Alex Basaraba works at the interstice of environmental conservation, climate change, and human well-being using visual story-telling, research, and planning. Currently, he works as a climate resilience specialist with Adaptation International, a consulting firm focused on helping communities and organizations prepare for the impacts of climate change. Adaptation International specializes in bridging the gap between climate science and community action and invests in developing tools and strategies necessary to support climate change preparedness. In addition to pursuing his own climate and environmentally-focused storytelling projects, Alex works in Nepal as an educator with National Geographic Expeditions. He holds a Master’s in the Human Dimensions of Natural Resources and a Bachelor’s in Biology, both from Colorado State University.
Contributed by Lily Swanbrow Becker, ASAP Network Manager
Last September, brought face-to-face with the ephemeral beauty of a ghost orchid while waist-deep in the cold, inky waters of a swamp inside Ten Thousand Islands National Wildlife Refuge, I experienced deep connection to nature. But even as a natural resource-focused adaptation professional and proud Floridian, the state known for its prehistoric reptiles and wild places, those moments are few and far between. This week in the UN biodiversity report, we read that humans have significantly altered three quarters of the landscape and 66 percent of the seascape, threatening 1,000,000 species with extinction in the coming decades. The report is sobering in its scale, scope and certainty, but sadly its conclusions are not unexpected. The collective understanding that humans have altered Earth’s natural systems in profound ways began to sink in well before the concept of the Anthropocene was introduced almost 20 years ago. We knew it then and we see it now, every time we step outside.
For adaptation professionals, the deepest significance of the report may not be its comprehensiveness on the state of biodiversity on Earth, but rather that it nails down “how closely human well-being is intertwined with the fate of other species.” This is a fact that scientists have struggled to meaningfully communicate to the broader adaptation field over the past decade. The UN biodiversity report represents a strong step in this direction, following a trend of increased efforts to translate and quantify the value of ecosystem services in more human-centric terms.
These ecosystem services comprise some of the best adaptation strategies we can bring to bear on climate change. Coral reefs provide the United States with $1.8 billion in annual flood protection benefits. Mangroves sequester carbon, thrive in brackish waters and provide suburb shoreline stabilization as sea levels rise. As adaptation professionals always striving for innovation, we have to be humbled by the solutions nature offers up. Reflecting on 18 ways nature helps humans (including food, medicine, energy generation, inspiration etc) as plainly laid out in the report may have been the tipping point we needed to finally and truly get it: humans and nature are inextricably connected.
Of course at ASAP, we already get it. As with nature, the strength of our network is deeply rooted in connection. Still, as we struggle together towards adapting to a future threatened by climate change, it is easy to feel we must prioritize threats based on urgency. While making difficult choices about where to direct our limited capacity is necessary at times, we must not forget our charge to be systems thinkers and strive to increase connections, as elaborated on in the Living Guide. In this case, it is not a matter of choosing whether to prioritize human health over ecological health but of reaching the understanding that the choice has never really existed in the first place – we are one system.
News of the biodiversity report greeted me on Monday morning, just as I was beginning my first full week as Network Manager at ASAP. The grim and frightening warnings aside, I’ve found a thread of hope this week in some of what the report offers and in my choice to embark on this new role. For example, I am grateful for the emphasis the report places on the need to learn from “the knowledge, innovations and practices, institutions and values of Indigenous Peoples and Local Communities,” acknowledging that global trends of ecosystem decline are generally less severe or absent on lands managed by Indigenous Peoples. The report concludes that “transformative change” is needed to slow or reverse the trajectory biodiversity is on. Seeking to learn from Indigenous Peoples, as Jem Bendell describes with the concept of “radical hope,” may be one way to strive for this transformative change.
The report also ranks the driving forces of human influence on nature in descending order as land use change, direct exploitation of species, climate change, pollution and invasive species. This type of comparison is a highly relevant policy tool and a conversation I engaged in often during my time working on adaptation for fish and wildlife for Florida state government. Asking for example, is increased sea level rise or the projection of 15 million new residents by 2070 a more urgent threat to state conservation lands? But I would argue that this type of question cannot really be answered.
We must explore ways of finding connection wherever possible, acknowledging, for example, that land use change and climate change will interact in compounding ways on a future landscape. Working in a realm where climate change interacts with and magnifies other threats in a complex web touching all facets of society is one of the greatest challenges adaptation professionals must rise to. But it is a challenge I see us stepping up to meet with increased vigor and a challenge ASAP is perfectly positioned to support. While my personal motivation for a career in climate adaptation is deep reverence for nature, I am thrilled to have the honor of supporting a network built from the strength of its connections across the broad span of the adaptation field. I look forward to continuing to weave these connections with all of you.
Based in Tallahassee, Florida, Lily Swanbrow Becker joins the ASAP team as our new Network Manager. Lily will facilitate member connectivity and value creation across the ASAP network through support of peer-learning opportunities including the ASAP Member-Led Interest Groups, Regional Hubs and more. Lily brings many years of experience in climate adaptation, natural resources conservation, facilitation and professional development. You can contact Lily at [email protected].
Alexander Hurley is Jr. Vice President of Operations for smart-cities startup firm Venture Smarter, Inc. and leads the company’s energy and resilience practice. He is dedicated to supporting governments, businesses, and universities that are researching, building, funding, and deploying smart and sustainable solutions to make better places to live, work, play, and visit. Alex completed a Master of Science in Environmental Studies degree through Ohio University’s Voinovich School of Leadership and Public Affairs in May of 2018. In this degree program, he studied the nature of large organizational partnership networks focused on developing localized climate change policies and programs.
