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Responding to Climate Change 2011

Home | Education & Research | The Nelson Institute Community engagement
 
Participants in a place-based workshop learn about a 50-year-old coal-fired power plant in Chicago whose emissions contribute greenhouse gases to the atmosphere and have been blamed for high asthma rates and other health problems in the neighbourhood. © William Cronon
Participants in a place-based workshop learn about a 50-year-old coal-fired power plant in Chicago whose emissions contribute greenhouse gases to the atmosphere and have been blamed for high asthma rates and other health problems in the neighbourhood. © William Cronon

Community engagement is
critical to adaptation strategies

The Nelson Institute

Climate change and variability threaten the prosperity and wellbeing of everyone, but public- and private-sector stakeholders must fully comprehend how in order to commit resources to adaptive measures. Scientists should appreciate the values and priorities that inform decision-making in various communities in order to deliver information perceived as relevant and useful. Thus, meaningful and transformative engagement must be a key component of adaptation efforts.

The Nelson Institute for Environmental Studies at the University of Wisconsin-Madison employs many engagement strategies, techniques and tools in climate change research and education projects, from local to international. Engagement creates “buy-in” and acceptance of the knowledge these projects generate.

Creating Buy-in At Four Research Centres

The Wisconsin Initiative on Climate Change Impacts (WICCI) embodies principles of transformative engagement, Formed in partnership with the institute’s Center for Climatic Research, Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources and other partners, it convenes scientists, policymakers and stakeholders to define problems and develop interdisciplinary research strategies and responses.

This resulted in a probability-based “down-scaling” methodology for climate information, addressing specific needs and flexible enough for the widest range of stakeholder risk assessments and applications. Working groups research impacts on agriculture, forests, fisheries, urban centres and human health to develop adaptation strategies that meet needs expressed by end users. The institute also works with neighbouring states to expand this model of stakeholder engagement.

Projected change in the frequency of 90-degree fahrenheit days per
Projected change in the frequency of
90-degree fahrenheit days per year from 1980 to 2055

The Center for Sustainability and the Global Environment (SAGE) examines climate change impacts on air quality and public health, engaging state and national stakeholders to ensure relevance of climate data to decision-making. Its publicly-available, global datasets inform international climate adaptation and energy planning, including carbon maps to support REDD policy-making, crop yields and planting-date calendars, nation-by-nation assessments of biodiesel production potential, maps of urban extent and irrigation maps.

Working with the Wildlife Conservation Society, Conservation International and ECOLEX, the institute’s Land Tenure Center (LTC) considers impacts on human welfare and biodiversity in developing countries, in discussion with international donor agencies, environmental groups and the rural poor. LTC researchers advise on investments in forest carbon sequestration projects in the tropics, where understanding ecosystem dynamics, land ownership and forest use are critical to identifying beneficiaries of carbon payments. LTC also trains communities in Ecuador and other tropical countries to monitor carbon stocks and biodiversity.

The Center for Culture, History and Environment uses arts and humanities to engage local communities in climate change education. Film festivals and place-based workshops connect science, history and values, harnessing the power of storytelling to effect environmental and social change. This integrates a diversity of perspectives, traditions, and experiences that shape how individuals and communities understand their relationship to a changing climate.

To succeed, these relationships must be reciprocal and ongoing, requiring a substantial institutional commitment. Engagement is embedded in the culture of the university, which will soon celebrate 100 years of the Wisconsin Idea, the principle that its work should influence and improve people’s lives. This tradition forms a solid foundation as we strive to identify climate change risks and build resilience in our communities.

A pioneer in interdisciplinary environmental studies, the Nelson Institute has been an incubator, laboratory and model of collaborative education, inquiry, and public service at the University of Wisconsin-Madison for 40 years. The institute is named for former Wisconsin governor and US Senator Gaylord Nelson, the founder of Earth Day.

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The Nelson Institute
www.nelson.wisc.edu

 
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