With a sigh of relief, the climate adaptation plan that I’ve been a research assistant on for close to a year is finally done. Being a rookie in applying my environmental science education into real world scenarios, this journey was an enlightening one. My mentor and author of Adapting to a Changing Climate: Risks & Opportunities for the Upper Delaware River Region, spent an entire year researching and crafting the plan. Through her years of experience in conservation planning, she was able to deliver a comprehensive adaptation plan that focuses on forest and water resources. The plan also speaks to local communities by focusing on economic impacts. As her research assistant, I was given the backseat advantage in observing what goes on behind the writing of the plan.
Scouring through convoluted climate science reports, articles, books, data…oh, the precious data that’s scattered all over the place and means nothing to a non-climate scientist…was my usual task.
Numbers begin to blur, acronyms lose their meaning, brain beginning to hurt.
Trying to make sense of dry scientific and scholarly reports in order to pass judgment whether or not those reports apply to my research require access to dictionaries, encyclopedias, and more reports…now I have strayed from my original research path.
The golden questions: WHAT DOES THIS DATA MEAN? WHY SHOULD ANYONE CARE?
In almost all of my research ventures, I had trouble answering the golden questions without having a conversation with my mentor or other team members. Finding out what kinds of data would interest the public and how best to represent that data require knowing your audience.
For example, I don’t fish. I’ve never gone fishing and I do not see the thrill in fishing. So, why should anyone care about what will happen to fish in the Upper Delaware River Region? Because it’s part of the $25 billion industry for the region. Because a healthy river with an abundance of fish is enjoyed by both birds of prey and anglers. Because die-hard anglers flock from cities to the Delaware River on weekends to find that perfect spot to catch a rainbow trout. Because bird watchers, especially bald eagle enthusiasts, come to witness the beauty of flight. A busy river means a busy town with lots of hospitality and money to go around.
Staying behind the computer, books, and mounds of paper as a method of research is inadequate. Talk to fellow researchers, planners, local anglers, forest landowners, farmers and learn what kind of information would interest your community.
The most important resource and also the toughest resource to get in creating an adaptation plan: Time. It takes time to find members to join your team. It takes your team members’ time in committing to climate adaptation. All the while, you are fighting the clock in publishing a plan with current data that will still be applicable after the plan has been released to the world.
Depending on where climate change is on each member’s priority list, expect challenges in getting your team together for meetings (and there should be many meetings before and during the writing of the plan). Unless your members are being paid to work on the plan and given time allotments where it’s a requirement to attend and participate in adaptation plan meetings, the burden lies on the researchers to connect and integrate individual members’ perspectives. Each member, with his/her valuable set of skills and knowledge, will have different perspectives on what takes priority in climate adaptation. Each member can also offer solutions and resources (including people) from a variety of disciplines in adapting certain parts of the local community to climate change.
Armed with data, science, stories, and team members on speed dial, the plan begins to take shape. Using words to give meaning to numbers, putting stories on paper to give tangibility to climate change, are challenges for a researcher-turned-writer. Writer’s block is a usual occurrence and that’s when it’s really helpful to converse with someone. It’s also helpful to walk in the forests, sunbathe by the river, catch a glimpse of a bald eagle that are part of the plan and are now at the mercy of climate change.
To my fellow climate change adapters, planners, educators, and potential victims, take care of your community and it will take care of you. Find out what is being planned for your part of the world. Find out what you and your family will have to face in the future.
For my family and friends who have made the Upper Delaware River Region their home, here’s a plan that was researched and written with you in mind:
(original publication of Adapting to a Changing Climate: Risks & Opportunities for the Upper Delaware River Region is posted at the Pinchot Institute for Conservation website)