Chapter 7 from our report summarizing the lessons we learned on the Great American Adaptation Road Trip. We partnered with the Georgetown Climate Center to get this to you. This is the last chapter! We hope you learned something. (We sure did.)
Stories are magnetic. They draw people in and bring them together. They can impart knowledge and inspire action. And yet they have been underutilized in climate change communication, despite much research indicating that they could be helpful. When we came up with the idea for the Great American Adaptation Road Trip, we wanted to explore the hypothesis that stories about climate resilience could reach audiences that scientific climate reports and city adaptation plans were not reaching. After three months on the road, we think we gathered enough qualitative evidence to indicate that this is true, based not only on the wide reach of our stories but also on the many community members we met who are, in fact, using storytelling techniques to get their messages out.
Stories are everywhere. Even at the wastewater treatment plant in Grand Rapids, MI! You just have to look for them.
Our ‘adaptation stories’ are composed of a few simple elements. Each story focuses on a specific climate impact and specific responses—such as a technology or a public process or a management plan—that in some way builds resilience to the climate impact. The adaptation story is grounded in place, because if there’s one theory we confirmed pretty quickly, it’s that people care about the places they live and regardless of whether they are concerned about the global problem of climate change, they are often very invested in improving and protecting their own backyard. An adaptation story is illustrated with striking visuals or multimedia. It includes an accessible, thoughtful depiction of available climate science, directly from a scientist, if possible. Most importantly, it is peopled with characters who, through quotes, tell much of the story in their own words, humanizing these serious challenges and the corresponding solutions.
Queen Quet tells us the story of how her grandfather used to put oyster shells back on the reefs to keep them healthy.
Storytelling is an act of documentation, but it is also one of envisioning. Stories are a way to make sense of and learn from the past, but they are also a powerful way to chart the future—to imagine what a neighborhood or a city or a farm could look like and then build that vision. That is why we think stories are an ideal format to communicate how people and places are using their wits and resources to build resilience to the impacts of climate change—because climate change is inherently about looking at the past we have built while imagining the future we need.
Mike tells Allie the stories behind the trees in Seneca Gardens in Louisville, KY
Many of the most driven, effective people we met on the trip were natural storytellers. Mike Hayman, a self-taught arborist in Louisville, Kentucky, can tell you the individual stories of dozens of the trees he helped plant in his neighborhood. The leadership committee members of Evacuteer, a New Orleans-based nonprofit that is using art to aid city-assisted evacuation, tell their personal horror stories from Hurricane Katrina to establish the ‘never again’ sentiment that propels their emergency management work. Dan Hansen of DuPont Pioneer, an international seed company, uses demonstration plots to tell the history of corn leading up to new, highly drought-resistant varieties.
People on the front lines of climate change use stories as guiding rudders, as a way to connect
with others and share ideas. Julia Kumari Drapkin, a journalist who founded a media project called iSeeChange that connects citizen observers with climate scientists, found that stories are also a way to get important scientific information into the right hands. As she began collecting stories from citizens, she recognized that they are noticing changes occurring, but may not have access to information about why, and what it means for the future.
“As we started doing these question-and-answer stories, we found more often than not, citizens are seeing the same things that scientists are seeing. The difference is they’re not writing papers about it—citizens are making decisions,” Drapkin said.
Julia Kumari Drapkin (left) tells road trippers Kirsten Howard and Allie Goldstein a thing or two about New Orleans snowballs (and storytelling).
Chapter 6 from our report summarizing the lessons we learned on the Great American Adaptation Road Trip. We partnered with the Georgetown Climate Center to get this to you. Chapter 7 coming soon.
Take-home lesson #6: Sometimes greenhouse gas mitigation and climate adaptation goals will conflict; but often times communities can reduce emissions while preparing for impacts.
