Lecture Notes: Dominic DellaSala and the Climate Change Commons


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By Jennifer Power

After attending his presentation at Bioneers 2008, I had a chance to chat with Dominic DellaSala, Executive Director of Conservation Science & Policy Programs at the National Center for Conservation Science and Policy (NCCSP).

During his workshop, The Climate Preparation Commons: How Do We Plan For Climate Disruptions, he talked to participants about how the NCCP has been working to scale down global climate change models so that communities can use them to understand the drivers and impacts of climate change on a local level. For example, the NCCSP' Climate Future Pilot Basins, shows what a watershed basin will look like in the future under several different sets of global warming scenarios. DellaSala suggests that knowing what those various scenarios might look like will allow communities to plan now for the future of their specific region.

My question to DellaSala was this: Climate change is almost always represented as a big picture, big solution problem. How can we develop effective action plans at a local level?

Below, DellaSala's response:

Global warming is such a huge problem that it can seem overwhelming. My organization, however, works at the community level. What we’re doing today affects so many generations; we’re affecting the planet’s biosphere on a level never before witnessed. We need to plan our communities around change.

Human-imposed stressors to ecosystems like logging, livestock grazing, and road building will combine with climate change to create dramatic alterations to ecosystems. This won’t just create an environmental catastrophe, but an economic one as well. We depend on the very services we’re degrading.

What we need now is a climate change commons. We have the opportunity to come together to talk about the biggest problem this generation will face. A climate change commons would bring local communities together with scientists and decision-makers to start addressing this issue now.

We have a ten-year deadline right now from Al Gore and Dr. Jim Hanson on coal use and for bringing carbon dioxide levels below 350ppm. However, there’s no ten-year challenge to create a commons that will help communities start preparing for climate change. Even if we stop all greenhouse pollutants today, we’re still going to be dealing with these changes for generations to come – that’s why we need to start planning now. There are a few steps we can take immediately:

1. Reduce stressors to ecosystems to allow them to be resilient and resistant to change.
2. Stop logging old forests as they store more carbon per acre than younger forests created by clear cut logging – logging-related release of greenhouse gases is second only to industrial pollutants in terms of worldwide greenhouse gas contributions.
3. In drought prone areas, increase water conservation and consider rainwater harvest methods now.
4. In flood-prone areas, stop building in the coastal or riverine floodplains.
5. Conserve wetlands especially along the coast where rising sea levels or storm surges are likely to escalate.
6. Reduce our individual carbon footprint by reducing energy consumption and by buying local and organic whenever possible.
7. Work with conservation groups and decision makers to transition the U.S. economy to sustainable renewable energy sources now.
8. Plan for sustainable, livable communities – biking to work, creating P-patch gardens, and promoting the construction of Energy Star buildings are a few examples.

Most importantly, I think I need to dispel the notion that global warming is an environmental problem. If we use the same framing for global warming as for environmental issues, we lose. We need to approach it as a chance for change and social reform.


Jennifer Power has been a happy resident of Seattle since 2002 and hopes she never has to leave. She writes about her life in Seattle's Capitol Hill neighborhood at Life on the Hill and Other Stories.

Photo credit: flickr/phodge100, Creative Commons license.

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