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Recap: A Climate-Resilient Future Is an Equitable, Just Future

Wednesday, June 16, 2021

Professor Ed Carr, Clark University, Continues U.S. DOT Volpe Center’s 2021 Thought Leadership Series

On June 8, the U.S. Department of Transportation (U.S. DOT) Volpe National Transportation Systems Center (Volpe Center) welcomed Dr. Edward R. Carr of Clark University to continue its 2021 thought leadership speaker series, Innovation for a Sustainable, Equitable Transportation System

Dr. Carr is the director of Clark’s International Development, Community, and Environment program and the director of the Humanitarian Response and Development Lab. He is currently a lead author for Working Group II of the current Sixth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change and is the author of a monograph titled Delivering Development: Globalization's Shoreline and the Road to a Sustainable Future.

The session was hosted by U.S. DOT Volpe Center Director Anne D. Aylward.

This post provides a recap of Dr. Carr’s talk. You can watch highlights from the event here.

Climate-Resilient Development Pathways 

The Ghanaian village of Dominase provided the foundation for Dr. Carr’s exploration of decades-long trends in agricultural and economic development, changing weather and climate patterns, responses to vulnerabilities, and resilience. 

His story stretched back more than a century to a community that went through a cycle of development, expansion, and ultimately abandonment resulting from the twin challenges of drought and timber industry collapse. Dr. Carr emphasized that resilience “is not a response to specific impacts”; rather, the combination of responses over time resulted in new vulnerabilities that affected different community groups in profoundly different ways. One significant takeaway from the experience in Dominase is to think carefully and critically about the question, “To what are our resilience-building interventions vulnerable?”

“That which makes us resilient also shapes the character of our vulnerability.”

-Dr. Ed Carr, Clark University

Justice, Equity, and the Success of Transformation

According to Dr. Carr, vulnerability to climate change has three components: exposure, sensitivity, and adaptive capacity. While humans in a given locale may all be equally exposed to the same event or climate impact (e.g., drought, severe storms, wildfires, etc.), there is huge variability in how sensitive or susceptible to negative effects particular groups of individuals may be. Further, among various groups of people, there will be variability in their capacity to adapt to those events or impacts. 

Certainly, adaptation actions will never benefit everyone equally, and an equity lens must frame the entire process from problem identification to generation of potential solutions. These pathways can vary at the neighborhood and community levels, city and state levels, and country levels.

In addressing our current situation, Dr. Carr refers to the literature on global climate change to underscore the need for major transformational change as the only effective response to safeguard and promote our future well-being; incremental pathways will be ineffective at adapting to the impacts that are inevitable. It is important for us to invest now in the transformations we choose, rather than adapting to the transformations imposed on us by a major environmental shifts. Adhering to a pathway marked by reactionary recoveries and limited investments or policy change could result in “path determination,” where it becomes impossible to achieve the outcomes associated with transformational interventions.

The Purpose and Power of Storytelling

Conceiving and implementing transformational changes in response to climate change will require the participation of a constellation of actors across communities, cities, and nations. Dr. Carr maintains that one of the most compelling tactics for engaging both the public and policy-makers is identifying and telling compelling stories about exposure, sensitivity, and adaptation to climate change over time in different locations. Although there is a complex interplay among these three elements, the “complexity is a pathway to hope.”

The academic field of environmental humanities offers a framework for working toward transformational, equitable, and just climate change adaptation actions.

View highlights from Dr. Carr’s June 8, 2021 talk here. To learn more about the U.S. DOT Volpe Center’s 2021 thought leadership program, please contact U.S. DOT Volpe Center Director of Strategic Initiatives for Research and Innovation Ellen E. Bell.

Video Highlights

Highlights from “A Climate-Resilient Future Is an Equitable, Just Future” 

Dr. Ed Carr on Community Impacts of Climate Change 

Dr. Ed Carr on Climate Change Adaptation

Dr. Ed Carr on Pathways to a Climate-Resilient Future

The views of the speaker do not represent the views of U.S. DOT.

Celebrating more than 50 years of federal service to the nation, the U.S. DOT Volpe Center’s mission is to improve the nation's transportation system by anticipating emerging issues and advancing technical, operational, and institutional innovations for the public good.