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Jan 9, 2017

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Dr. Jesse Keenan, of Harvard University, joins Doug Parsons on the first episode of America Adapts of 2017!  Dr. Keenan is a member of the faculty of the Graduate School of Design where he teaches courses and conducts research in the fields of real estate development, design-development management and technology and climate adaptation science.  Jesse wears several hats: academic, public and professional.  In their conversation, Doug and Jesse dig into the origins of adaptation planning and how the federal government is currently approaching the issue. Jesse has several roles advising the federal government on adaptation and we talked about those many different approaches. We spend considerable time discussing the emergence of ‘resilience’ as the primary word and approach by the government, and increasingly, the private sector. Much of this origin ties into aligning adaptation with disaster management and Jesse explains those links.  Jesse also explains how partisan politics played a role in the rise of ‘resilience’ as the preferred term in adaptation planning.

We also talk about how adaptation has become a serious area of study for universities. Jesse is one of the more prolific publishers of adaptation literature and we talk about some of his work.  We also discuss the state of adaptation in academic programs at universities in the United States.  Professors like Jesse are providing the much needed academic grounding for the emerging field of adaptation.

Jesse also discusses Harvard’s role in engaging the city of Miami with adaptation planning and we talk frankly about the future of that city and the tough choices that community will have to make in the coming years regarding sea level rise.

We also learn that Jesse is a fellow University of Georgia graduate and he talked about being on campus when legendary ecologist Eugene Odom was there.

Doug and Jesse also have a lively discussion about the movie The Big Short, and speculate what lessons could be learned from the real estate bubble as society begins to incorporate uncertainty into long adaptation planning.

Other topics discussed:

  • We discuss how one person’s resilience is another person’s maladaptation.
  • How 911 terror attacks led the modern national security state to adopt resilience as the preferred approach to climate change planning.
  • Learn how federal agencies have evolved to incorporate disaster risk management, adaptation and resilience. FEMA, etc.
  • Learn how the US is lagging at adaptation in university academic programs.
  • How do ethics come into play when deciding to invest in high risk communities like Miami, New Orleans, etc. 
  • Learn what climate gentrification means for Miami.
  • How a huge company like Goldman Sachs approaches climate change.
  • The Challenge of drawing distinctions between sustainability, resilience and adaptation.

Also in this episode, we talk with Beth Gibbons, Managing Director of the American Society of Adaptation Professionals. Beth talks about the January 25th deadline to nominate someone (or your own org) for their Adaptation Prize for Progress, which will be announced in May at the National Adaptation Forum.

Additional Notes:

People can pre-order Jesse’s new book Blue Dunes: Climate Change by Design here:

Dr. Jesse Keenan on Twitter:  @Jesse_M_Keenan

Jesse’s Harvard Profile:

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Doug can be contacted at americaadapts @ g mail . com .