FEMA preparedness and the ‘disruptive impact of extreme weather’: John Rood, NSC, Homeland Security

Broadcast live on www.washingtonpost.com

When two toxic pandemics hit the United States in the early 21st century – the first a cough and cold-like virus that killed more than 18,000 Americans, the second a pneumonic flu that killed at least 36,000 – the question was: What could we do to prevent a second wave?

Fast forward a decade. In fact, today’s super-pandemic — the Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS) coronavirus that has already infected more than 1,000 people and killed hundreds, in predominantly Middle Eastern countries — does not pose a threat to the U.S.

Instead, the focus is on climate change and the “disruptive impacts of extreme weather” — a danger that “can make us vulnerable to serious public health and infectious disease threats,” a recent Government Accountability Office report says. That’s especially true in the western U.S., such as the West Coast of the Rockies, which is literally on fire, due to warm weather and drought.

On both climate change and the next pandemic, we need to consider other models than sovereign nations.

That is why this week my colleagues and I in the nonprofit InterAction Council convened a Global Commons Leadership Conference at the 2017 World Economic Forum in Bali, Indonesia.

We explored 21st-century models that address the future of travel in an era of “disruptive” human activity, ranging from agriculture to the fashion world to technology. Perhaps most importantly, we discussed ways for businesses, governments and civic groups to work together toward the promotion of global commons, one of the key strategic pillars of the InterAction Network.

We heard stories about the ways individual companies are embracing smart economics and building smart, “connected” systems — working cooperatively with governments and communities to build more sustainable and resilient communities, as well as harnessing environmental benefits as a competitive advantage.

We talked about the shared benefits — economic, political and social — derived from forest and land management, food security, water management, renewable energy production and environmental management. We saw examples of what can happen when a single company or locality becomes a “champion” of its local or global commons.

In the heat of Indonesia’s spectacular volcano Bali, it’s possible to see how the best practices of addressing Earth’s sustainable commons can apply everywhere, including – perhaps most notably – the potential for introducing solutions to future health crises.

Involving local communities as the primary decision makers when, for example, designing new roads, expanding existing road systems or maintaining roads that are aging or overcrowded, conserving water tables or cutting down forests can save people money and improve the health of the planet. A travel study by the University of Oxford researchers who led our Bali conference showed that in central India alone — where, like Bali, some roads have been built primarily to get people to airports — roads that are planned around a sustainable, commons-based resource management strategy have saved millions of rupees in taxpayer money, while improving health, economic and other outcomes.

The InterAction Network and InterActive Europe are among the private-sector partners who are teaming up to explore these potential efficiencies in an effort that could apply to many other countries and industries.

Adopting similar approaches could help protect against the next pandemic, or other disasters or crises as they emerge. The Bali Sustainable Deforestation and Land Use Protocol is a good example. In 2014, InterActive Europe partnered with the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) to conduct a five-year study of the forest canopy health of Bali. WWF found evidence of efforts to create a more sustainable ecosystem, and the best practices, needed to build on those already in place.

Last week, InterAction joined the Global Commons Council to launch a new campaign, “Sustainable Travels,” focused on using smart economics and good management practices to create more resilient, resource-efficient travel. The idea behind the campaign is that we can all take ownership of the movement in order to begin to build the assets to ensure future travel is sustainable and accessible, as well as affordable and enjoyable.

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