How to work on community-scale climate adaptation projects

How do you work with communities on climate adaptation projects when public opinion hasn’t caught up to the science?

It’s a tough sell to talk about climate change, acknowledged Jill Ryan, executive director of Freshwater Future. But she offers some advice: “We don’t have to talk necessarily about climate change.”

For instance, problems with flooding can be alleviated through climate adaptation initiatives even if community members are not open to talking about the increases in greenhouse gas emissions that are driving the changes in precipitation intensity and frequency.

Ryan spoke Wednesday at the Great Lakes Restoration Conference.

She showed the importance of focusing on issues that are important to communities without framing the projects in terms of climate adaptation and climate change. She talked about a successful project that took place in a neighborhood in Detroit. A community association was interested in reducing flooding around the branch of the public library and beautifying its grounds.

“They feel they are having larger storm events in the area and they get localized flooding in the streets and also in basements,” she said.

Reducing the impact of those changes in precipitation, she said, “go(es) hand-in-hand with climate adaptation.”

Working with Freshwater Future, the neighbors supported the installation of rain gardens, which reduce run-off and add a new appeal to the library building.

The project, she said, was “amazing stuff all driven by their local community association.”

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