March/April 2017 – Vol. 29 No. 6

Climate Change Adaptation: Students Have a Role

Posted: Tuesday, October 7th, 2014

by Phyllis Grifman and Linda Chilton

As leaders of society’s next generation, teachers foster and facilitate learning and help prepare students to engage intellectually as well as socially. Students can learn the principles of stewardship and conservation and they are inspired to become decision makers and problem solvers today and in the future. This is especially important in addressing climate change. The impacts of climate change require both mitigation, reducing our use of fossil fuels and shifting to more conservative use of resources; and adaptation, preparing our communities to be more resilient in responding to the impacts of climate change.

Since the science of climate change and its many applications are still in nascent stages, many educators do not yet have the background understanding to develop what is needed to prepare students for addressing these critical concepts. In the Los Angeles region, the ocean interface with the massive urban development is under increased pressure from the impacts of growing population and climate change. Because the impacts brought by sea level rise are not uniform around the world, they must be examined in a regional context under a lens that accounts for other physical factors such as El Niño/La Niña and the Pacific Decadal Oscillation, and changing storm patterns. Educators need the tools to bring focus to these factors in order to educate the next generation to predict the potential impacts of climate change and urban pressures on the Los Angeles region.

Factors that must be considered when considering vulnerabilities to any hazards, including climate change, include

  • exposure, – nature and degree to which a system experiences as stress or hazard
  • sensitivity – the degree which exposed assets would be impaired
  • adaptive capacity – ability of an asset t make adjustments in response to climate change; and
  • consequences – the adverse effects that occur as a result of an asset being impaired.

These must be examined in the context of geographic location, population density, societal characteristics, governance, and local, regional, state and federal political institutions.

The USC Sea Grant Program plays an instrumental role in assessing the state of climate adaptation preparedness throughout California. In the Los Angeles region, the USC Sea Grant Program coordinated a study to assess sea level rise vulnerabilities for the City of Los Angeles. Officials from the City of Los Angeles and regional stakeholders collaborated to provide invaluable input in the process of assessing the City’s vulnerability. This work provides an example of how diverse disciplines must work together to present a holistic picture for the region. The team of experts working on the “AdaptLA” project included:

  • a coastal oceanographer/physicist with expertise in coastal processes,
  • a geophysical modeler who studies hazard risk,
  • a social scientist with expertise in climate change adaptation, social vulnerability, and risk communications,
  • a coastal engineer with expertise in coastal hazards and potential adaptation methodologies, municipal officials,
  • an economist with expertise in assessing the impacts of natural disasters; and of course,
  • the USC Sea Grant climate team.

Using of a template, officials systematically assessed risks to municipal assets and identified several vulnerabilities. At-risk critical coastal infrastructure includes power plants, wastewater treatment plants, roads, and beaches. Beaches provide not only ecosystem services, but contribute millions of tourism dollars to the economy. The protection provided by wide beaches requires regular monitoring and to remain effective as barriers to rising seas. Sea level rise impacts will require an increased effort to stabilize and replenish beaches; south-facing beaches such as San Pedro’s Cabrillo Beach recently saw tremendous impact from the extended effects of offshore hurricanes.

USC Sea Grant Program also partnered with Heal the Bay in an outreach program for the vulnerable communities of Venice/Marina Del Rey and San Pedro/Wilmington/Long Beach. At an inaugural Youth Forum held on the USC campus, students learned about vulnerabilities in their own communities and participated in a survey examining hazard preparedness in their own neighborhoods. The Forum informed participants about local stewardship efforts, engaging residents and decision makers in these communities by sharing the findings from the AdaptLA report and recruiting them to participate in developing adaptation plans. Participants included policy makers, community leaders, students and their teachers.

The effects of a king tide. Photo credit: Alyssa Newton Mann

The effects of a king tide. Photo credit: Alyssa Newton Mann

Students and teachers gain an understanding of the relevance of learning about climate change through classroom activities. Through engagement programs, students put learning into action in their own communities, reaching out to help communities better prepare for flooding in their neighborhoods, and helping to survey community members to ascertain their awareness and understanding of climate change impacts. In the future, student groups will participate in the “King Tides” Initiative, using photography to record extreme high and low tides. This is designed to illustrate potential effects of sea level rise and identify places where planners and residents need to consider how to plan and protect vulnerable structures. Opportunities continue to provide ways for teachers and students to contribute to help their own communities become more resilient in the face of a changing climate.

Phyllis Grifman is Associate Director and Linda Chilton is the Education Coordinator, both with the USC Sea Grant Program. Linda is a member of CSTA.

Written by Guest Contributor

From time to time CSTA receives contributions from guest contributors. The opinions and views expressed by these contributors are not necessarily those of CSTA. By publishing these articles CSTA does not make any endorsements or statements of support of the author or their contribution, either explicit or implicit. All links to outside sources are subject to CSTA’s Disclaimer Policy: http://www.classroomscience.org/disclaimer.

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For tips on how to approach this document see our article from December 2016: California Has Adopted a New Science Curriculum Framework – Now What …? If you would like to learn more about the Framework, consider participating in one of the Framework Launch events (a.k.a. Rollout #4) scheduled throughout 2017.

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Written by Guest Contributor

From time to time CSTA receives contributions from guest contributors. The opinions and views expressed by these contributors are not necessarily those of CSTA. By publishing these articles CSTA does not make any endorsements or statements of support of the author or their contribution, either explicit or implicit. All links to outside sources are subject to CSTA’s Disclaimer Policy: http://www.classroomscience.org/disclaimer.