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Report on the National Adaptation Forum


Climate Conference at the Confluence

Report on the National Adaptation Forum in St. Louis, MO.

by Tish Levee

For three days, beginning May 12th, over 800 people gathered in St. Louis, the confluence of the Mississippi and Missouri Rivers, for the National Climate Adaptation Forum. Coming from every state, and six other countries, they gathered at the historic Union Station Hotel for an amazing confluence of ideas, strategies, and information about climate change. 

Participants came from government, non-profits, academia—including students, and business, plus more than 20 other members of the media, including a reporter from BBC online. This was in marked contrast to the California Adaptation Forum last August, where I was practically the only media representative. 

I was especially impressed that there were over 46 people from the Bureau of Indian Affairs, other Indian non-profits, and several tribes, including a representative from both the Scotts Valley and Coyote Valley Bands of Pomo Indians. There were several workshops and symposia on Native responses to climate change.

I took the train to St. Louis, traveling via Los Angeles through Arizona, New Mexico, Texas, and Arkansas. Along the way I saw the effects of the drought in the Central Valley and across the Southwest. I heard a lot about the Texas drought, which started in October of 2010. From the train, it didn’t look much like California’s drought, but just a year ago 70 percent of Texas was still in drought conditions, with 21 percent either in extreme or exceptional drought. Rains this spring began to change that, and while I was on the train it started raining—the rains that soon led to severe flooding, ending most of the drought. 

Listening to Native Americans, I was so much more aware of the effects of drought and climate change than I had previously experienced while traveling cross-country just a year ago.

This was the second National Adaptation Forum—the first was in Denver two years ago. National Forums in odd numbered years will alternate with state or regional ones in even numbered years. I attended the first state forum in Sacramento last year and plan to return in 2016. Eco-Adapt, founded in 2008 on Bainbridge Island, Washington, by a small team of some of the earliest adaptation thinkers and practitioners, organizes the forums. Eco-Adapt has a number of other projects, including an excellent online Climate Adaptation Knowledge Exchange—CAKE, and an online library with several publications, including one on the vulnerability of the North Central California Coast and Ocean and one on the Sierra Nevada. The CAKE Tools Café was the hit of the networking reception the first night—standing room only and they literally had to push people out when it was over.

I was especially intrigued by a project in Marin County. Resembling traditional coin-operated viewfinders at many tourist sites, OWL viewers—virtual reality devices—developed by San Francisco startup OWLized, can show potential views of landscapes under different scenarios. A FEMA grant of $150,000 made it possible for Marin County to place two OWL units –one child-sized and accessible to people with disabilities—along the Mill Valley-Sausalito Path at Almonte Boulevard where they will remain until August 10th.

While viewers can experience a 360-degree view of the area in real time, they can also see what sea level rises of one and three feet would look like—a sea level rise of three feet is predicted in the next few decades. The plan is for the OWLs to make sea level rise more real and stimulate conversations about how to deal with it. I was fascinated by this concept. I also think it’s funny that I had to go all the way to St. Louis to learn about what’s happening in Marin.

I came away, again, from this forum with a lot of hope. I was one of several people who spoke briefly during the closing plenary. I said that it was wonderful to see so much happening elsewhere, because here in Sonoma County—where we are on the cutting edge of some much to do with the climate—it feels as if I am preaching to the choir, but in St. Louis I felt I was part of a whole choral symphony.

© Tish Levee 2015