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Walking the Floodplain to Protect Historic Portsmouth from Sea Level Rise

Portsmouth, NH

Kirsten Howard

With the road trip part of the Adaptation Stories project now complete, I’m walking along narrow brick lined streets through the Historic District of my new hometown: Portsmouth, New Hampshire. This quaint Atlantic Seacoast community was the third settled U.S. city, so the homes in the South End neighborhood are historic gems. Some played host to George Washington in the 1700s, while others housed factory workers in a more industrial era.

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Marsh at sunset. | Photo (c) Whitney Flanagan, The Conservation Fund

Maryland Marsh Plans to Rise Above the Rising Tides

Dorchester County, MD

Allie Goldstein

The tall pine stands at the edge of the marsh look permanent to the untrained eye, but when we step off the pavement and onto the forest floor, the ground sways like a mattress. We’re standing on what Erik Meyers calls terra infirma.

“This is all history,” he says. “This is all going to be gone.”

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Kirsten and Allie get irrigated by drop nozzle system in Georgia

On Flood and Thirst: How Communities Are Adapting to the Age of Unpredictable Water

In Keene, New Hampshire, Duncan Watson looks out the window with trepidation as rain pounds the glass of his office at the Public Works Department; in 2005, a flood in his hometown killed seven people. And across the country in Santa Fe, New Mexico, forest fuels specialist Bill Armstrong fears he’s losing a race against the clock to thin and prescriptively burn the tree-crowded national forest before a prolonged drought sets the stage for another mega-fire.

What do these two men have in common? They’re on opposite sides of the same coin, dealing with the consequences of what Watson calls a “caffeinated climate” in which change is not so much about the slowly rising thermostat, but about more pronounced extremes, from very wet to very dry.

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Our Road Trip in 7 Minutes

2 friends. 1 minivan. 31 states. 103 days. 17,358 miles. 158 interviews. 32 adaptation stories. Watch the 7-minute version of the Great American Adaptation Road Trip.

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Sharing Shelter in San Francisco

July 23-25, 2013

San Francisco, CA

From Nashville, Tennessee to Santa Fe, New Mexico to Los Osos, California, Airbnb has been a favorite tool for finding accommodations on the road. If you aren’t familiar with it, Airbnb is an increasingly popular online platform through which people rent their spare room or extra apartment to travelers passing through town. The company is revolutionizing the bed & breakfast business—an in-house study found that Airbnb contributed $56 million to the San Francisco economy in 2011 and a whopping $240 million to Paris’s economy in 2012. Continue reading

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Why Climate Change Is Not the End of Wine

July 26, 2013

Napa Valley, California

Napa Valley has often found itself featured in national newspapers and magazines as the paparazzied ‘poster child’ of climate change impacts on agriculture. Recent media coverage has been based on two studies: One 2011 study out of Stanford suggests the land suitable for premium grapes in Northern California could be cut in half by 2040, while vineyards might thrive in the Willamette Valley of Oregon. And a 2013 study led by Conservation International, published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, predicts a two-thirds drop in production in the world’s major wine-growing regions, including Napa Valley.

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Joshua trees pepper the Mojave Desert in Joshua Tree National Park

Preventing a Joshua Treeless National Park

July 21-22

Joshua Tree National Park, California

The desert has much to teach us about the marvels of adaptation. Relentless sun, little water, and summer temperatures over 100 degrees Fahrenheit can make a forbidding world for non-desert dwellers. Yet hundreds of species conserve moisture and beat the heat in fascinating ways. –Joshua Tree National Park visitor’s map

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Mesquite at the Table

July 19, 2013

Tucson, Arizona

When Laurie Melrood, a social worker who counsels undocumented immigrants, moved to Tucson a decade ago, her motto changed from ‘eat your garden’ to ‘eat your yard.’ It wasn’t an easy transition. For a while, she brooded about the soil conditions behind her house. Then, one afternoon, a Yaqui friend came over, climbed a tree, and started shaking down mesquite pods. Melrood hadn’t given the trees much thought before this moment—in fact, she’d swept the pods off her patio to throw them away. But the stubborn desert plant soon captivated her, and today, Melrood holds mesquite workshops at her home a dozen times a year. She teaches the history and uses of mesquite, then takes the group to harvest pods from trees at nearby Joaquin Murietta Park.

