Climate Change Adaptation: Facing Reality

By Morgan Fuller

As a scientist, when it comes to climate change, I don’t ask “are we causing this?” but rather “what can we do to mitigate and adapt?”  Unfortunately, environmental issues have become highly politicized, with views based upon party lines and ideology rather than fact. I’m sure everyone has heard the debates on TV and laughed at Fox News, but I get the feeling that most people in science and academia rarely come into direct contact with extreme climate change deniers.  I, however, am on the front lines.  The majority of my extended family does not believe climate change is occurring, and knowing that I am studying environmental science, purposely pick fights with me on a regular basis.  Fights that I cannot win because I don’t yell loud enough.  What concerns me is this—regardless of your beliefs, political or otherwise, our climate is changing.

Lately, I have been sitting down and talking with members of the University of Maine’s Cooperative Extension.  These are people who are involved with the university but also with the private sector.  They work to implement the university’s knowledge and inform the university of questions and challenges faced by the public.  The individuals I spoke to are involved with apple growing, the blueberry industry, food production, marine based businesses, and ornamental landscaping, and there has been one overwhelming theme; they are seeing change.  They all reported that while their constituents may call it climate change or call it weather, they are dealing with weather patterns that they have never seen in the past.  This is becoming problematic for some and beneficial for others.  Many sectors, e.g. apple growers, are having conversations amongst themselves regarding the changes and discussing strategies to deal with them, while others are individually trying to handle the challenges as they emerge. The important message is that change is happening and people have to adapt. How do we plan to deal with it? I believe that the best way to protect our communities and ourselves is to collaborate on adaptation plans.

Adaptation plans, for those of you who aren’t familiar with the concept, develop solutions to problems like, increased storm intensity causing road washouts. The federal government has already set up a task force to minimize threats to the nation (check out their planning and progress at http://www.whitehouse.gov/administration/eop/ceq/initiatives/adaptation), but to really save our communities we need to start planning at state and local levels as well.

Many states already have adaptation plans developed or in progress, but if your state is like mine (Maine), climate change has been put on the back burner for political reasons.  So how do we protect ourselves without guidance and support from our state government?  That is a question I am still working on, but I have a few ideas.

It seems to me that one of the best ways to gain and spread knowledge is through collaboration, after all, two heads are better than one.  One of my ideas to facilitate collaboration is to create a website through a state agency or university that provides information on climate change projections, possible challenges, and possible solutions for each sector.  This website would also include a message board where people could post on challenges they have faced and solutions they have come up with. The idea is that as people find they need to adapt, they have a place to go for guidance.

This is where you come in.  If I have spiked your interest in the adaptation struggle, I would love your help.  I am trying to brainstorm a variety of ways to reach my community and state with information and resources regarding climate change adaptation.  I want to reach as many individuals as possible, not just those connected with the university.  If you have any ideas or have done something like this, please comment on this post and fill me in!  I am hoping collaboration can start here!

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