The panel of experts from the left, Jess Laggis (SAHC), Matt Hutchins (NEMAC), Karin Rogers (NEMAC), and Tom Maycock (NCICS). /Mark-Ellis Bennett photo

The Collider invited a panel of experts to interpret what the fourth National Climate Assessment means to us in terms of adaptation and resilience both nationally and from a local perspective.

The four panelists included experts from the North Carolina Institute for Climate Studies, NEMAC+FernLeaf and the Southern Appalachian Highlands Conservancy.

Asheville is home to the National Center for Environmental Information (NCEI), the headquarters for the data division of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). Simply put, it is the single most comprehensive repository for the world’s weather records. The Collider launched in 2016 as a non-profit global innovation center for climate entrepreneurs to bring together climate scientists, corporations, academics, and consultants.

Tom Maycock has served as the science public information officer for the North Carolina Institute for Climate Studies (NCICS) since September 2014. In addition to managing communications for the Institute, Maycock is a science editor with NOAA’s Assessments Technical Support Unit. He was also a lead editor on both Volumes I and II of the fourth National Climate Assessment (2018).

Maycock said that each chapter of the National Climate Assessment is framed around three to five key messages. The current state of adaptation to changes that are happening, in the judgment of its authors, indicate that planning and implementation are occurring across the U.S., but not yet commonplace. “Unfortunately the pace of climate change is faster than the pace with which we are responding to it. Successful adaptation has been hindered by the assumption that climate conditions are and will be similar to those in the past. Incorporation of information on future climate conditions into design guidelines, standards, policies, and practices would reduce risks and adverse impacts,” he said.

Karin Rogers is the Director of Operations and a Research Scientist at UNC Asheville’s National Environmental Modeling and Analysis Center (NEMAC), where she works with NEMAC’s federal, local and state partners to deliver and communicate their science for more informed decision making. Her knowledge of environmental science, decision science, and team dynamics help groups use scientific information to better understand and face the challenges of a changing environment.

Rogers said the public-private partnership between NEMAC at UNC Asheville and FernLeaf Interactive at the Collider features two components that work together to create resilient solutions for communities. “The idea for resilience and planning is to say, ‘what can we do now to increase our capacity so that when that threat event happens we don’t cross some kind of critical threshold and experience a loss of life or infrastructure, and bounce back more quickly than we would have had we not done this kind of preparation in advance?’”

Matt Hutchins is a Research Scientist and Environmental Change Project Lead with UNC Asheville’s NEMAC, where he has helped a variety of communities make more informed decisions in the face of climate change and other environmental threats. While evaluating climate and non-climate stressors is the first step NEMAC+FernLeaf takes, developing a strategy for dealing with them comes next. “Step two is really about vulnerability and risks,” Hutchins said. “Vulnerability comes down to two components, looking at potential impact on people and assets, and how they are able to cope.” He said the two components in evaluating risk are probability and the consequence these risks present to these communities. “In working through this NEMAC and FernLeaf partnership, we are building tools for communities to develop assessments at the local level. Social vulnerability is a key part of the work that goes into the assessment at the local level.”

Hutchins said that beyond the assessment is the “options phase,” identifying options to reduce vulnerability and risk. “There are four main aspects that targets this. The first is reducing exposure, taking assets out of harm’s way. The second is protecting sensitive systems and populations. The third is building an adaptive capacity, looking at how systems and people can cope with impacts when they occur. And last is assistance with response and recovery, recognizing there’s going to be a need for emergency response, and how that can best be supported.”

Jess Laggis is a native of Swannanoa who enjoyed growing up on the campus of Warren Wilson College and roaming the nearby mountains. Her strong sense of adventure led her to hike the southern half of the Appalachian Trail, study and work abroad in far-flung places, and finally return home to farm in the Western North Carolina mountains. Laggis is currently the Farmland Protection Director for the Southern Appalachian Highlands Conservancy (SAHC), where she leads efforts to conserve farmland.

Laggis said the Southern Appalachians are home to the most biologically diverse temperate rainforest systems in the world. “The All Taxa Biological Inventory of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park is attempting to identify all the multicellular species living in the park. At the time it was published there were 10,000 known species, but it’s estimated that there are over 100,000 species in the park.”

As the climate changes we see species move up in both altitude and latitude, not a problem for birds, but mammals are more restricted by the types of development they might encounter. When we fragment a habitat it is very difficult for amphibians to migrate. North Carolina is the gateway for this movement corridor, so it’s critical that this lifeline not be cut.

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