Asheville residents who attended Discovery Day at The Collider learned about the latest climate data and what local businesses are doing to overcome any climate change challenges. 

“Today you will learn about what we and the companies in this space actually do, and how climate data are used by the vanguard of entrepreneurs and innovators to figure out how humanity can adapt and thrive in that climate. We have five companies that reflect a lot of that work presenting today,”  said Josh Dorfman, chief executive officer for The Collider.

The Collider has data from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), the National Centers for Climate and Environmental Information, and the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA).

“We are here to build companies that provide solutions to the challenges of climate change. We start with entrepreneurs and surround them all sorts of experts that are crucial to the start-up journey as it pertains to climate science. The chief data expert for NOAA lives in Asheville. We have venture capitalists, start-up experts, operations experts, lawyers, accountants, and finance professionals,” Dorfman said. 

New business ideas are examined at The Collider from the lens of the marketplace, and critical questions are asked: Can you provide customer discovery? Can you build a financial model? How much would you sell it for? How much would it cost to deliver? They then conduct skills based workshops to determine each idea’s viability.

The Collider runs conferences to attract businesses, corporations and cities and connects them to their members to create a market and affect change by getting climate solutions to the marketplace. 

Ellie Johnston leads Climate Interactive’s global climate and energy efforts at The Collider. She has developed Climate Interactive’s engagement programs to extend to thousands worldwide from top journalists to school children and leading decision makers. Johnston works to deepen and expand global understanding on how to act on climate change and related systemic challenges by bridging the gaps between science and policy. 

Climate Interactive is a nonprofit organization based in Washington, D.C., with a remote team spread out across the east coast. Johnston said she and co-director Andrew Jones comprise a their small think tank in the Asheville office. She has discovered that showing people research alone surprisingly doesn’t do much to affect hearts and minds.

Quoting Buckminster Fuller, she said, “If you want to teach people a new way of thinking don’t bother trying to teach them, instead give them a tool, the use of which will give them a new way of thinking.” This, she said, is Climate Interactive’s philosophy.

The NEMAC (National Environmental Modeling & Analysis Center) – FernLeaf Collaborative is a public-private partnership that delivers resilience solutions. It provides pathways to the two separate entities’ collective capabilities and skill sets through NEMAC, a UNC Asheville applied research center, and through FernLeaf Interactive, a private corporation. NEMAC applied research software designer Dave Michelson joined the team in 2015. He has worked in the geospatial industry for over 22 years across many disciplines, including county and municipal governments, public school systems, and private consulting.

Michelson noted the accelerating number of billion dollar natural disasters we are experiencing, and credited them to growth and climate change. “The problem is that while the number of disasters is going up, the government is reducing the funds to combat them. At the same time, insurance companies are not paying off at the same rate so what we’re left with is about a 40 percent deficit of costs that aren’t being covered.” 

He said communities in these cities and counties subsequently become responsible for those costs.

“What happens now is that those who finance city and county projects consider them to be risky investments. They tell communities that without an adaptation plan for climate resilience, in particular, they no longer qualify for ‘triple A’ bond ratings. That’s why we do the work we do,” Michelson said.  

FernLeaf Interactive chief executive officer Jeff Hicks said NEMAC software informs communities about their risks and vulnerabilities with their Climate Resistance Toolkit. FernLeaf is responsible for the marketing and distribution of the NEMAC software. It works with a map that identifies population, social vulnerability, and critical infrastructure, which is then matched to threats such as storm surge in flood prone areas or wildfires. This reveals very geographically specific areas threatened by exposure.  

The Climate Service is a startup that uses world-class science and technology to provide companies with software for monitoring and managing their company’s climate risks. Chief operating officer Michael Shore said they use publicly available and individual proprietary data to help corporations understand their risks in financial terms. Shore has helped dozens of wind, solar, and other clean energy and climate companies break through barriers to their growth. 

“I helped one company go from scratch to $100 million in annual revenue. The Climate Service has also has all the ingredients to become a $100 million company. Through climate risk analytics we’re able to help companies incorporate the cost of climate change, and work through how they make business decisions,” Shore said.  

Kyle Weaver, chief strategy officer of Population Explorer said his company helps decision makers understand where their target markets are located, through the provision of population and demographic data and mapping.

“The problem we set out to solve was one we witnessed in our own work, providing large scale surveys, research and evaluations for international governments and nonprofits. This work put us in data poor environments all across Africa, the Middle East, South America, and in Asia. We’ve drveloped a really good understanding of what goes into estimating the populations affected by natural disaster.” 

Weaver said they came across data that was difficult to access, a challenge to process, and required expertise to analyze. After ten years of work with data providers from around the world, they created Population Explorer.

“It takes demographic data for every square kilometer on the globe and provides it in a format that is perceptible to the general public.”

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