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Adaptation ABCs
is for Zen.
Adaptation is very zen. It is being in the moment while considering the past, present and future.
 
is for Yes!
You really can do something about climate change. You can not only reduce your greenhouse gas emissions (by the way have you done anything to do that today? Think of something and do it now!), you can also take steps to make your work more robust in the face of climate change. No, that doesn't mean you'll get exactly what you want, but if you try, try and try...you'll succeed at last (with some, hopefully intentional outcome that is responsive to climate change.)   
 
is for X-ray Vision
X-ray vision is not needed for good adaptation. In fact, most of the commonly exalted super powers (flying, super strength, mental telepathy, super speed, etc…) are unnecessary. All you need is a clear goal, an understanding of vulnerability or risk, a few thoughtful ideas about how to reduce the risk and the will to implement your plan. Check out the Adaptation Ladder of Engagement to learn just how pedestrian good adaptation is.
 
is for Why are you Waiting?
We’ve made it through how many letters of the adaptation alphabet now and you’re still looking for an adaptation epiphany. You know what they say right? If you want an epiphany, make your own!
 
is for Vulcan Mindmeld

No not that crazy vulcan mind jedi trick the President alluded to earlier this year, but the Vulcan mindmeld where you can share ideas by unifiying minds. In reality we want a mega Vulcan mindmeld where whole communities, regions, nations or planets come together and get on the same page about how to meet their many goals on the finite space that is planet Earth with the added constraints of climate change.


 
is for Uncertainty
Don’t hide from uncertainty, embrace it. 
As the Uncertainty Prayer says:
“Grant us…
The ability to reduce the uncertainties we can; 
The willingness to work with the uncertainties we cannot;
And the scientific knowledge to know the difference.”
(from http://www.wucaonline.org/assets/pdf/pubs_whitepaper_120909.pdf)

 
 
is for Triage
So you think you’ve come to the end of the line and nothing more can be done to save your goal from the ravages of climate change. Heck, you might be right. However, reflect on the fact that triage decisions are made all the time at varying scales. Maybe you just need to reframe your scale or reimagine your objective to see what is now possible.
 
is for Synergize Us!
The best adaptation is the adaptation you do with others! Making your own adaptation action plan without conversing with those that it will affect or be affected by will likely run into all sorts of problems--efforts that work at cross purposes, a lack of buy in, shortsightedness and missed opportunities. Figure out how to create some holistic adaptation planning that creates positive synergies in order to leverage your best outcome.
 
is for Resistance, Resilience, and Response!
Resistance, Resilience, and Response! R might be the most useful letter of the adaptation alphabet. A combination of these three types of responses will probably go a long way in reducing your vulnerability to climate change. Get out a piece of chalk and list the resistance, resilience and response strategies for your adaptation action plan.
 
is for Quagmire
No, not the ones created by intractable wars. But the quagmire that is our inability to do anything about climate change (adaptation or mitigation) on the big scale. We need to escape the quagmire of our doubts, fears and indifference and start take real action today. Do some intentional adaptation thinking today.
 
is for Philosophy

Adaptation is not a rote process. It doesn’t have a recipe book or a detailed flowchart. Rather, good adaptation is a way of thinking and doing that you apply intentionally to all of your work. It's continuing to ask yourself how climate change will affect your ability to meet your goals every step of the way to them, then integrating what you learn and observe into your assessment and actions.



 
is for Opportunity
Climate change often seems like a bummer. And while the downsides to climate change don’t go away, it doesn’t mean you can't be on the lookout for the opportunities it may also present to fix bad past planning and management decisions. For example, is bad coastal zoning making your community vulnerable? Use the risks of climate change and extreme events to reopen long-closed conversations about how to improve all subsequent planning decisions.
 
is for the National Adaptation Forum!
The party that was the National Adaptation Forum was simply amazing and exceeded all of our goals. With over 500 registered attendees and a wait list - it's fair to say that it was hot, it was hip, and we hope you are able to attend the next forum in 2015. Stay tuned, we will be sending out updates as information is made available - and if you were there - thank you for helping make this convening of adaptation minded advocates a huge success!
 
