Capacity to Adapt
Resilience is the capacity to recover. Adapation is predicated on the capacity to change. When we talk about 'resilience' and ‘adaptation’ in the context of climate change, we're talking about how people and animals and plants and communities bounce back from dramatic events and change their ways to keep on moving forward. In April, 2018 I was invited to join a group of climate activists, scientists, entrepreneurs, and artists on an expedition with Robert Swan in partnership with The Explorer’s Passage to learn about climate change in Antarctica. Swan’s mission in life is to activate, connect and empower a global “Climate Force.” His walks to the North and South Poles brought the climate change problem so deeply home for Swan that this has become his life’s work.
Antarctica is an incredible place to learn about climate change. As an ecosystem, it surprised me to learn how influential it is in the daily lives of animals and people thousands of miles away. To name just one reason it matters: Antarctica holds 90 percent of the world’s freshwater stored in its ice. As the Earth’s temperature rises and Antarctic ice melts, sea levels rise, significantly impacting coastal communities. In the world's largest costal cities, over 150 million people by 2070 will be exposed to these impacts, with the urban poor particularly vulnerable. In the United States, 16.4 million people live in coastal floodplain areas, and 12% of these people are below the official poverty line.
Swan spoke often and entertainingly about the ability and need for people to change, to organize, to start moving the proverbial needle toward a carbon neutral future. This expedition allowed me to feel and visualize the interconnectedness of our planet's dynamic natural systems with the realities of rural communities around the world. Antarctic ice matters to people in Manila, in Dar-es-Salaam, in Rabat and Port au Prince, in New Orleans and San Francisco.
Independent of this expedition to Antarctica, I recently joined Klima International as a board member. Through my Klima colleagues, I am learning how coastal and rural communities can be supported to understand, grow, and maintain climate resilience. Standing on a rocky shore in Antarctica surrounded by gentoo penguins, overwhelmed by the reality of our planet's warming, I started to see more clearly how my tourism development experiences in rural communities and the work of my Klima colleagues can be joined to help address our climate crisis. I see these communities not only as a conduit for capturing information about climate change's environmental impacts, but also for learning about human adaptation and resilience. The tourism industry, due to its enormous economic power can be a tool in helping draw attention and resources to these places and communities.
Swan is urging educated people of the developed and developing world to congregate and collect around an idea, to become activists who influence national and corporate policies for the benefit of our environment; Klima is focused on building skills and tools to extend what small rural communities do fluidly, organically, naturally. Tourism businesses and development professionals such as myself are in a perfect position to unite the two efforts.
Adaptation and resilience is not just for impoverished coastal communities. It is certainly for all us. Considering the various ways tourism can be used to link climate science and communities with the political will and money of general traveling public animates my work and gives me reason for optimism in this perilous era of environmental change.