Adaptation Vanguard

by Erin Middleton

Over 500 people from across the nation convened at the inaugural National Adaptation Forum in Denver earlier this month. The conference was about how we, our communities and our nation can be prepared for climate change impacts, such as superstorms, droughts, insect vector born disease outbreaks, flooding and sea level rise.

Attendees represented various sectors – government agencies, universities, tribal nations, nonprofits – all focused on various aspects of climate adaptation. Sessions included equity in planning for adaptation, how to engage meaningfully in policy work, coastal adaptation strategies, climate change communication, tribal adaptation action planning, and rural climate adaptation for forests, water and people.

The challenges we face as a nation will require creative resourcing and thinking, and will depend on unlikely alliances between government agencies, tribes, communities, universities and scientists. To begin to build alliances and develop strong relationships, some useful tools were shared. One such tool, Climate Access, provides climate change practitioners the online space to share what works in terms of engaging the public.

Other resources include:

– The Climate Savvy Quick Course

– Cal-Adapt Climate Tools for California

– The Debunking Handbook – a summary of the literature that offers practical guidelines on the most effective ways of reducing the influence of myths

– The Alaskan Native Tribal Health Consortium

Another emergent theme from the Forum was that as a nation we don’t necessarily need to agree that climate change is happening or that it is manmade. What really matters is that we are prepared for the changes we are already witnessing. Superstorm Sandy was a watershed moment for many people. No one wants to be caught unprepared in the event of an extreme weather event. Also preparing for these events provides an opportunity to build more resilient, vibrant, inclusive communities.

Mitigating climate change and transitioning from a fossil-fuel based economy would have enormous public health benefits. There is a great opportunity for more discussion of this at future Adaptation Forums. Engaging the public health sector would not only expand the climate change discussion, but would also enhance the messaging around climate change to the public. For example, shutting down coal-fired power plants would not only reduce greenhouse gases but also improve the air quality in the surrounding area. Also, implementing more walkable cities would reduce transportation exhaust and improve people’s health by reducing time spent commuting in cars. The public may be much more receptive to these infrastructure changes if approached from a health angle, as oppose to an approach focusing on the need to reduce greenhouse gases.

Conference attendees, now known as the Adaption Vanguard, were energized by the all the excellent work happening across the country. If you’re doing work to build more resilient communities, and preparing for climate changes you are also a part of the Adaptation Vanguard. Please stay tuned to the National Adaptation Forum’s website ( for post conference notes and actions. The next Forum is scheduled for 2015 and we hope to see you there.


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