is for Maladaptation
Ever wonder what happens if the people who plan for coastlines from the inland side and those who plan from the seaward side each create their own sea level response plan and don't compare notes? If farmers and fisheries managers each develop their own strategy to deal with increasing drought and don't do some full water use accounting together? The answer is that you get maladaptation! Seawalls and inland migration of coastline are mutually exclusive. Simultaneously engaging in extensive irrigation and maintaining adequate river flow for fish can be impossible if total water supply decreases. Maladaptation can also happen when we ignore the long-term view: relying on air-conditioned cooling centers as a public health measure during heat waves may be OK every now and then, but as the globe continues to heat up this approach becomes increasingly expensive and vulnerable to fluctuations in power supply. Designing houses based on current flood risk may put people in harm's way and leave individuals, organizations, or municipalities liable for massive rebuilding costs. Avoiding maladaptation requires that we think about the longer term and make sure to coordinate with those with whom our actions interact.          
 
is for long-term thinking
One quick and dirty way to take a big step towards making your decisions climate-savvy is simply to ask whether a particular decision makes sense over the long term given the expected manifestations of climate change. We may not make every decision with the next several decades in mind, but there are plenty of decisions where a long-term view can sure save us time, money and heartache. Thinking of buying a house near the coast, in a floodplain, or in a fire-prone area? It's well worth getting at least a rough idea for how flooding, fire, and erosion might change as a result of climate change. Is insurance likely to become prohibitively expensive or unavailable? Will you be evacuating and possibly losing your possessions every 30 years? Every 10 years? Pondering whether to invest in some expensive equipment to support your burgeoning agricultural efforts? Might be worth thinking about whether climatic changes and effects could affect your ability to pay off the loans, or even the utility of the equipment itself if certain crops or agriculture approaches become untenable in your area.      
 
is for Knowledge
You know more than you think you know! Isn't that great? Most people approach climate change as if it were a mystery, an ark of secrets hidden from us by those much wiser. Funny thing is, the effects of climate change are pretty easy to wrap your mind around if you recognize that you already know a lot, and successfully adapting to climate change depends as much on knowledge about people, communities, and existing planning and management approaches as it does climate-specific knowledge. If you don't know something, talking with others may get you not only an answer, but a support system or community of practice. Even if the answer you get is that nobody knows the answer to the question you're asking, knowing that something is uncertain or unknown is real, important scientific knowledge that you can use. You can take action based on your knowledge of the certain and the uncertain, the known and the unknown. Knowledge is power and you are powerful.    
 
is for Just do it
In the immortal words of Molly Cross, the best place to start is somewhere. There’s always more information you could gather, more people you could connect with, more related initiatives with which to coordinate. While these efforts are a great place to start, at some point the benefits of gathering more information before taking action are outweighed by the costs of delaying action. And remember, you can build your adaptation actions around an adaptive management or other structured decision-making framework so that you’re taking action and gathering information at the same time, so you can keep "just doing it" even better as you go! Doesn’t get much better than that, does it?
 
is for Interactive
Are you considering Interactive effects? This world of ours is full of interlocking systems, and it's worth pondering just how different elements of those systems affect each other. Interactions can be neutral, negative--a species that can handle a particular level of pollution under current conditions may not be able to survive that same level of pollution under different climatic conditions, and moving a species at risk of extinction in its historic range to a new, more climatically suitable location may push some of its new neighbors to extinction--or positive--a species that's stressed by warmer conditions may still do well if its competitors or predators are even more stressed than it is, and getting rid of particular non-native species may decrease the vulnerability of a system to climate changes. We can't anticipate everything, but if we at least ask ourselves about possible interactions we may be able to make wiser choices.             
 
is for Holistic
Is this a Holistic Effort? The concept of focusing on systems as a whole isn’t new--it has been advocated for all manner of activities over the years--and adapting to climatic changes is just the sort of activity for which a whole-systems approach makes sense. As political, social, and natural systems change and adjust in response to climate changes and associated effects, we need to make sure these systems aren’t working at cross-purposes, and ideally that they’re supporting and strengthening each other. At a minimum, it’s worth asking what changes in political, social, and natural systems could potentially affect the success of your actions, and how your actions might affect the ability of other elements of political, social, and natural systems to successfully adapt to changing conditions.
 
