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Forging Powerful Partnerships for ResilienceGrounding Adaptation in Community EngagementCreating Pathways for Social ResilienceTransforming the Governance Paradigm | Taking Action Under UncertaintyInvesting in Climate-Smart InfrastructureIntegrating Solutions for the Built EnvironmentEnhancing Natural and Working Lands Resilience

Taking Action Under Uncertainty Track

Track Summary by Patrick Pelegri-O’Day, Climate Action Coordinator, City of Alameda

The conceptual solutions to our climate adaptation challenges are out there. Yet up until now, they largely remain theoretical. To move forward on this huge issue, we need to start experimenting with what we think will work, and to do that we need to make use of diverse funding streams and make climate impacts politically immediate for voters. We also need to have plans in place so that when disasters hit, we can turn to our already established plans and do not what is politically palatable, but what is ecologically and socially necessary. Two of the most important actions that should be taken to make California more resilient: Involve those most impacted by climate disruption in climate adaptation decision-making and address the affordable housing shortage.

Building a Case for Ecosystem Services in Climate Adaptation

Session report by Patrick Pelegri-O’Day, Climate Action Coordinator, City of Alameda

Speakers: Libby Porzig, Point Blue Conservation Science (moderator); Nick Tipon, Federated Indians of Graton Racheria; Matt Chadsey, Earth Economics; Jean-Pierre Wack, Spatial Informatics Group; Heather Dennis, San Francisco Bay Conservation and Development Commission

This session focused on the Native Californian perspective on climate change and climate adaptation. In the Coast Miwok language, there is no word for wilderness – only a word for home. The Federated Indians of Graton Rancheria (the territory that is currently covered by modern day Marin County) have lived in an adapting landscape that once saw the shoreline 22 miles farther out to sea than it is now. Their indigenous worldview thus consists both of an intimate relationship with nature and an understanding that nature changes. The Elder present emphasized that the greatest threat of climate change to Native peoples is the threat to sacred sites and cultural practices. Protecting these resources should be a priority in climate adaptation planning.

  • Embrace change
  • Value cultural resources and practices
  • Listen to and follow the leadership of the Native peoples
  • Investing in ecosystem resilience is a no regrets climate adaptation strategy

In listening to Nick Tipon, an Elder of the Federated Indians of Graton Rancheria, speak about the huge landscape changes that his people have lived through over the last 13,000 years, I am reminded of words by Chief Caleen Sisk of the Winnemum Wintu tribe: “I believe in the good things coming.” Settlers in North America have a lot to learn from Native Californians about how to address the climate crisis we face, both culturally, spiritually, and in land management practices.

Twitter (140 characters): The perspectives of science and indigenous worldview are in conversation in this panel on valuing ecosystem services in climate adaptation planning.

Creating Equitable Outcomes: Lessons from the Residential Building Sector

Session report by Patrick Pelegri-O’Day, Climate Action Coordinator, City of Alameda

Speakers: Rachel Jacobson, American Society of Adaptation Professionals (moderator); Bryan Dove, Mutual Housing California; Alana Mathews, California Energy Commission; Heather Rosenberg, Building Resilience Network

This panel looked at the intersection of housing and energy – but turned into a broader conversation about a systems-thinking approach to climate adaptation. Panelists emphasized the importance of vision and of building relationships over time in order to have the trust necessary to make big decisions. They also tackled the weighty issue of climate gentrification, making the point that you can’t discuss climate adaptation without discussing displacement, which is a conversation that hasn’t yet been embraced at this conference.

  • Break down silos
  • Systems thinking
  • Cross-sector action
  • Build new housing solutions

I find it inspiring to see environmental groups, who have traditionally adopted a NIMBY stance, take an open view of the interconnected challenges at hand and advocate for more affordable housing in their own communities.

Twitter Summary: Housing and climate is a critical intersection in California. Panelists of diverse sectors take a systems-thinking approach to this singular challenge.

Flexible Adaptation Pathways: Emerging Applications in California

Session report by Patrick Pelegri-O’Day, Climate Action Coordinator, City of Alameda

Robert Kay, ICF (moderator)
Caitlin Cornwall, North Bay Climate Adaptation Initiative
Alexis Dufour, SFPUC
Deanna Haines, SDG&E
Tiffany Wise-West, City of Santa Cruz

How do you maintain level of service for your system in the face of unpredictable climate disruption? One approach is “flexible adaptation pathways.” Look at all possibilities for addressing a threat to your system, whether it’s water supply or city services. Identify what level of disruption each possibility will tolerate – for example, how much sea level rise a flood protection strategy will address – and costs and co-benefits for each. Then, chart the optimal path through these possibilities, planning to shift from one strategy to another based on “triggers” such as updates to scientific projects or experiences of new on-the-ground impacts.

We need to support politicians in making difficult decisions after disasters – such as potentially not rebuilding in the same way in a fire-prone area. We can support them in making those decisions by having a plan, and flexible adaptation pathways are a good option for that.

What I like best about this approach is the transparency. Decisions based on tradeoffs are being made all the time, and it’s usually not this transparent.

Core issues

  • What are we going to measure and why?
  • Who are we going to engage with and why?
  • How is the power to make decisions based on these thresholds going to get made? Will this approach disseminate power among the community or concentrate it?

Adaptation pathways seem like a practical, manageable, and intelligent approach to a challenge that can seem daunting and intractable: how do we make long term decisions in situations of high uncertainty and high risk? This session was very well attended with strong interest in this new framework.

Twitter Summary: How to manage uncertainty? One approach: adaptation pathways. Take the full suite of adaptation options and chart a path through it that minimizes long-term costs.


The California Adaptation Forum is hosted by the Local Government Commission