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A prickly pear cactus

Rainwater Harvesters Reap Bounty in Arid Tucson

Tucson, AZ

July 19, 2013

Brad Lancaster describes the strip of vegetation beside the sidewalk outside his Tucson, Arizona home as “an orchard and a pharmacy.” The desert ironwood tree has peanut flavored seeds and blooms that make a delicious salad garnish. Creosote is good for athlete’s foot. Chuparosa has a red flower that tastes like cucumber. The barrel cactus’s yellow fruit can be used for chutneys or hair conditioner. Mesquite pods make nutritious flour. And many more. Depending on the season, Lancaster gets 10 to 20 percent of his food from this sidewalk garden, and another in his yard.

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Some forest management near the Dillon Reservoir.

Denver Residents Pay Forest Service to Keep Their Water Clean

July 11-14, 2013

Denver, CO

As we stand at the Dillon Reservoir in the Rocky Mountains of Colorado, we’re daunted by the expanse of water. Sailboats and speedboats zip back and forth, enjoying the summer season. At one end, the water is mostly contained by a high cement wall but for a steady stream slipping over the dam on its way to Denver. Abutting the reservoir is the White River National Forest, made up mostly of lodgepole pine trees. Some trees are laid barren by the pine beetle, some scarred by fire, some still healthy.

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Some ripening peaches at Black Bridge Winery

Colorado Fruit Growers Harness Wind, Water, and Fire to Save Harvest

July 8-10, 2013

Paonia & Hotchkiss, Colorado

Glenn Austin started farming on his family’s organic dairy and tobacco farm in Tennessee at the ripe age of five. As a young man, he worked for Monsanto, but after several years Austin decided petrochemical fertilizers weren’t for him, so he and his wife made the move from Tennessee to the Western Slopes of Colorado’s Rocky Mountains to plant a sustainable orchard. This year he turns 70 and marks his 43rd year farming in Paonia. When we hopped on Austin’s golf cart to tour his family farm, which sits high on a mesa in the North Fork Valley, things were in full swing. Continue reading

Bill Armstrong surveys the charred forest in Santa Fe, NM.

A Fight for Fire in New Mexico

Santa Fe National Forest, New Mexico

July 6, 2013

This story does not represent the views of the U.S. Forest Service. Bill Armstrong was interviewed as a fellow alumnus of the University of Michigan School of Natural Resources and Environment.

Driving through the Santa Fe National Forest, it is hard to believe that this landscape was once savannah-like, with grassy clearings opening up among the ponderosa pine. Now, there are about 900 trees crowded in per acre where there used to be 40.

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To Restore the Coast, Galveston Gets Kids and Grown-ups in the Same Boat

Galveston, TX

July 1, 2013

This story is dedicated to Ann Graham, who devoted her life to teaching. She was a loving mother, wife, and friend. She was also gifted with an enviable green thumb.

“I just learned how to drive stick shift last month,” Kari Howard chuckled apologetically as she drove us around Galveston Bay, a little jerky in a big, standard transmission Ford truck. We were headed to a sand dune restoration site Howard helped with in the coastal town of Galveston, Texas.

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Wetlands in the Bayou protect homes from storm sturges

Gulf Utility Invests in the True Value of Wetlands

The Gulf of Mexico

June 27 – July 2

Charlie Broussard, a shrimper on the docks in Cocodrie, Louisiana, has seen the wetlands he paddled through as a kid shift dramatically—literally. In fact, the Louisiana coastline is changing so quickly that fisherman and oil rig workers who have spent their lives navigating the bayou by boat sometimes get lost as familiar landmarks are drowned. In Louisiana, 1,880 square miles of land have vanished since the 1930s, and the current rate of land loss is equivalent to a football field every 38 minutes.

