Collaborative Ocean Climate Adaptation: Will We Have the Courage to Lead?

Climate change poses a serious threat to life in our seas, including coral reefs and fisheries, with impacts on marine ecosystems, economies and societies, especially those most dependent upon natural resources. Therisk posed by climate change can be reduced by limiting global warming to no more than 1.5°C.

IPCC SR Ocean & Cryosphere, Chapter 5, FAQ5.1, p. 134

I finally had a chance to read the IPCC Ocean & Cryosphere Report, Chapter 5: Changing Ocean, Marine Ecosystems, and Dependent Communities released on September 25, 2019. If you have not seen it, a link to the entire report is here.

Overall, it is distressing given current geo-political realities around energy demand and sourcing, and the human behavioral tendency to delay action. However, there are some glimmers of hope if we can just begin thinking a tad more pro-actively and change our paradigms of knowledge, governance, and decision-making towards more indigenous, collaborative, and participatory models.

These words from Chapter 5 particularly resonate with me and my ethnographic work with local communities over the past 14 years:

…when a resource user such as a fisher, farmer, or forester is suddenly faced with the prospect that their resource-based occupation is no longer viable, they lose not only a means of earning an income but also an important part of their identity. Loss of identity can, in turn, have severe economic, psychological, and cultural impacts.

IPCC SR Ocean & Cryosphere, Chapter 5, Cultural and Aesthetic Values, p. 91

This quote summarizes something I have witnessed and documented countless times over the past 14 years conducting ethnographic research on local community environmental change: losing one’s connection to nature and local environments is akin to losing one’s home and family. The consequences are grief and long-lasting trauma. To address this we need trauma-informed practitioners involved in crafting any climate change adaptation strategies.

Another take away for me from Chapter 5: in order to get meaningful adaptation strategies and attain true resiliency in the face of unprecedented and dangerous climate change scenarios and incorporate large uncertainties around ocean ecosystem processes will require meaningful collaborative forms of engagement on the part of all resource users, governments, and in every aspect of society.

Socio-institutional adaptation responses, including community-based adaptation, capacity building, participatory processes, institutional support for adaptation planning and support mechanisms for communities are important tools to address climate change impacts.

IPCC SR Ocean & Cryosphere, Chapter 5, Response Options to Enhance Resiliency, p. 10

Without emphasis and concerted effort to involve society in collaborative efforts, any governance or technocratic adaptation strategies will fail. This is a monumental task. And, it is one that requires leadership from indigenous knowledge keepers, spiritual guides, philosophers, creative types, social scientists (and not just economists and technologists), and experts in dialogue and deliberation, human behavior, and organizational management. Will we have the courage to step up and lead these efforts?

NOAA Gray’s Reef National Marine Sanctuary.

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