is for Gathering
Are you Gathering information as you go and responding accordingly? This includes information on climatic changes, on ecosystem responses to those changes, on human behavior, on social systems, on governance, on management effectiveness, and anything else with a significant influence on the success of your efforts. In order to learn quickly you need to pay attention to what you are doing and how its working. This means you need some way to evaluate the success of your actions. Call it monitoring, call it adaptive management, call it whatever you will, you need to learn as you go and use what you learn.
 
is for Failing
Fail early, Fail often, Learn and adapt quickly. We don’t know exactly what will happen due to climate change, and we know even less once its compounded with all the other stresses present on our landscape. Heck, even if we knew for sure what was going to happen climatically, we don’t know what actions would provide the desired management outcomes! We need to develop and test hypotheses not just about the climate system or nature’s response to it, but also about the relative effectiveness of various management measures. We need to create management approaches built on clear and explicit hypotheses about what will work and why, do the monitoring necessary to test hypotheses about management effectiveness, and make sure we’ve got mechanisms for corrective measures. The only way to know is to try, but trying something willy-nilly won’t teach us nearly as much as trying things in a methodical manner.

 
is for Engagement
Are you Engaging stakeholders? Adaptation success requires commitment over the long-haul, local empowerment and buy-in. You can’t create an adaptation plan in a vacuum, it is unlikely to be well received by the community who will be implementing it, and can you risk alienating the partners who are key to long-term success. Make friends, then develop ideas and take action together.
 
is for Doing
Are you Doing something or are you waiting for more data, more guidance, more money? Taking your time to develop a solid plan of action is an important part of good adaptation, however making development of a plan your only action is not good adaptation. You need to make it happen on the ground to see better outcomes. Remember not taking any action is perhaps even riskier than change if the status quo has not attempted to incorporate climate change into its calculus.
 
is for Continuity, Connectivity and Creativity
Does the work have Continuity and Connectivity with the world around it? Are you thinking Creatively? Wow, C is a big letter for adaptation! Just as it is important to plan for the Change across landscapes and seascapes by including continuity and connectivity, it is also important to change the way you plan by getting more creative to deal with the fact that what we used to believe worked may not anymore! As D.J. Sauchyn and Surin Kulshreshtha wrote, “We have options, but the past is not one of them.”

Sauchyn, D., and S. Kulshreshtha. 2008. The Prairies. Chapter 7 In: “From Impacts to Adaptation: Canada in a Changing Climate 2007”, edited by D.S. Lemmen, F.J. Warren, J., Lacroix and E. Bush; Government of Canada, Ottawa, ON.
 
is for Buying Time
Are you Buying time for your work and for the natural systems we all care about? While we can’t completely stop climate change, we can at least buy time for species, systems , and our own organizations to respond effectively. For example, species can often adapt evolutionarily to new conditions if they have sufficient time and genetic variability; if we can maintain diverse populations or slow the rate of change, we may buy time for an evolutionarily adaptive response. Similarly, plant and animal communities are often able to accommodate change by shifting location to track appropriate conditions (e.g. shifting inland as sea level rises), assuming that change is slow enough and there is room for communities to move. If we maintain landscape connectivity and slow the rate of change, we buy time for communities to move. When it comes to our own work, do our plans incorporate how conditions might change over time, and provide space and time for us to adapt your approaches? If we are not planning for the future, we will almost certainly fall short of our goals as real world conditions work against past ideals.
 
is for Ameliorate
Are you acting to Ameliorate existing and likely future effects of climate change? In other words, are you doing your work in a way that takes into account the reality of climate change? If not, your work may be at risk. Actions to ameliorate the effects of climate change can include reducing or counteracting changes (for example, enhancing riparian zone vegetation to help limit rising stream temperatures), reducing the negative effects of changes (for example, including both current and likely future habitat in critical habitat designations for endangered species), or correcting for changes (for example, incorporating sea level rise into a bridge elevation).