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Julia Kumari Drapkin (left) teaches road trippers Kirsten Howard and Allie Goldstein a thing or two about New Orleans snowballs.

An Almanac in the Age of Climate Change

New Orleans, Louisiana

June 28, 2013

Julia Kumari Drapkin originally wanted to start iSeeChange, a media project that connects citizen observers and climate scientists, in New Orleans. As a Florida native who grew up swimming in the Gulf of Mexico, Drapkin never imagined herself living in Paonia, Colorado, (generous) population estimate: 2,000.

So when the producer at KVNF, the local radio station in Paonia, asked her to bring her Corporation for Public Broadcasting grant there, Drapkin found the town on a map. She had covered climate science from the Arctic to Mongolia to Australia and had a hunch that there was more to the simplified story about the ‘climate debate’ in the United States. After talking with the producer, Drapkin realized that Paonia—an eclectic town of coal miners, fruit farmers, and journalists in the North Fork Valley—was the perfect place to rethink that story.

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EvacuSpot reflected in the bus window.

New Orleans Gives Evacuation Plan an Artist’s Touch

New Orleans, Louisiana

June 27-28, 2013

As we drive down North Rampart Street in New Orleans, we pass a fourteen-foot tall, steel statue of a person with one arm outstretched as if to hail a ride. Its pose seems symbolic as much as aesthetic, drawing people to it as if to say, “stick with me and I will guide you.” And that’s exactly what the statue does, because it marks an ‘EvacuSpot.’

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Georgia Farmers Irrigate Smarter

Camilla, Georgia

June 24, 2013

Transcript:

Allie Goldstein: This is Allie Goldstein and Kirsten Howard of Adaptation Stories. On June 24, 2013, we visited Camilla, Georgia.

We spent the day with Casey Cox, a 21-year-old, sixth-generation Georgian who just finished college and has returned to Camilla to help run her family farm. Some people were surprised by her decision.

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Queen Quet, Unedited

Saint Helena Island, South Carolina

June 22, 2013

The Gullah/Geechee people, descendants of enslaved Africans captured in Angola and other parts of the Western Seaboard of Africa who now stretch from Jacksonville, North Carolina to Jacksonville, Florida, do not have a word for “adaptation” or “resiliency” in their Creole language. And yet, as Queen Quet, the elected head-of-state for the Gullah/Geechee, explains in the (unedited) clip above, the Gullah/Geechee are an incredibly resilient people: they maintained their culture through slavery and today continue traditional farming practices on family compounds.

“What we understand, or overstand as I like to say—that’s what others call adapting,” Queen Quet said. “We call it living.”

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Searching for Shade in Louisville

Louisville, Kentucky

June 12-13, 2013

Known for its derbies and its Olmsted parks; Louisville, Kentucky, is also gaining notoriety as the city with the fastest growing urban heat island in the country, according to research at the Georgia Tech Urban Climate Lab. We wanted to find out what people in Louisville are doing to prepare and protect themselves against the heat. Watch Louisville’s story about the citizens who are banding together to get trees in the ground.

To view more photos click here.

Living shorelines protect the area from flood risk.

In North Carolina, Sea Level Rise Is No Crystal Ball

Beaufort, North Carolina

June 19-20, 2013

On June 4, 2012, Stephen Colbert did what the North Carolina Coastal Resources Commission could not: he made sea level rise sexy. In a five-and-a-half-minute spot titled “Sink or Swim,” Colbert poked fun at NC-20, a conservative group that pushed the NC state legislature to introduce a bill that would ban state agencies from considering anything more than historical data on sea level rise in future planning.

Colbert mocked NC-20’s logic with a pointed metaphor: “ If we consider only historical data, I’ve been alive my entire life, therefore I always will be.”

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Vaughn has been helping this homeowner access FEMA grants to raise their home.

Norfolk Rises Above the Rising Tide

Norfolk, Virginia

June 10, 2013

Everyone was dripping wet in the elevator on our way to the Flood Executive Group meeting in Norfolk, Virginia’s City Hall. A young man squeezed in on the third floor.

