Voinovich Associate Dean Speaks about Climate – Fall 2020 Science Cafe

By Morgan Spehar

Geoff Dabelko, professor and associate dean of the Voinovich School of Leadership and Public Affairs, presented at the virtual Nov. 16 Science Cafe on the intersection between climate change and resiliency.

Dabelko holds a doctorate in government and politics from the University of Maryland. He worked as the director of the Environmental Change and Security Program at the Woodrow Wilson Center in Washington, D.C. for 15 years, and he still serves as a senior advisor, facilitating dialogue about the environment, population and security issues. He was also the lead author of the Human Security chapter of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s (IPCC) Fifth Assessment. 

His talk on Monday was titled, “Pursuing Climate Change Resilience in Unexpected Places,” where he said that current efforts to address climate change and its effects were largely inadequate.  

“The Paris Climate Accord largely focuses on mitigation,” he said. “We have to also focus on adaptation and building resilience at the same time that we’re trying to reduce the [climate change] curve.”

Climate resilience is the capacity of a system to continue to function, grow and thrive while absorbing stresses caused by climate change. Increasingly, more and more people are beginning to incorporate climate resilience into their fields. The three areas that Dabelko’s talk focused on were: international security, aging and environmental peacebuilding.

Dabelko’s experience in the first area, international security, started as international relations were being turned upside down in the 1990s due to the ending of the Cold War, creating room for new issues to emerge.

“It wasn’t that climate change was creating a new kind of conflict, but it was something that was going to have exacerbating impacts on other dynamics that were critical to the stability of war and peace and the stability of states,” he said. 

Since then, the issue of climate change has been brought to the floor of the United Nations Security Council several times. Dabelko noted that the international security approach to addressing climate change is somewhat unique in that it follows the precautionary principle, emphasizing flexibility in the face of uncertainty. 

The Department of Defense (DOD) for example, consumes a significant amount of energy each year – more than any other entity in the United States, according to Dabelko. The DOD’s decision to transition to renewable energy wasn’t only for environmental reasons; using solar and other renewable energy makes the organization more resilient in the face of dwindling oil reserves and a warmer future.

The second climate resilience area that Dableko focused on was aging communities. He said that older adults are consistently listed as a group that is vulnerable to threats from climate change, but that he saw little effort to mitigate their risk. 

Dabelko began working with his sister Holly Dabelko-Schoeny, PhD, a professor in the College of Social Work at Ohio State University with a focus on gerontology and older adults. Along with some students, they helped form the Grey Green Alliance, which is an applied research collaboration that looks at the intersection of aging and climate change. 

He also helped found Age-Friendly Athens County, a local branch of the wider Age-Friendly initiative started by the World Health Organization (WHO). There are eight domains, or areas of focus, established by the WHO, but they successfully added climate change and sustainability as a ninth domain for Age-Friendly Athens County. Both groups seek to help older adults adjust to the challenges that climate change will pose and seek to learn from the experiences of older adults who have faced adversity and uncertainty.

“We can make our community more livable for all, especially for older adults, in ways that include climate resilience and sustainability,” Dabelko said.

The third and final area that Dabelko spoke about was environmental peacebuilding in a post-conflict setting, specifically Montenegro, Kosovo and Albania. The area was plagued by a series of conflicts from 1991 to 2001 called the Yugoslav Wars. Dabelko pointed to Montenegro, where transitioning to hydropower has been heavily incentivized by the European Union, to caution listeners to “beware of backdraft.”  

“Sometimes one ‘environmental good’ can lead to another ‘environmental bad,’” he said. 

The development of hydropower in Montenegro has led to the damming of many of the country’s free-flowing rivers, which can have negative impacts on the organisms and people that rely on the rivers for their survival. Dabelko said to keep in mind that environmental solutions will always benefit some more than others.

Finally, Dabelko stressed the importance of interdisciplinary cooperation as we build a world that is more resilient to climate change. 

“Building climate resilience really does mean going to unexpected places,” he said. “We need to break out of our silos for interdisciplinary work and build coalitions outside of traditional climate circles…If it’s just the climate people doing it then we’ve failed.”

Watch Dabelko’s full Science Cafe talk here.

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