Threat Modeling and Climate Change

Have you ever looked both ways before crossing a street? The idea has been drilled into our heads since we were children. Drivers pose a significant threat to pedestrians in the United States, so it’s natural to be wary of them while walking.

Let’s ask an even simpler question: why do we do this? That part seems obvious; getting hit by a driver means severe injury or death. We look left and right to assess whether a driver is likely to hit us. When you look both ways to cross a street, you’re doing a simplistic version of what’s called “threat modeling.”

Threat modeling is something we do thousands of times per day, whether we think about it or not. We are experts in assessing potential immediate risks to ourselves. We choose to walk on populated, well-lit streets rather than in dark alleys. We put on seat belts when we take a trip in a car. We avoid eating spoiled food that might make us sick.

I work in information security and think about threat modeling often. Threats change quickly, so I ask three basic questions when considering risk:

  • What’s the value of the asset I’m trying to protect?
  • Where is this asset most vulnerable to attack?
  • What are the most relevant threats?

In the context of our daily lives, the “asset” is exactly that: your life and overall health. Our health is vulnerable in many ways, and we handle threats as they present themselves and put ourselves in positions to reduce risk. Despite the low chances of being in a car crash, we still put on our seat belts to reduce the chances of severe injury or death in the event of one. We eat well and exercise to avoid heart disease and other health-related problems.

Broadway Bridge

Think about the different possible threats you face on a road like this, depending on how you choose to travel.

Our Defining Problem: Climate Change

While those things are important in our day-to-day lives, we face longer-term threats too. What’s the threat model of Planet Earth? In recent history, nuclear war was the primary threat to civilization. The Doomsday Clock is currently set at two minutes to midnight, the closest it’s ever been since 1953, when nuclear war seemed like a near-certainty.

Unlike the prospect of nuclear war, climate change is a “tragedy of the commons” situation. We’ve been historically bad at countering these sorts of threats (see: overfishing, pollution, water usage, etc.). But we’ve never been more connected than we are today. Although it can feel hopeless at the federal level, we are in a position to be heard and influence policy in a way we never have been before.

We have one planet, and collective human action will decide if we get to keep living on it. It’s time to start centering our lives around how we protect humanity’s future on this planet.

A Green New (Local) Deal

Within the context of climate change, can we say that the hundreds of millions of dollars we’ve spent on projects like I-35W construction are making us safer or putting us at risk? What if we put that money into public transit to get people out of cars?

The costs of inaction are high as well. Every day we go without a gas tax, SWLRT, or an expansion of bus rapid-transit (BRT), we kick the can further down the road. As your doctor will tell you, years of inactivity can lead to hardening of the arteries. Climate change is the same kind of long term threat. By the time you’re facing the consequences, it’s often too late to make the healthy decisions that would have saved your life 10 or 20 years earlier.

What steps can we take? The local level is one of the best places to create change. Neighbors For More Neighbors helped shape the Minneapolis Comprehensive Plan to advocate for land-use policies that help to combat climate change. Now leaders in other cities are looking to follow the Minneapolis example. Let’s not underestimate the power of our example to other cities.

Is reducing parking requirements going to save the planet? No. Is allowing triplexes going to save the planet? No. But those things create a city that allows more people to live a lifestyle that’s less reliant on cars. That means less sprawl, a lower carbon footprint for our region, and an opportunity to imagine what a city less dependent on cars can look like.

We can’t wait for national or international action to fight climate change. The stakes are too high and the impacts are coming, albeit slowly. We must make changes at the local level too. Local changes that seem inconvenient now become downright impossible later. We can’t let “too little too late” become a part of the narrative. There’s no better place than the local level to make our region a model for the future.

Anton Schieffer

About Anton Schieffer

Anton lives in Minneapolis and writes about information technology, government transparency, and local housing issues. He mostly wants to build enough housing so that everyone has a place to live.

14 thoughts on “Threat Modeling and Climate Change

  1. Adam MillerAdam Miller

    Letting more people live where they don’t need to be entirely dependent on a car. Yes.

    Speaking of which, at least some neighborhood busybodies are concerned about 125 units of housing on top of the grocery store, across a parking lot from a pizza place and a liquor store, across the street from a coffee shop, a nice restaurant, a taylor, a popcorn shop and (coming soon) dentist, across another street from a golf course and right next to a ice cream shop and another coffee place:

    That’s a whole lot of places residents will be able to very easily get to without a car.

    1. jack

      This is the first I’ve heard of this plan –thanks for the post. I can’t imaging why there would be opposition to it. I think it’s a great improvement.

      1. Stuart Munson

        I haven’t heard the complaints about this in particular, but I can imagine them based on previous experience. In my brain it goes something like:

        “You can’t build this here. You can see it from the parkway!”

        “This doesn’t have enough parking! Especially for a grocery store!”