“I’m thinking of going for a swim today after work—right off my front porch,” he joked.

Norfolk has the distinction of being in the second most vulnerable metropolitan area in the U.S.—after New Orleans—to sea level rise, so quips about flooding are common. But, unfortunately, there is always some truth to the banter: even the day’s intermittent thundershowers would lead to flash floods in some neighborhoods.

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During our stay, the intersection of 5th and Pennsylvania was closed due to flooding from rainstorms.

Delaware’s Beach Houses Surf, Then Freeboard

Lewes and Bethany Beach, Delaware

June 7-9, 2013

When Arthur and Roberta Leib returned to Bethany Beach, Delaware after the Great March Storm of 1962, instead of finding their army-surplus house in its usual grassy lot off 5th Street, they encountered it surfing among the downed utility wires at the intersection of 5th and Pennsylvania. Fortunately, they were able to retrieve the house and move it back to “higher ground,” which according to their son, Jeff Leib, consisted of the foot or two of sand that had blown into the lot with the Nor’easter winds. Thanks to this recovery, we were able to enjoy a few days at the beach in the quaint, blue house with an adventurous spirit. Of course, not every house was so lucky. Continue reading

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Keeping Baltimore Neighborhoods Cool

Baltimore, Maryland

June 4, 2013

Baltimore is known as the “city of neighborhoods.” Kristin Baja, the new Hazard Mitigation and Adaptation Planner for the city, is working on learning the names of all 225 of them. She’s eight months into job and doing pretty well so far—as we drive around the city, she’s rattling off names: Patterson Park, the Middle East, Four By Four (which is actually a four block by four block square), Oliver, Ellwood Park. Easier than memorizing neighborhoods, though, is figuring out what areas of the city are in need of more tree canopy. These are the areas with no respite of shade during extreme heat events.

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New Rochelle before and after

Patience After the Superstorm

June 3, 2013

New Rochelle, New York

Last October, Hurricane Sandy ripped through New Rochelle, New York, on Long Island Sound, leaving two-thirds of residents without power. Traffic lights hung blank-faced in the streets. Families intent on going out trick-or-treating two days after the storm were cautioned to avoid downed wires

“Boats were deposited in places we never ever thought we’d see in our lifetime,” said Bill Zimmerman, New Rochelle’s Parks and Recreation Commissioner. Continue reading

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Podcast: Solar Company ‘Empowers’ New York After Sandy

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Transcript

Allie Goldstein: This is Allie Goldstein and Kirsten Howard of Adaptation Stories. On June 3, 2013, we visited Island Park, New York on the South Shore of Long Island. We met with David Schieren who cofounded Empower Solar along with Greg Sachs in 2003. Empower’s core business is the design and installation of solar power systems, which they do across New York City and the surrounding region. That business was compromised—temporarily—when Hurricane Sandy hit New York on October 29, 2012. We spoke with David about Empower’s story of resilience, which had some surprising twists and turns. I’ll let him tell it to you. Continue reading

“I’ve learned that Planning is not an instant gratification profession. It takes time, but eventually you see the results of your efforts." -Ryan Bennett, Planner at the Cape Cod Commission

Cape Codders Take Down Parking Lots, Put Up Paradise

Cape Cod, Massachusetts

May 28-29, 2013

On Cape Cod, the 15-town peninsula jutting off of mainland Massachusetts, ‘pahking lots’—or parking lots as they are known by some—are a big deal.

“In the off-season, it’s a daily routine for people to grab a newspaper, a coffee at Dunkin’ Donuts, a ‘nip’ if they need it from the liquor store next door, and drive down to the Paine’s Creek parking lot to watch the sunset,” said Jim Gallagher, the Conservation Administrator for the Town of Brewster. Although Gallagher was mostly joking about the ‘nip’ part, sure enough, as we interviewed him about beach erosion at Ellis Landing, a construction worker pulled his truck up to the edge of the parking lot to eat his lunch facing the waves. Continue reading

Climate-Ready Spaulding Hospital Will Keep Boston Strong

Boston, Massachusetts

May 30, 2013

Forward-thinking institutions like Spaulding Rehabilitation Hospital, which opened its doors April 2013, are using lessons learned from hospitals in other cities to prepare for natural disasters.

spaulding

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The author, Allie Goldstein, at Intervale Community Farms on a rainy day in Vermont. (Photo by the other author, Kirsten Howard.)

