By George Harvey
Even if we could stop greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions today, the climate will continue to change over coming decades. The reasons for this are complicated, but at the same time easy to understand. It takes time to heat up a planet, and the effects of carbon emissions we produce today will not be fully felt for many years.
Efficiency and switching to renewable energy sources are not sufficient to stop climate change, though we can mitigate the worst effects. Even if we are completely successful with our efforts, the climate will still change to some degree. We have to be prepared for whatever comes, and that is why resiliency is important.
If we become skillfully resilient, to be able to recover easily from whatever buffeting nature gives us, we will be able to maintain comfortable and happy lives in the future. Developing that ability means we need to understand the facts about what confronts us.
Last March, President Obama launched the Climate Data Initiative to support the Climate Action Plan so we could develop the skills for resilience. He invited sixteen organizations to participate in the launch, government agencies like NOAA and NASA, and corporations expert in data processing like Microsoft, Intel, Google, and Amazon. Among them, one name stood out rather distinctly. It is Antioch University New England (AUNE).
AUNE already had a decade of experience in climate adaptation research and had done extensive modeling based on climate data, so a person really familiar with the organization would possibly not have been surprised by its inclusion in the effort. Its response to the President’s efforts was to open the Center for Climate Preparedness and Community Resilience (CCPCR) in Keene, New Hampshire.
CCPCR’s co-director Michael Simpson explained the center’s program in terms of a Venn diagram, consisting of three overlapping circles, labeled “Education and Training,” “Applied Research,” and “Stakeholder Capacity Building.” Each circle has an area that is its own. Each overlaps with both of the others. In the center is an area that is in all three. The CCPCR’s area of interest is all three, whether independently or in combination.
The point, of course, is to build a capacity for resilience at the community level. This relates to many things. The energy supply is one, both in terms of electricity and for fuels. Others include range from the ability to repair infrastructure damage to the supply of food.
One area of interest illustrates how complicated this is. Simpson said that while the health factor is talked about, it has not been completely detailed. We have heard about the movement north of Lyme disease, encephalitis, and West Nile virus. We may even have heard about the problems relating to heat islands in urban environments. There are, however, other aspects of health that are not often discussed. For example, psychological problems can arise out of a number of different kinds of trauma, ranging from post-traumatic stress following extreme storm events that result in loss of property and livelihood or the feeling of helplessness in light of what seems a global change that is out of our control. We have to be prepared for such challenges.
CCPCR has eight people involved. Four are students in programs leading to master’s degrees. One is a doctoral fellow. There are three faculty, in addition to Michael Simpson. Compared to programs elsewhere, that might be very small. The reach of the Center’s work is far afield, with research projects in Minneapolis and involving stakeholder capacity building from the Maritime Provinces and down the eastern seaboard and into the Gulf of Mexico. They also work on many issues, ranging from maintain resiliency of our watersheds and coastlines with a focus upon social justice and the most vulnerable populations. All of this relates to the Center’s core mission of strengthening communities to prepare, respond and recover in the face of climate impacts, and other disruptions, through collaborative, innovative solutions.
Asked how they can do so much, Simpson said, “We leverage our resources with those of the stakeholders.” The efforts of a small group of informed and dedicated people can move a large number of organizations to action.
One organization in New England CCPCR has worked with is the Upper Valley Adaptation Workgroup (UVAW), whose web site can be found at uvaw.uvlsrpc.org. UVAW has a mission that is very close to that of CCPCR, and provides an avenue to distribute expertise and data to local communities and businesses.
As it happens, Keene, New Hampshire, where AUNE is located, is a leading city in the resiliency movement. Keene started working on resiliency in 2000, when it contacted ICLEI – Local Governments for Sustainability. Keene is also working closely with CCPCR to advance its program. As has been pointed out, however, CCPCR works with many organizations over a wide area.
We urge those communities and organizations not yet active on resiliency to become so soon for the well-being of those whose lives they touch. For information, visit the CCPCR web site: www.communityresilience-center.org.