  2. Scott

    One related question not addressed in Minneapolis 2040 and the forthcoming Transportation Action Plan is “Why does Minneapolis need to own, operate, and maintain thousands of parking stalls in structures and lots as a municipal service?”. This, while policies claim to prioritize walking, biking, and transit. Such facilities induce more driving, have an awful street presence, and take up valuable land in the densest part of the region. Shouldn’t Minneapolis even consider selling or demolishing these buildings in the next 10 or 20 years as they are already going through efforts to plan for the future?

    1. Anton SchiefferAnton Schieffer Post author

      That’s a really good point. I would’ve liked to see “no new parking structures” in the 2040 plan. Since that’s a land-use document, it would apply to both public and private ramps. If we were to do that, we would be in a better position to raise the cost of parking in them.

      I wouldn’t be opposed to selling or demolishing them for housing either, but we certainly can leverage them as they are now to make driving less convenient.

    2. Cobo R

      While its debatable how much parking is needed downtown, I don’t think that its a stretch to say that we need parking downtown, because it is the hub for the state & region not just the city. It has the major convention center, 3 of the 4 major sports teams. A few major hospitals, a few national headquarters (corporations and non profits), and a whole bunch of other stuff and events.

      Parking ramps allow millions of people who have no public transit available to them to visit downtown, see their favorite sports team, visit friends and family in the hospital. See a professional live theater performance, etc.

      But unfortunately its almost impossible to make money on a parking ramp, so the private sector doesn’t build too many.

      I know this pro parking ramp response is going to rub some people the wrong way, but my point is that downtown Minneapolis isn’t just for the people of Minneapolis, other people need access too, and most people can’t take a bus to get there.

      1. Josh

        Thats a good point. I think the goal in general is to just gradually shift away over time – not really a whole sale demolition of a ll parking period.

        But yes, the rural visitors is something I don’t usually consider.

      2. Adam MillerAdam Miller

        “Parking ramps allow millions of people who have no public transit available…”

        Who is this? Which roads can you drive into downtown without passing a place where you could catch a bus or train? Why does the city benefit from making driving all the way downtown the most convenient option?

        And yes, it very much rubs me the wrong way when people argue that the city should make itself worse for the convenience of people who only visit it occasionally. Among other things, I don’t think it even works, as people generally prefer to visit pleasant places, not abundant parking.

        1. Monte Castleman

          How many park and ride places does the typical bus stop or light rail transit station have.

          As far as “pleasant places”, yes that’s a conundrum. Because a lot of people won’t go to a place if they have to ride a bus, but a lot of parking admittedly makes the place less pleasant. My sister won’t ever go to 50th and France or Uptown because of how hard it is to drive and park there, yet she’s always begging me to drive her there because of all the cute shops there. (And no, she would never consider riding a bus, ever).

          But for sports stadiums I don’t care how pleasant the neighborhood is since once I park by the stadium and enter the neighborhood is outside. If Minneapolis doesn’t want to provide parking for the suburbanites that want to drive there then they never should have been built downtown, seems we had a location out in Bloomington for the Vikings, Twins, and North Stars that had plenty of parking. To say nothing about how hard titillating is now downtown.

        2. Brian

          If I drive into downtown from the north I don’t pass by any park and ride that has service on the weekends. Sure, I could drive another 8 to 10 miles south to a blue line park and ride, but how is burning another gallon of gas round trip helping the environment?

          Minneapolis wants people to come downtown. That is why they have a convention center that cost tens of millions in downtown. How many people would simply not come to the NCAA fan fest if they had to use transit?

  3. Julia

    This is an excellent piece, thank you! I really appreciate the framing with questions to help people assess climate breakdown (and then formulate their own responses!

    I kept scrolling back to see if you link to Minneapolis’ Transportation Action Plan, which happens within the same framework as the Comprehensive Plan (in response to it). It’s up for public engagement throughout April and will guide Minneapolis’ transportation and public right of way choices for the next ten years.

    Right now, in my view, there’s a strong risk of it being far too tepid to truly spur the modeshare shift and rethinking of our publicly held right of way that we need in the face of spiralling climate breakdown and still-increasing emissions–we need to see engaged residents pushing Public Works towards bigger and more meaningful ideas than simply adding bike lanes or considering winter maintenance of sidewalks–we need to be talking about greatly reducing vehicles in our city, phasing out large freight vehicles (the presence of which necessitate extremely dangerous street design), rethinking walking infrastructure completely (sidewalks are not designed to drain and instead the city requires them to serve as stormwater mitigation routes for private parcels), and creating street that are flexible enough to meet our city’s needs as we see a rapid decrease in SOV and uptick in population.

    For those interested in attending, meeting information is here:

    1. Brian

      How do you propose that freight is delivered to businesses downtown without large trucks? I thought the fire dept is usually the one insisting on making it easy for their large trucks to get around?

      1. Andrew Evans


        Or how trash is picked up. Maybe we can all use our city mandated large freight bikes to drop off trash at centralized locations.

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