The American Society of Adaptation Professional is thrilled to announce the appointment of two new directors to our Board of Directors. These two new directors, Emily Wasley and Julia Kim, will join seven seated Board Members for an initial three year term of 2019 through 2022. Emily and Julia join the ASAP Board at an exciting time for our organization. As we continue to seek out new and meaningful ways to fulfill our mission of supporting and connecting climate adaptation professionals to advance excellence and innovation in the field of adaptation. We welcome these highly respected and dynamic adaptation thought leaders and look forward to continuing to learn with them and from them in the years to come.
Reflections on Climate Leadership in 2019
By Beth Gibbons
Next month, the North American adaptation community will meet in the Midwest US. Comprised of vanguards and newcomers, we will converge in Madison to share strategies, lessons learned, successes, failures, friendships, beer and cheese – it is Wisconsin, after all!
This past week, a different climate community convened on the seawall of the Inner Harbor of Baltimore at the Climate Leadership Conference. Convened by C2ES and The Climate Registry, it is the descendent of an event once hosted by the EPA by the same name. However, unlike past years, resilience and climate adaptation were on the agenda–both literally and figuratively–for the conference attendees.
At ASAP, we have seen a marked increase in the private sector engagement in the climate resilience and adaptation conversation. We are observing shifts in the climate resilience marketplace (both demand for and support of services) and in the shifting demographics of the ASAP Membership.
Attending events like the Climate Leadership Conference and our stalwart National Adaptation Forum, we can translate lessons between events and achieve more robust discussions with our members. In that spirit, here are the top 5 observations from the ASAP Booth at the Climate Leadership Conference 2019:
- Companies want climate resilience (and sustainability) integrated throughout their entire operations. Kevin Rabinovitch, VP for Global Sustainability at Mars Inc., noted that it’s not enough for climate resilience to the job of his 20 person team. Rather he wants to see principles of resilience (and sustainability) integrated throughout Mars Incorporated’s 113,000 employees.
- Mitigation vs. Adaptation is still being talked about. While there was robust discussion on the role of corporations advocating for climate action, there was also an expressed concern that ‘if we can only advance one policy goal – it has to be mitigation’.
- The lack of US federal leadership is felt across the world. When asked about whether the US is losing its reputation as a leader, Cathy Woollums of Berkshire Hathaway Energy quipped,“Sometimes, when you want to be leader, you have to lead.”
- New legal challenges are coming fast and furious.
- TCFD – the Bloomberg driven, international framework for corporate risk disclosure is creating a pathway into this work. However, the path through climate financial disclosure remains fertile ground for innovation and exploration.
I also noticed a few things were missing from this conference:
- The financial markets were missing. I don’t think there were any speakers from S&P, Moody’s or Fitch – the three domestic rating agencies. Despite support from Bloomberg, their team kept a low profile throughout the event.
- The conversations were sorely missing the federal perspective. At a conference once hosted by Environmental Protection Agency and hosted less than 40 miles from the D.C. border, the lack of federal agency staff was striking.
- The crowd was – well – not young. While Greta Thunberg and the youth movement is dominating the global climate conversation, this conference was still about top down leadership from well-seasoned professionals.
- The attendees, and especially the speakers, were conspicuously white. This was definitely a crowd where the word equity was more likely to be in a sentence with ‘balance sheet’ and ‘profit’ than ‘justice’ and ‘race’.
I do not point out these missing groups to criticize or diminish the value of the conversations and interactions that were taking place. However, throughout the adaptation and resilience field, we have learned that when we change who is the room, we change the conversation. When we change the conversation, we change the actions. We also know that diversity equals profitability, and that is an equity outcome we all like to achieve.
The public sector was never going to solve this challenge on its own. There was an appetite for action and a different kind of know-how on display in Baltimore last week. Now, more than ever, I am grateful for ASAP being an inclusive community that can bridge these events, connect conversations, and drive the innovation and excellence that we need across this critical and diverse field of practice.
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By Dawn Nelson, ASAP Communications Coordinator
An emergency declaration for a border wall as a measure for national security is not an incongruity lost on many Americans. It becomes troubling to learn that some of the money being diverted to fund a border wall will come from construction funding to strengthen the resilience of US military bases–thereby diminishing capacity for national security.
The Trump administration aims to grab $3.6 billion from Defense Department Military construction funds. Concerns abound across the political spectrum that this will negatively impact previously prioritized projects, such as military family housing, schools, and service animal treatment facilities and other critical upgrades and base improvements. This has direct bearing on adaptation and resilience capacity for numerous military construction projects.
For example, military bases on the South Carolina coast are at risk for annual flooding events to nearly double in the coming decades. In Florida, the Tyndall Air Force base has already sustained severe damage from last year’s hurricanes, and future funding remains uncertain. The House Appropriations Committee identified nearly $311 million at risk of diversion in Hawaii, including $45 million for improvements at Pearl Harbor and another $123 million for Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam.
The irony that diverting funds from military construction projects to pay for a security measure that actually undermines security is stark. As Rep. Kendra Horn, Member of the House Armed Service Committee simply states, “Pulling from our military housing does not make us safer. In fact, it makes us more vulnerable.”
Nevertheless, we find it heartening that this may afford an opportunity to reach across the political aisle and forge some unlikely allies. Consider this your call to action to reach out to elected officials today.
COASTAL RISK CONSULTING ASSISTS MAJOR INVESTOR WITH DUE DILIGENCE FOR PURCHASE AND PROTECTION OF WATERFRONT PROPERTY.
Welcome Aboard the 2019 Mentorship Program Co-Chairs!
Mentorship Spotlight: Environment, Adventure & the Science of Decision