Anticipation and adaptation

Over the course of millions of years, cataclysmic events created changes in our world that we can learn about from scientists. The difference between those environmental changes and what we face now, as Sylvan Kaufman said at the fourth annual Tent Symposium on September 28, is the presence of human beings in the world.

Tom Horton, Dave Harp, Larissa Johnson, Sylvan Kaufman, and Holly Shimizu presented themes of resilience, resistance, sustainability, and adaptation. In this era, the Anthropocene, we are more adaptable than extinct species were; however, the socio-political ecosystem is not keeping up with the environmental changes.

Resilience, the ability to withstand environmental stress, and resistance, how well an ecosystem can absorb changes before it disappears, are two characteristics we need to cultivate in these times. How can we adapt now? How can we actively participate in ways that will help us deal with current and future impacts of climate change?

Many of these actions are familiar:

  • Use no chemicals in your gardens (Roundup, Sevin etc.)
  • Establish buffer zones on farmlands and animal corridors through public lands
  • Reduce roadside mowing
  • Plant native plants in backyard gardens
  • Recycle rain water
  • Consume/purchase fewer source materials
  • Create living shorelines
  • Participate in greenhouse gas reduction products and plans
  • Practice biodiversity in the landscaping

This is a very short list of the many, many things that need to happen with our involvement.  Some are small actions that, with widespread use, can matter. As Margaret Mead said: “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.”

Stuart Clarke, the panel moderator, introduced a more urgent message: “The clock is ticking toward the critical shifts in climate change and how they will affect us,” he said. “Do not be stuck in the small steps only. “

Among ideas we can act upon are paying attention to our political power as we stay in touch with our local and national government initiatives and actions, lending weight to things that can make a difference in the environmental issues. Reading the local paper, attending meetings, knowing where the representatives you vote for stand on climate change, and developing a ‘voice’ are very important to becoming a catalyst at a local level. Now is the time to develop a higher awareness of the community you live in. Who are your neighbors, what needs might they have in times of a natural disaster, and how can you be of assistance?


Tent Symposium speakers and participants enjoy a walk on the Arboretum grounds.

Larissa Johnson stressed the importance of building strong, resilient communities with the following steps:

  • Make a plan
  • Build an emergency kit
  • Help each other

The good news, according to Stuart Clarke, is that some of our political/government systems are now working with environmental organizations in proactive ways. So, it is not either small or large actions that we need to take in these critical times, but “both…and.”

The symposium was an excellent way to learn, to be stimulated, to feel involved, and to move forth and be part of “Looking Toward a Resilient Future.”

As a follow-up to the Tent Symposium, Sylvan Kaufman will present Past and Future Land Use: Maintaining and Improving Resilience on Thursday, November 6 at the Arboretum. Click here for more information.

by Anna Harding
Arboretum docent and Maryland Master Naturalist



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