Last week I attended a conference in Fort Collins, Colorado hosted by the North Central Climate Science Center (NCCSC). The conference brought together regional research hubs and land managers to share past work, on-going projects, best practices, and future goals. It was an opportunity for networking, collaboration, and communication focused on climate science and climate change adaptation. It was a wonderful opportunity for me to learn more about regional partnerships – the regional climate science centers cover the entire contiguous 48 United States, the USDA climate hubs do the same, Landscape Conservation Cooperatives cover much of the United States, and the Regional Integrated Sciences and Assessments cover much of the United States as well – and meet folks engaged in climate adaptation research and practice.
Yes, that’s right, this conference was focused on collaborative efforts to develop methods for adapting to and living in a world whose climatic conditions are uncertain, variable, and unlike anything we are accustomed to. While we hear much in the news on the national and international scales about climate change mitigation, it’s increasingly understood that while reducing our emissions of planet-warming and climate-altering gases is a necessity, we must also learn to adapt to climate changes that we are currently experiencing, and will continue to experience thanks to a legacy of greenhouse gas emissions.
How will we live in a world where water is available in different quantities and at different times throughout the year, where wildfires encroach on urban areas and wipe out entire forests, where insect outbreaks threaten entire forest stands, where sea-level rise threatens human health and infrastructure in urban areas, and where traditional economic drivers in resource-dependent regions of the country and the world are threatened by these and other factors? In Colorado, and throughout the southwest and other areas of the world, climate change is impacting the water sector in ways that are compelling us to evaluate how water is managed and used and what activities and practices might no longer be viable under future scenarios. Land management agencies need to know how to deal with these and so many more issues where the ecosystems they manage and the livelihoods that depend on sound management are vulnerable to these impacts. However, with limited budgets and myriad challenges affecting present-day management, planning for the future and adapting management practices to uncertain and variable future climate conditions is particularly challenging.
This is where research institutions like the NCCSC, the USDA Climate Hubs, universities, and many more, can play a key role. With direction from the Department of the Interior and the Executive branch of the federal government (and other high level directives at the state and national levels), funding at the federal level exists to support partnerships between researchers and practitioners. In co-developing research projects, managers and researchers can define the scope and goal of projects so the results are most salient and credible, so they’re user-ready and applicable to the issues at hand. With an eye toward 2016, I hope to see candidates that support the continuation of these efforts that reach far beyond environmental impacts into the realms of social and economic justice.