Adaptation Takes Center Stage

 Jun 29, 2015    by Adrienne Wootten

St. Louis is better known by some as the gateway to the West.  On May 12 - 15, 2015 it became a gateway for adaptation and collaboration.  The National Adaptation Forum (NAF) was hosted in St. Louis this year, and it was one of those rare meetings which gathered scientists and stakeholders in the same room.  Bi-annually, the NAF brings together a community dedicated to incorporating climate information into decision making.  By it’s nature, the NAF focuses on the themes of understanding, engagement, and collaboration.  As a climatologist, involved in research and extension, but early in my career, it was a pleasure to attend the NAF.  I went there as someone new to the NAF, and there are many things to think about with climate projections in adaptation and decision making.

Many tools now exist across the country which put scientific information in the hands of users, and many of these were discussed and demonstrated at the NAF (such as those in the Climate Resilience Toolkit).  There were also many sessions that focused on how to do adaptation, how to work with local communities (by Sea Grant for example from rural North Carolina to Oregon).  These were the sessions given by those involved in climate extension, that is, those who have the fundamental physics background for climate science, understand the historical data and projections, and work with stakeholders.  These are the folks in the climate science field who walk a tightrope.

A common lesson in these sessions is a human point.  For those of us that do engagement to promote adaptation practices, it takes a particular approach.  To paraphrase Fight Club (and Jess Whitehead [NC Sea Grant]) “the first rule of climate change is don’t talk about climate change”.  Before you all get up in arms at me about this, no, I am not saying to not discuss that.  Rather, the point of this thread in the sessions was that all of us should recognize that problems and decisions are not influenced only by the climate.  Therefore, rather than running in and immediately start talking, sit down and listen.  Learn what the challenges are that your stakeholders work with, so that at one point you can come back and say “I understand that this is your challenge, let’s talk about what we can do” (another good bit of wisdom from Jess Whitehead).  It makes sense to me.  After all, how you can you collaborate and engage, if you don’t understand each other first!

The prevalent themes of the NAF are of understanding, engagement, and collaboration.  It gives me joy to know that there are such themes with the NAF, as collaboration and engagement are part of the ECCF.  Collaboration and engagement are key to getting more effective use of information in vulnerability assessments and decision making.  However, another theme that came out at the NAF was the connection between the scientists upstream and the stakeholders downstream.  How does this come about?  Many sessions at the NAF discussed how those upstream and those downstream were brought into a room for frank discussions.  The problem with this approach is that there are few upstream and many more downstream.  A recognized challenge, but what about the mid-stream?  So I say to you that one lesson I take from the NAF is that there will be a continuous and growing need for scientists who can talk with the climate scientists and modelers upstream and the stakeholders downstream.  For those of you thinking about the future, ask yourself where are you in the river?  Are you upstream, downstream, or maybe mid-stream?   Those of you in ECCF have a chance to meet and work with many disciplines on many such adaptation and mitigation challenges.  Consider that you may form the mid-stream instead of either end of the river.

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Great post Adrienne!

It seems like listening is a great way for upstreamers to transition toward living midstream. In my experience, stakeholders and climate scientists use an entirely different language when speaking about climate sensitive topics. This can make listening confusing (if not a tad frustrating). Fostering a dialog built on a foundation of listening can lead to structural problems unless you reinforce with the proper questions. These questions can help a climate scientist understand the challenges and better communicate (sometimes complicated) possible solutions.

To add to the stream analogy, it is much easier to swim downstream than upstream. This may be why climate scientists are more likely to move to midstream than stakeholders to start swimming upstream.


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