A startling new United Nations report predicts that hundred-year floods will occur annually in many coastal cities by 2050 — far sooner than previous studies anticipated.

Closer to home, Virginia residents are already observing the environmental impacts of climate change in their backyards.

From extreme weather patterns, flooding, heat waves, wildfires, and collapsing ecosystems, to food shortages and declining air and water quality, climate change is creating environmental and public health risks.

What can communities do to be ready for climate change impacts?

For Vicki Arroyo, a leading expert on environmental policy at Georgetown University and the founding executive director of the Georgetown Climate Center at Georgetown Law, successfully adapting to climate change and drastic environmental conditions in the future means making tough political, planning and business decisions today.

Arroyo will present this month’s Maury Strauss Distinguished Public Lecture hosted by the Fralin Biomedical Research Institute at VTC. The free hour-long public presentation, “Climate Change: Policy, People, and Place,” is at 5:30 p.m. on Nov. 7 at 2 Riverside Circle in Roanoke and will be streamed live online.

“We’re entering uncharted territory and yet our expertise and our systems are based on the past,” said Arroyo during a TED talk. “Stationarity is the notion that we can predict the future based on the past and plan accordingly and this principle governs much of our engineering, our design of critical infrastructure, city water systems, building codes — even water rights, and other legal precedents. But we can simply no longer rely on established norms.”

Arroyo will explain what’s at stake, as well as the proactive steps that government and community leaders are already taking to reduce emissions and shift to cleaner energy sources to prepare for climate change impacts.

“Climate change is affecting our homes, our communities, and our way of life. We should be preparing at every scale, and at every opportunity,” said Arroyo, who is also a professor from practice and assistant dean for Centers and Institutes at Georgetown University.

Through her work at the Georgetown Climate Center, Arroyo and her team provide guidance to state and federal policymakers to help reduce carbon pollution, support clean and resilient transportation, and help communities adapt to climate change.

Earlier this year, Arroyo testified before the U.S. House of Representatives Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure, and the U.S. Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works, about realigning federal infrastructure policies to proactively address climate change. Arroyo also developed and directs Georgetown University’s environmental law graduate program.

“Climate change is the single most pressing threat to the entire world’s public health that is in need of being taken seriously by our leaders at all levels of societies and governments,” said Michael Friedlander, executive director of the Fralin Biomedical Research Institute, and Virginia Tech’s vice president for health sciences and technology. “We hope this lecture will educate and inspire community members to become more informed on the subject, begin to appreciate the nexus of climate and health, take action to minimize carbon emissions locally, and to work with our government leaders to establish resiliency. If we aren’t able to assign greater value to our and our children’s or grandchildren’s futures, with less emphasis on immediate short-term return on investments, then we will burden future generations to find the solutions that will be much harder then than now."

Arroyo is an elected member of the American College of Environmental Lawyers. Before joining Georgetown University, she served as the Pew Center on Global Climate Change’s vice president for domestic policy and general counsel, and directed the center’s domestic policy program for more than a decade. She also practiced environmental law with Kilpatrick Stockton in Washington, D.C., and served in the Environmental Protection Agency’s Office of Air and Radiation, and the Office of Research and Development, where she provided guidance during the Clean Air Act’s development.

Early in her career, she created and led the Louisiana’s Department of Environmental Quality policy office, and also advised Louisiana Gov. Buddy Roemer on environmental issues.

Chair of the National Academies of Sciences Transportation Research Board executive committee, Arroyo is also a member of the University of California, Davis Institute of Transportation’s board of advisors. She serves on editorial boards for the Climate Policy journal and the Georgetown Environmental Law Review.

Arroyo previously served on the advisory board to the National Science Foundation’s Geoscience Directorate, the University Corporation for Atmospheric Research’s board of trustees, the external advisory board for the National Center on Atmospheric Research, and the State of California’s Economic and Allocation Advisory Committee. She was a member of the U.S. Climate Action Partnership steering committee. In this capacity, she helped develop documents that informed climate legislation and the American Clean Energy and Security Act.

Arroyo received a bachelor’s degree in biology from Emory University, a master’s degree in public administration from Harvard University, and a juris doctorate from Georgetown University Law Center.

Members of the public are invited to attend a free public reception starting at 5 p.m. at 2 Riverside Circle in Roanoke. Named for Maury Strauss, a Roanoke businessman and longtime community benefactor, the hour-long lecture will begin at 5:30 p.m. and will also be webcast live.

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