August 16, 2022

How can the world adapt to a changing climate?

Can you give some examples from the book of successful strategies that governments, communities and the private sector are now using to adapt to climate change?

Many innovative ideas have begun to bubble up in the literature. Local governments everywhere are experimenting with nature-based solutions that involve using natural processes and features to meet community needs. For example, green roofs can be installed without engineering expertise or private financing, helping communities adapt to warmer temperatures by providing cooling effects for buildings and people.

Another example is in the agricultural sector, where farmers around the world are beginning to plant new crops that are better suited to the new climates they live in. Increasing productivity in those places offers a promising approach for communities struggling with food insecurity.

In terms of equity and inclusion, how can climate adaptation policies meet the needs of marginalized groups?

Everywhere, disadvantaged people and communities suffer the most from climate change. Unlike climate mitigation policies that seek to reduce greenhouse gases at the national level, adaptation policies are interesting, in part because they tend to happen at the local level. When these policies include a participatory process, they potentially provide a meaningful way for disadvantaged communities not only to have a voice, but also to develop and implement strategies that target local needs.

Is there a good book you have read recently that you recommend?

One of my favorite books is this The strangest people in the world By Joseph Henrich, Professor of Human Evolutionary Biology at Harvard. He explains how much of what we think we know about human behavior and psychology comes from a limited sample size: only wealthy, educated, industrialized, and democratic societies are considered in most studies.

I appreciate this perspective, which reminds me that much of the world’s population operates on fundamentally different assumptions, and that this cultural touchstone is evident in very different institutions. These facts show that we need to approach climate change adaptation policy with an open mind and not assume that we know too much about the needs or wants of distant communities. The book’s perspective favors curiosity over certainty, and I find that inspiring.

What’s on your summer reading list?

I’ve been buried in fire policy essays this year because I’m working on research in that area out west. But I always make room for fiction and have a few novels on my Kindle waiting patiently for me to find time to indulge-How beautiful we were By Imbolo Mbuhe, and Intersection By Jonathan Franzen

Speaking of summer, do you have any exciting plans?

This year I will be spending most of my summer in the western United States. I will be teaching a field course, Public Lands in the American West, to Columbia undergraduates, and I am working on fire policy research. This research will apply many of the concepts in my book to a complex environment where millions of families live in wildfire-prone areas. Solutions are elusive, but I will examine the relative effectiveness of existing policies.

You are hosting a dinner party. Which three universities or scientists, dead or alive, would you invite and why?

Elinor Ostrom, a political economist, would be my first choice. His work on collective action and common pool resource management inspired my 2002 dissertation research in Ethiopia, and I find myself returning to his insights regularly.

I also appreciate psychologist Steven Pinker’s optimism as a response to the negative drumbeat of news we consume every day. Along these lines, I was pleased to read Oren Cass’s analysis of the futility of climate catastrophizing. All three of these researchers offer practical reasons for hope, and I imagine this dinner party will be energizing!

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