With the 2014 National Climate Assessment detailing climate change impacts that are currently being felt in all 50 U.S. states, communities around the country are grappling with how to simultaneously adapt to these impacts and reduce their own greenhouse gas emissions. Doing so on a large scale will be key to making sure that efforts to adapt to climate change don’t exacerbate the problem, and instead build towards communities that are less reliant on greenhouse gases—in itself a form of adaptation to a climate-changed world. Small-scale examples are beginning to show that this is possible. Continue reading →
Chapter 5 from our report summarizing the lessons we learned on the Great American Adaptation Road Trip. We partnered with the Georgetown Climate Center to get this to you. Chapter 6 coming soon.
Take home lesson #5: A key challenge for funding adaptation efforts is finding ways to overcome upfront investment costs in order to save money in the long run. Creative financing mechanisms and savvy individuals can pave the way.
The World Bank has estimated that it will cost between $70 billion and $100 billion annually to adapt to a 3.6-degree-Fahrenheit warmer world by 2050. However, these figures depend strongly on whether our adaptation efforts are proactive or reactive: The United Nations Development Programme estimates that every dollar spent on preparedness for disasters now can save up to seven in relief efforts later. But what does this mean for a local city planner or natural resource manager trying to attach a price tag to a resilience-building project at the local level? Continue reading →
Take-home lesson #3: Climate science is more likely to be used when it is at the appropriate geographic and temporal scale for local decision-makers.
A common barrier to building local climate preparedness is that scientific information about climate change, produced by researchers around the world and summarized by groups such as the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, tends to span large geographic scales, typically global or continental, as well as long timeframes. Temperature and sea-level rise projections are often presented for the year 2100 and sometimes 2050 at the global and national levels, and communities have difficulty interpreting how broad-scale information relates to their local risks. Communities need ways to facilitate action at their local scale and on shorter planning horizons, or even briefer electoral timeframes.
Take-home lesson #2: Minimizing vulnerability to climate risks means both iterative, long-term planning and emergency management, depending on the likelihood and intensity of the impact.
Some climate change impacts are gradual and will affect areas we can pinpoint with moderate certainty—sea-level rise, for instance, is generally projected over long time horizons and vulnerable places along the coast are usually identifiable. Other impacts are sudden, extreme, and often unexpected—hurricane intensity, for example, is expected to increase, and we know those storms will occur somewhere at some time, but exactly where and when is incredibly challenging to forecast beyond a few days. When doing an adaptation project in a particular place, the risk—both the likelihood and the intensity of the climate impact—affects the perceived urgency of efforts to prepare, the scope of the options available, and the potential to be successful.
Take-home lesson #1: Many drivers motivate communities to pursue initiatives that enhance resilience to climate change impacts; projects that have multiple benefits are more likely to be implemented.
As climate change impacts such as more intense coastal storms, hotter heat waves, bigger floods, and more extreme droughts emerge across the U.S., communities are responding and preparing in myriad ways. At the heart of most action is people’s desire to protect and improve the place where they live, but this core motivation manifests itself differently in different settings. Some communities are driven to action by the ‘wake-up call’ of a hurricane or another disastrous event that exposes vulnerabilities. Some communities find that resiliency to climate impacts is yet another benefit of neighborhood initiatives such as tree planting or smart zoning that enhance quality of life. And some communities may not be thinking about climate change at all but nevertheless implement projects that help them weather the storm or the drought. Understanding what motivates people to build resilience is key when it comes to designing incentives, determining what information people will use to make decisions, and communicating the need for a project.
You’ve heard a lot about the scary impacts of climate change – and with the recent release of the 2014 Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report, it’s clear that in addition to reducing greenhouse gas emissions, communities all over the world need to begin adapting (preparing, building resilience, insert whichever phrase you like best there) to the irreversible climate changes we’re already starting to see.
So what does ‘adapting’ to climate change actually look like?
