Sometimes online advice and interaction is not enough. Sometimes you need to find your tribe and talk in person to share ideas, learn lessons and find your path forward. If youíre looking for other adaptationists, come to the party that is the National Adaptation Forum
. Itís hot, itís hip, and itís happening April 2-4, 2013 in Denver, Colorado. Be there, or be....somewhere else, but you wonít be learning about adaptation with several hundred of your new best friends!
Ever wonder what happens if the people who plan for coastlines from the inland side and those who plan from the seaward side each create their own sea level response plan and don't compare notes? If farmers and fisheries managers each develop their own strategy to deal with increasing drought and don't do some full water use accounting together? The answer is that you get maladaptation! Seawalls and inland migration of coastline are mutually exclusive. Simultaneously engaging in extensive irrigation and maintaining adequate river flow for fish can be impossible if total water supply decreases. Maladaptation can also happen when we ignore the long-term view: relying on air-conditioned cooling centers as a public health measure during heat waves may be OK every now and then, but as the globe continues to heat up this approach becomes increasingly expensive and vulnerable to fluxuations in power supply. Designing houses based on current flood risk may put people in harm's way and leave individuals, organizations, or municipalities liable for massive rebuilding costs. Avoiding maladaptation requires that we think about the longer term and make sure to coordinate with those with whom our actions interact.
One quick and dirty way to take a big step towards making your decisions climate-savvy is simply to ask whether a particular decision makes sense over the long term given the expected manifestations of climate change. We may not make every decision with the next several decades in mind, but there are plenty of decisions where a long-term view can sure save us time, money and heartache. Thinking of buying a house near the coast, in a floodplain, or in a fire-prone area? It's well worth getting at least a rough idea for how flooding, fire, and erosion might change as a result of climate change. Is insurance likely to become prohibitively expensive or unavailable? Will you be evacuating and possibly losing your possessions every 30 years? Every 10 years? Pondering whether to invest in some expensive equipment to support your burgeoning agricultural efforts? Might be worth thinking about whether climatic changes and effects could affect your ability to pay off the loans, or even the utility of the equipment itself if certain crops or agriculture approaches become untenable in your area.
You know more than you think you know! Isn't that great? Most people approach climate change as if it were a mystery, an ark of secrets hidden from us by those much wiser. Funny thing is, the effects of climate change are pretty easy to wrap your mind around if you recognize that you already know a lot, and successfully adapting to climate change depends as much on knowledge about people, communities, and existing planning and management approaches as it does climate-specific knowledge. If you don't know something, talking with others may get you not only an answer, but a support system or community of practice. Even if the answer you get is that nobody knows the answer to the question you're asking, knowing that something is uncertain or unknown is real, important scientific knowledge that you can use. You can take action based on your knowledge of the certain and the uncertain, the known and the unknown. Knowledge is power and you are powerful.
In the immortal words of Molly Cross, the best place to start is somewhere. Thereís always more information you could gather, more people you could connect with, more related initiatives with which to coordinate. While these efforts are a great place to start, at some point the benefits of gathering more information before taking action are outweighed by the costs of delaying action. And remember, you can build your adaptation actions around an adaptive management or other structured decision-making framework so that youíre taking action and gathering information at the same time, so you can keep "just doing it" even better as you go! Doesnít get much better than that, does it?
Are you considering Interactive effects? This world of ours is full of interlocking systems, and it's worth pondering just how different elements of those systems affect each other. Interactions can be neutral, negative--a species that can handle a particular level of pollution under current conditions may not be able to survive that same level of pollution under different climatic conditions, and moving a species at risk of extinction in its historic range to a new, more climatically suitable location may push some of its new neighbors to extinction--or positive--a species that's stressed by warmer conditions may still do well if its competitors or predators are even more stressed than it is, and getting rid of particular non-native species may decrease the vulnerability of a system to climate changes. We can't anticipate everything, but if we at least ask ourselves about possible interactions we may be able to make wiser choices.
