Climate change has taken center stage this week following the largest-ever public demonstration on the subject leading up to this week’s UN Climate Summit in New York City.

As international delegates negotiate strategies for reducing the emissions driving climate change, others charged with safeguarding public safety, health and property are assessing the dangers posed by global warming, while looking to identify strategies for response and preparation.  

Stanford experts led a robust dialogue on those topics at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C., last week, during the panel discussion “Climate Change Impacts: The Risks and How to Reduce Them” (video). Recent research on extreme weather, food security, drought and new technologies was explored at the event, which drew a cross-sector audience of nearly 100 policy- and decision-makers from federal agencies, environmental non-profits, development banks and other research institutions.

Organized by the Stanford Woods Institute for the Environment, the discussion was moderated by Senior Fellow and Woods Co-Director Jeffrey Koseff. Panelists included Senior Fellows Noah Diffenbaugh (Environmental Earth System Science) and David Lobell (Environmental Earth System Science); Senior Fellow and Co-Director Buzz Thompson (Law); and Carolyn Snyder, a graduate of Stanford’s E-IPER program currently with McKinsey and Company.

Among the panel’s topics of discussion:

- What climate science tells us about the likelihood of extreme weather

- Challenges for agricultural adaptation

- How to concentrate efforts to find solutions

- The necessity of preparing and planning for longer-term drought with an emphasis on new technologies and infrastructure for water conveyance

- The importance of vertically integrating all levels of government to implement sound resiliency planning

Some highlights include:

Diffenbaugh on extreme weather events:

“Science has made huge strides in the last decade in our state of knowledge regarding the likelihood of any severe (weather) event as effected by climate change. For example a storm such as Superstorm Sandy – with existing sea level rise the likelihood of such a storm has nearly doubled.”

Thompson on dealing with drought:

Groundwater is immensely important. Groundwater is our natural savings account. If we preserve it during wet periods it is there during dry periods… The best way to reduce the costs of climate change and water is being able to move water around when it becomes scarcer. Infrastructure is critically important, but our emphasis should be on conveyance capacity rather than on storage.

Lobell on agricultural adaptation:

As you get better and better at agriculture, a stable climate actually becomes more important, not less (because plants are already pushed to their adaptive limits). There are some things that we can do to in the agricultural sector that would help to take the edge off, such as focus the breeding strategies on drought conditions with extremely high temperatures or plant two crop cycles instead of one to miss the extreme high temperatures of July.

Snyder on government’s role in adaptation:

Most adaptation will happen at the local level, so we have a great need for vertical integration and collaboration from local governments, state and federal. Each has an important role to play… There is real public receptiveness to this conversation. People are aware of impacts and risks in a variety of ways and have an interest in talking about preparedness.”  

In 2014, the Stanford Woods Institute launched a pilot program in Washington, D.C., to make Stanford research and expertise more accessible to decision-makers and to facilitate partnerships and dialogue. Woods’ D.C. office is designed to be a resource for the policy community, enabling information-sharing and engagement between scholars and decision-makers on a wide-range of topics related to the environment and sustainability. Woods is working to link science to action in the nation’s capital and beyond by convening public panel sessions and roundtables; partnering with NGOs and think tanks to co-host events; organizing one-on-one meetings with Woods’ experts, and providing content to existing blog and research outlets that target and serve the D.C. policy community. Woods is actively seeking partnership and collaborative opportunities with organizations in Washington, D.C. To inquire about working with Woods, please contact Lea Rosenbohm at or 202.328.5093