For Vermont Farmers, the Road to Resilience Is Winding

Cuttingsville and Burlington Vermont

May 24-27, 2013

It takes us an entire morning and part of an afternoon to find Evening Song Farm. I think they got wiped out by the flood, the owner of a sandwich shop in Cuttingsville, Vermont shrugs. A few miles down the road, we find Evening Song’s faded sign. No answer at the door. A woman at the garden shop tells us to cross the bridge and then the railroad tracks, turn right onto a dirt road, and follow it to the top.

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Belvedere Rd in Keene, NH was destroyed in the 2012 flood. The City is installing a new, box culvert to better protect the roadway.

‘Live Free’ Spirit Could Keep Keene, NH Afloat

Keene, New Hampshire

Thursday, May 23

Duncan Watson and André both get the jitters when it rains. For Watson, Assistant Director of Public Works for Keene, New Hampshire, heavy precipitation events bring back memories of the massive storm the city experienced in October 2005 that dumped 11 inches of rain in 24 hours. Near Watson’s house, the Cold River overflowed, unleashing a 20-foot tall wall of water that wiped out many homes and killed seven people.

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New porous pavement in Ann Arbor, MI near the University of Michigan

Ann Arbor’s Climate-Smart Stormwater Utility

Ann Arbor, Michigan

May 16-20, 2013

We all know that money doesn’t grow on trees. In fact, the opposite is probably more true, as maintaining urban canopies and parks is a major expense for many local governments. In Ann Arbor, Michigan, a newly structured stormwater utility is helping the City pay for its namesake—and prompting residents to think differently about the connection between their land, water, and trees.

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This is wastewater is almost ready to send back into the Grand River in Grand Rapids MI

Grand Rapids: A Little Riverside City with A Big Sustainability Punch

Grand Rapids, Michigan

May 15, 2013

Sitting in a conference room in the midst of Grand Rapids’ state-of-the-art wastewater treatment plant, Mike Lunn, the Director of the City’s Environmental Services Department, tells us a story. It’s a universal story—one that applies to countless towns and cities as they cropped up across America:

First, in the late 1800s, they just sent raw sewage in pipes straight down to the river. When the city started smelling unpleasant, some bright individuals combined the sewer pipe system with the rainwater system, allowing the rain to naturally flush out the sewage pipes. But eventually, the river’s foul odor was too harsh on the olfactory glands, so they ran the pipes parallel along the riverbed, sending the sewage downstream. After a while the neighbors complained, so, in the 1930s, they built the first wastewater treatment plant to clean the sewage water before it reached the river.

In some cities, the story more or less ends there. But in Grand Rapids, the Environmental Service Department’s (ESD) attitude is that the plant’s processes need to be continually improving.

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The ladies and gents of 10 o'clock coffee in Pentwater MI

Dropping Lake Levels Cause Pentwater Residents to Innovate

Pentwater, Michigan

May 13-14, 2013

Long-time residents of Pentwater, Michigan—population 847 as of the last census—have seen many changes over the years, from the array of windmills sited in their fruit orchards to tourists descending on what used to be a sleepy one-room schoolhouse village beside Michigan’s majestic freshwater ocean. Yet 10 o’clock coffee remains unchanged by the decades. A group of a couple dozen Pentwater men have been meeting at a local coffee shop six days a week since coffee was a dime a cup. ‘The Ladies’ started their own coffee club a few decades ago, but sit at a separate table at Good Stuffs, a local café.

“Come to 10 o’clock coffee to find out what’s going on. If not, come the next day,” Jack Patterson, owner of Patterson Marina, told us over a cup. Continue reading

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