Is this a Holistic Effort? The concept of focusing on systems as a whole isnít new--it has been advocated for all manner of activities over the years--and adapting to climatic changes is just the sort of activity for which a whole-systems approach makes sense. As political, social, and natural systems change and adjust in response to climate changes and associated effects, we need to make sure these systems arenít working at cross-purposes, and ideally that theyíre supporting and strengthening each other. At a minimum, itís worth asking what changes in political, social, and natural systems could potentially affect the success of your actions, and how your actions might affect the ability of other elements of political, social, and natural systems to successfully adapt to changing conditions.
Are you Gathering information as you go and responding accordingly? This includes information on climatic changes, on ecosystem responses to those changes, on human behavior, on social systems, on governance, on management effectiveness, and anything else with a significant influence on the success of your efforts. In order to learn quickly you need to pay attention to what you are doing and how its working. This means you need some way to evaluate the success of your actions. Call it monitoring, call it adaptive management, call it whatever you will, you need to learn as you go and use what you learn.
Fail early, Fail often, Learn and adapt quickly. We donít know exactly what will happen due to climate change, and we know even less once its compounded with all the other stresses present on our landscape. Heck, even if we knew for sure what was going to happen climatically, we donít know what actions would provide the desired management outcomes! We need to develop and test hypotheses not just about the climate system or natureís response to it, but also about the relative effectiveness of various management measures. We need to create management approaches built on clear and explicit hypotheses about what will work and why, do the monitoring necessary to test hypotheses about management effectiveness, and make sure weíve got mechanisms for corrective measures. The only way to know is to try, but trying something willy-nilly wonít teach us nearly as much as trying things in a methodical manner.
Are you Engaging stakeholders? Adaptation success requires commitment over the long-haul, local empowerment and buy-in. You canít create an adaptation plan in a vacuum, it is unlikely to be well received by the community who will be implementing it, and can you risk alienating the partners who are key to long-term success. Make friends, then develop ideas and take action together.
Are you Doing something or are you waiting for more data, more guidance, more money? Taking your time to develop a solid plan of action is an important part of good adaptation, however making development of a plan your only action is not good adaptation. You need to make it happen on the ground to see better outcomes. Remember not taking any action is perhaps even riskier than change if the status quo has not attempted to incorporate climate change into its calculus.
Does the work have Continuity and Connectivity with the world around it? Are you thinking Creatively? Wow, C is a big letter for adaptation! Just as it is important to plan for the Change across landscapes and seascapes by including continuity and connectivity, it is also important to change the way you plan by getting more creative to deal with the fact that what we used to believe worked may not anymore! As D.J. Sauchyn and Surin Kulshreshtha wrote, ďWe have options, but the past is not one of them.Ē
Sauchyn, D., and S. Kulshreshtha. 2008. The Prairies. Chapter 7 In: ďFrom Impacts to Adaptation: Canada in a Changing Climate 2007Ē, edited by D.S. Lemmen, F.J. Warren, J., Lacroix and E. Bush; Government of Canada, Ottawa, ON.
Are you Buying time for your work and for the natural systems we all care about? While we canít completely stop climate change, we can at least buy time for species, systems , and our own organizations to respond effectively. For example, species can often adapt evolutionarily to new conditions if they have sufficient time and genetic variability; if we can maintain diverse populations or slow the rate of change, we may buy time for an evolutionarily adaptive response. Similarly, plant and animal communities are often able to accommodate change by shifting location to track appropriate conditions (e.g. shifting inland as sea level rises), assuming that change is slow enough and there is room for communities to move. If we maintain landscape connectivity and slow the rate of change, we buy time for communities to move. When it comes to our own work, do our plans incorporate how conditions might change over time, and provide space and time for us to adapt your approaches? If we are not planning for the future, we will almost certainly fall short of our goals as real world conditions work against past ideals.
Are you acting to Ameliorate existing and likely future effects of climate change? In other words, are you doing your work in a way that takes into account the reality of climate change? If not, your work may be at risk. Actions to ameliorate the effects of climate change can include reducing or counteracting changes (for example, enhancing riparian zone vegetation to help limit rising stream temperatures), reducing the negative effects of changes (for example, including both current and likely future habitat in critical habitat designations for endangered species), or correcting for changes (for example, incorporating sea level rise into a bridge elevation).