climate resilience summit called by White House.

Cornwall said it was “gratifying to be on the same team as high-level, smart people from all over the world,” and she experienced a “euphoria about putting shoulder to the wheel with so many skilled and capable colleagues.”  She felt like she was “participating in one of the big challenges of human history.”

In 2007, when Dr. Micheli was working on restoration projects for the Sonoma Ecology Center and in Napa, she co-founded the North Bay Climate Adaptation Initiative (NBCAI). She points out that is was the year An Inconvenient Truth came out. She did a philosophical turnaround, realizing the necessity of incorporating climate change into all projects and planning.  The work of NBCAI is foundational for the team that went to the White House-sponsored gathering.

Left to right: Lauren Casey, Regional Climate Protection Authority Caitlin Cornwall, Sonoma Ecology Center and North Bay Climate Adaptation Initiative Marisa Escobar, Stockholm Environment Institute Grant Davis, Sonoma County Water Agency Julia Armstrong D’Agnese, Earth Knowledge Frank D’Agnese, Earth Knowledge David Purkey, Stockholm Environment Institute Wilford Rincon, CORPOCALDAS, Colombia Missing from this photo: James Gore, So Co supervisor Efren Carrillo, So Co supervisor Jay Jasperse, Ann Dubay, Brad Sherwood, Sonoma County Water Agency Lisa Micheli, Pepperwood

Micheli, acknowledging the daunting proliferation of long agency names, acronyms and terminology, offered the explanation that “adaptation” refers to long-term planning for climate change, while “resilience” addresses, for instance, how to deal with this year’s drought. Cornwall added that resilience is not necessarily short-term, but means the ability to recover from a disturbance. Ideally our communities natural resources and economy adapt to the reality of climate change by becoming resilient to its impacts.

Cornwall said that other participants in this event came to New York with “their pieces of the elephant”; but the Sonoma County team has actually assembled most of an elephant, a local one. She said that she saw how North Bay Climate Adaptation Initiative’s work provides the missing piece of the puzzle.

What the new PREP partnership offers SCCRT are the tools to do “what we already knew we wanted to do, which is to make data, including projected numbers, accessible, so it can inform the decision-making of governmental agencies everywhere.”   These tools include data storage and dissemination.  Micheli explained that they collaborated with the White House to create the Sonoma County Climate Resilience Dashboard. To visit that interactive beta site launched at the event go to:

Micheli said, “We are really leaders in this.”  She attributes their collaborative success to having learned “how to share.”

The other members of the SC Resilience Team who attended the event are Supervisors Efren Carrillo and James Gore, both directors of the Water Agency;  from Sonoma County Water Agency Grant Davis, Ann Dubay and Brad Sherwood; their consultant Lisa Renton; Lauren Casey of Sonoma County Regional Climate Protection Authority, and Allan and Lorrie Flint from USGS. Dubay made the presentation to the whole assembly on behalf of the Sonoma County group.

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