Climate Adaptation Conference addresses challenges of justice in climate mitigation plan

Leah Prussia (Associate Professor, Social Work, College of St. Scholastica)  led the attendees into their arrival to the virtual Climate Adaptation conference January 20, 2021. She invited all to think about who we are in relationship to the land versus who we are as individuals. People are all indigenous to somewhere; at one time we all moved through the world with care and concern. In the past, we were driven to be good ancestors, considering the “swimmers, fliers and crawlers” as well as humans.

Prussia encouraged her listeners to bring their bodies as well as their heads to the conference space, as “knowledge is only a rumor until it lives in the body.”

sam grant

"Adaptation is becoming a euphemism for social injustice on a global scale," said Grant

Keynote speaker Sam Grant (Executive Director, MN 350) introduced himself as a transformational organizer, seeking radical justice in climate mitigation and adaptation. His presentation, Adaptation Apartheid, defined division from each other, other creatures and the earth itself. We need to heal these artificial divisions to create a working intersection of racial and climate justice. Grant quoted Desmond Tutu: “Adaptation is becoming a euphemism for social injustice on a global scale.”

Scientists and policymakers need to think more deeply about adaptation; who can and can’t adapt well. Climate change disproportionately affects the poor. 2.6 billion people live on less than two dollars per day. Privileged societies and economies are destroying the basis of life across the planet, forcing people from their homes as their lives become untenable, driving them to shores where they are not welcome. Climate change exacerbates existing inequalities in food, water, air, security, health and housing.

So how do we boost resiliency in BIPOC, poor urban and white rural communities? Grant suggests that we start by honoring tribal treaties, eradicate environmental injustice and move all of society along transformational, transitional pathways. “Climate justice requires us to transcend technology and market-based considerations- going beyond what is comfortable,” said Grant.

A panel discussion followed the keynote: Perspectives on Climate Adaptation across Scales and Sectors. Panel members were: 

Rosemary Lavin, Director, Hennepin County Environment and Energy • Katrina Kessler, Assistant Commissioner, Minnesota Pollution Control Agency • Eric Sannerud, Farmer • Sara Smith, Midwest Tribal Resilience Liaison, College of Menominee Nation and USGS Midwest/Northeast Climate Adaptation Science Centers • Moderator: Heidi Roop, University of Minnesota Extension Specialist in Climate Science 

Climate adaptation awards were presented by Mark Seeley (UMN Extension, retired)

Partnership award: Rochester MN Sustainability and Resilience Task Force 

The City of Rochester teamed with the Center for Energy and Environment to form a highly diverse group of individuals with wide ranging expertise, experience, and knowledge that focused on putting together an Action Plan for their community. 

Organization award: South Washington Watershed District: Climate resiliency plan

The district mitigated large flood risk and improved habitat restoration and green infrastructure while working with other state and local units of government as well as private landowners. 

Individual award: Meredith Corrett (Forest Resources, Conservation Sciences Program) science director for the Minnesota, North Dakota and South Dakota Nature Conservancy chapter. Cornett led innovative large-scale projects related to climate change adaptation in Minnesota forests, among them “Conifer Strongholds” an examination of best places to maintain and preserve the state’s iconic boreal forests.  She also helped the Nature Conservancy identify places on the Great Lakes landscape that are most likely to retain biological diversity under climate change. 

The Minnesota Climate Adaptation Partnership Awards were initiated in 2014 to recognize and celebrate exceptional achievements in leadership, education, research, policies, and practices that improve community resilience through the development, advancement, or implementation of climate adaptation strategies.