If you’ve wondered that too, you can take a (short version) of the Great American Adaptation Road Trip with us and find out. Watch the video recording of a lecture we recently gave at the New England Aquarium. We take you to Boston Harbor, Long Island, the Louisiana Bayou, the forests of New Mexico, the Olympic Peninsula in Washington State, the corn fields of Nebraska and Iowa, and, finally, to our hometown of Ann Arbor, Michigan. Comment, pose questions, get in touch. We want to keep talking about this.
Since completing the Great American Adaptation Road Trip, we’ve been sharing the things we learned about how climate change is affecting U.S. communities and how they are adapting to the changes they’re experiencing. We’ve shared adaptation stories with all sorts of groups, from 300 6th graders to environmental professionals at the EPA, NOAA, and other agencies.
If you’re in the Boston area, we want to invite you to a free talk we’re giving at the New England Aquarium on Thursday, October 9 at 7pm. You can register here.
We’ll tell you a bunch of road trip stories. Then we’ll reflect on what we all need to do to prevent the worst impacts of climate change and to help people protect the communities they love as temperatures and seas continue to rise. The talk is followed by a reception at 8:15pm where we’ll continue the conversation over refreshments. We promise it will be fun, educational, and engaging!
Nearly two years after Superstorm Sandy made landfall in New Jersey, the main drag in the town of Sea Bright, looks almost normal again. Beach-goers unload umbrellas and coolers from the oceanside parking lot. Restaurant-goers order brunch at the sidewalk cafes. Mrs. Rooney, the widow of Sea Bright’s former mayor, is stationed at her hot dog stand, which first opened in 1965.
Sea Bright’s 1,400 or so permanent residents put on a good face to get the tourists that are the lifeblood of their economy back in town. But it only takes a slightly closer look to see the wounds below the band-aids.
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.
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.”
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.
When we arrive in Detroit, it is at once beautiful and dilapidated, bustling and devoid. The Detroit Institute of Arts building, an apartment building on East Kirby Street, the Woodward Avenue Presbyterian Church—they’re historical landmarks that have managed to stay current, stay open, stay inhabited. But there’s an emptiness that surrounds them. Buildings on the skyline are hollow; the memories of what once filled them fading. Woodward Avenue seems oddly wide for the number of cars traversing it. It was built for a time of more traffic.
So how exactly do you win a tilling competition? We’re at the Prairie Homestead Antique Power and Country Craft Show in Belmond, Iowa, of all places, watching farmers on tractors practicing for the next day’s tillage contest.
Farmers practicing for the next day’s tilling competition in Belmond, IA
“You drive as straight as you can,” David Sieck, of Glenwood, Iowa, tells us. Sieck, a former president and current board member of the Iowa Corn Growers Association, has been growing field corn (used for animal feed and ethanol) in Iowa for over 35 years.
The roof on top of Crane Technical High School on Jackson Boulevard in Chicago is blindingly white—so reflective that we’re squinting through our sunglasses. Installed by Knickerbocker Paving & Roofing Co., the 110,000-square-foot white roof is part of Chicago’s efforts to reverse the urban heat island effect that can make cities up to 10 degrees hotter than surrounding rural areas. From our vantage point, we can see a mosaic of light-colored roofs reflecting the sun’s rays away from the urban core.
The view from the white rooftop of Crane Technical High School
Algae grown in these tanks will feed oyster larvae at Taylor Shellfish’s hatchery
The algae tanks that line the walls of Taylor Shellfish Farms hatchery in Quilcene, Washington are varying shades of emerald greens and beer-like browns. Each one holds a different gourmet meal for oyster larvae. The chief hatchery scientist, Benoit Eudeline, weaves through the tanks looking relieved.
“These look good,” he says. “We’ve been having some trouble growing algae lately. If it’s not problems with the larvae it’s always something else.”
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 →
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
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.
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.
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 →
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.
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.
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.’
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.”
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.
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.
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 →
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.
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.
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.
Watch our launch video about the project! We hope you will follow the blog, help us reach our fundraising goal, and participate in the conversation about climate change adaptation as we collect stories around the country.