Sarasota man aims to make environmental science understandable
Bunting’s Climate Adaptation and Mitigations Center is the culmination of a life’s work.
It’s not a typical kindergartener who has his life’s work figured out decades in advance. But when a big storm struck with tropical wind and rain near his New England home in 1954, Bob Bunting was already on his way toward a career in meteorology and climate studies.
One stepping-stool-aided peek outside at a time.
Following his work as a forecaster and researcher at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and a nonprofit consortium of Earth-studying colleges and universities, Bunting founded in 2019 the Sarasota-based Climate Adaptation and Mitigations Center.
Concerning itself with such issues as sea-level rise, red tide and human health along with the study of hurricanes, Bunting’s seven staffers operate with a goal of “bridging the gap between what science actually knows, and what people think it knows,’’ he said.
Born and raised in Providence, Rhode Island, it didn’t take long for Bunting to come face to face with what many Floridians fear on an annual basis. 1954’s Hurricane Carol raked the east coast from North Carolina to Connecticut, damaging thousands of homes and bringing high winds and seas to Bunting’s neighborhood.
“My dad happened to be gone when Hurricane Carol hit,” Bunting, 73, said, “I was 5 years old, and it was a huge hurricane. I had a brother in a high chair and a sister… who was 10. Mom would try to get us into the closet to keep us safe, and she just couldn’t keep me there.”
“I kept running out and standing on a stool to look out the window, trying to see what was going on. For them, it was scary, but for me, I thought it was cool… Ever since then, since that moment, I knew I wanted to be a ‘weather person.’”
For the 2023 season, Bunting’s organization predicts 14 named storms, seven hurricanes and two or three major hurricanes. University of Colorado’s hurricane predictions, long a staple of seasonal forecasts, came out a week later than Bunting’s, with calling for 13 storms, six hurricanes and two majors. Of late, the National Weather Service’s forecast for the 2023 season predicts 12-17 named storms, one to four of them could be major hurricanes.
The season is off to a fast start. A short-lived tropical storm formed in the Gulf of Mexico in early June, and Bret, the season’s first storm in the Atlantic, spun together in a region that typically doesn’t produce cyclones until much late in the season.
A key part of Bunting’s privately funded endeavor is to educate the public on personal risks and the power of an individual’s voice, he said.
“All of us voters are a part of the government,” Bunting said, “We elected the officials, we have more power than we know. (The CAC will) help them understand what they can do as individuals, whether at home, within a company they work at or own, as a part of the government.’’
“We elected the officials, we have more power than we know. (The CAC will) help them understand what they can do as individuals, whether at home, within a company they work at or own, as a part of the government.’’Bob Bunting
Bunting received his education in atmospheric science from St. Louis University and immediately following graduation, went to work for NOAA, becoming lead forecaster and founding some of its research labs. Following his time working for NOAA, Bunting held the position of Director of the University Corporation for Atmospheric Research (UCAR), which runs the acclaimed National Weather Center for the National Center for Atmospheric Research (CNAR).
Still, Bunting called his newest role “one of the most important jobs he’s ever had.” Serving all of Southwest Florida, the CAC examines the unique impacts to the area that are occurring as a result of climate change.
Funded by public donations, Bunting hopes that the CAC will serve as an ambassador or “arbiters of the science,” by putting the information that is available from science out in a way that is easily understandable and allows individuals, organizations and governments to make actionable changes.
“We’re not taking any money from governments, we’re not taking money from companies, other than to sponsor events… We are totally supported by donations, because we’re here… so people can make better decisions,” he said.
Bunting emphasizes the role of the individual in solving some of the world’s greatest climate challenges. “I think people feel that one person can’t do anything, but I’m here to show them that one person can do something.”
A key change that could be made on an individual level, Bunting says, is to consume everything purchased and advise local governments to practice composting.
“40 percent of all the food in the world, particularly in the United States, is wasted,” said Bunting, “35 percent of all greenhouse gasses are from food production and disposal of unused food… so a simple thing, like eat what you buy, is a very big thing that a person can do… And that’s just one thing, there are hundreds of little things we can do that won’t actually decrease the quality of our life.”
A father of two daughters and two step-children and a classical music enthusiast, Bunting is “not dawdling,” he says. Outside of work, Bunting travels between Colorado and Sarasota, hiking, biking, and enjoying classical music.
“One of my loves is classical music,” Bunting said, “I’m currently on the board of the College of Music at the University of Colorado… and I’m very active here in the Sarasota Orchestra.”