April is Earth Month—a time to celebrate the planet that provides all of our favorite things like coffee, dogs, and climate tech startups. But this month also should serve as a poignant reminder of the need for collective action to mitigate and adapt to our changing climate. We will try to spare us further doom and gloom, but the urgency of this challenge has become undeniable. 2023 was the Earth’s hottest year on record, and we just experienced the warmest winter on record here in the US. Unusually warm seas in the Atlantic, despite an El Nino that typically suppresses hurricane activity, has the Southeastern US bracing for another battering hurricane season. 

The effects of climate change will reverberate far beyond their immediate aftermath as well, displacing families, disrupting our food systems and the finances of our governments, communities, and neighbors. These effects are also felt most acutely by low to moderate income earners and minority groups due to where they work, where they live, and their access to healthcare—but these challenges can also present opportunities for innovation to produce better outcomes. 

How Can We Address These Challenges With Innovation? 

One promising avenue lies in disaster technologies aimed at enhancing resilience and mitigating the impacts of natural hazards.

These technologies not only engage with pre- and post- disaster preparation and response, but also are concerned with the complexities of human-climate dynamics and establish proactive measures for local communities to bounce back to normalcy after experiencing a flood, wildfire, drought, or other disaster. Here are three innovative ways disaster tech is helping communities face turbulent times.

1. Building a Resilient Built Environment/Infrastructure 

Investing in infrastructure that can withstand the onslaught of extreme weather events is essential for minimizing disruption and damage. The built environment often represents the first line of defense for many communities in the face of extreme weather events and disaster. 

BlocPower, a Brooklyn-based startup in our portfolio, is helping improve energy efficiency and climate resilience in America’s older buildings. BlocPower installs heat pumps and makes upgrades like improved insulation and more efficient lighting to save building owners and tenants on energy costs. Other startups, like Burnbot, remove vegetation from wildfire prone areas to reduce risk to critical structures.  

Sustainable, modular, and affordable housing represents another vertical in which these concerns can be addressed at the family and community level. Not only do the startups in the space concern themselves with the environmental implications of the housing and development industries by incorporating smarter building techniques and materials, trying to mitigate their footprint on the environment, but they do so while also trying to tackle pressing socio-economic pressures associated with climate change. Startups in this space are also looking to establish systems for providing shelter for those who are unhoused during disasters, developing temporary shelter, and creating sustainable systems for environmentally- and financially- friendly long-term housing in low-income areas and urban geographies. 

2. New Insurance and Financial Instruments 

Traditional insurance models can fall short when it comes to providing timely assistance in the wake of disasters. Parametric insurance offers a promising alternative by enabling swift, objective, lump-sum payouts based on predefined triggers such as wind speed or precipitation levels. This innovative approach removes the claims process but also ensures that individuals and businesses receive immediate financial support to cover essential expenses like temporary housing, food, and transportation. Given the customer-facing simplicity of the product and the threat of climate change, parametric insurance offerings will become an increasingly more important tool for developing climate resiliency. 

Companies like Jumpstart Insurance, Floodflash, and Arbol offer parametric insurance coverage for earthquakes, flooding, extreme temperatures, and a range of other weather events and catastrophes, giving consumers more control and transparency over the protection of their property. 

3. Building Necessary Digital Infrastructure 

In addition to improving our physical infrastructure and economic systems, digital tools also play an important role in preparing for and responding to natural disasters and other climate impacts. Digital tools can facilitate collaboration and knowledge sharing among key stakeholders across different sectors and geographies. Additionally, these digital tools allow stakeholders to leverage valuable climate data via analytical modeling for better policy and decision-making. In tandem with AI, Machine learning and VR/AR there is an increasing technological capacity for engaging the digital world to improve the physical one. 

Companies like One Concern, an AmFam Institute portfolio company, and RunWithIt Synthetics build digital twins for government, real estate, insurance, and other organizations, allowing them to run scenarios to see how infrastructure and people respond to climate and disaster events. Stakeholders can use this information to address weaknesses and develop action plans. 

Digital infrastructure also allows individuals and organizations to bounce back from climate disruptions. Beam administers cash aid programs, helping governments process, track, and deliver applications quickly and securely. For natural disaster programs like FEMA, it is crucial that aid applications are processed in hours rather than days or weeks so people can begin rebuilding immediately. 

Empowering Tomorrow: Harnessing Innovation for a Climate-Resilient Future

As climate change continues to exact a heavy toll on our planet, the need for proactive solutions has never been more urgent. By fostering innovation through startups, we can develop effective strategies to confront these challenges and build a more resilient future. These technologies also provide valuable opportunities for synergies between people and governments for better and healthier climate action. 

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