By Indiana Reid-Shaw, 
Environmental Studies, U.C. Santa Cruz 

My commitment to climate change adaptation research has been fueled by both local and international experiences. Growing up in North Carolina, sea-level rise threatens communities along our 300-mile coastline. Last year, flooding from Hurricane Florence, for instance, released noxious coal ash into fragile wetland ecosystems and isolated coastal communities of color. Our state legislature, however, restricts acknowledging climate change in coastal land-use planning. 

I gained a global climate justice perspective as a student delegate to the monumental UN Climate Conference in Paris. I had conversations with representatives from countries such as Kiribati, experiencing increased King Tides and sea level rise. 

I created a major in Environmental Anthropology, with a minor in Biology at Swarthmore College to better understand environmental challenges in coupled human-natural systems, especially related to climate change resilience and adaptation. Through Ecology class projects I compared the phenological effects of climate change on different species of deciduous trees, spatially mapped land-use change and drought in Mongolia, and assessed the extent of sea-level rise in coastal landscapes. I hope to refine these types of quantitative skills in my dissertation work.

My interdisciplinary education at Swarthmore College culminated in my senior thesis field research project on the Mongolian steppe. This setting provided a fascinating case study for assessing the scale and nature of resilience strategies undertaken by Mongolia’s livestock herders, who are facing increasing uncertainty with climate change and other social and environmental stressors. I developed a comprehensive system map that detailed interactions between the proximate and ultimate causes of change, such as severe winter events or decreased rainfall, with specific outcomes, such as decreased vegetation quality. Through this process, I learned that robust responses to environmental change in Mongolia, and elsewhere, require in-depth understanding of the diverse drivers and impacts of change. 

After graduating Swarthmore College with a degree in Environmental Anthropology, I took a fellowship the University of New Hampshire’s Sustainability Institute investigating case studies of integrated climate solutions in New England, and better realized the capacity of local actors and different stakeholders to lead effective climate action.

I am motivated to continue monitoring the impacts of climate change on people and their environments during my PhD research in the Environmental Studies Department at the University of California Santa Cruz (U.C.S.C.). Though I have only just started my first quarter in the Environmental Studies program, I envision a project where I can collaborate across multiple disciplines to research effective and equitable climate adaptation methods for communities already feeling disproportionate climate impacts. 

My Mongolian steppe field research expanded my curiosity in common pool resources and their resource-dependent users.  I am interested in investigating these dynamics in the largest commons of all, marine systems, with fishermen that face far reaching effects from climate change, such as loss of livelihoods and sea level rise. I will collaborate with my U.C. Santa Cruz advisor, Dr. Katy Seto, who specializes in marine fisheries governance. 

The “Storms, Flooding, and Sea Level Defense” conference offers an amazing opportunity for me to immerse myself in the conversations that many different stakeholders are having around the threats of sea level rise, especially in vibrant port settings, and the tools they are using for future preparedness. As I am early in my degree, the conference will undoubtedly inspire my research scope and introduce me to key members in the field.