Working Locally on Climate Change Adaptation

Posted by Lauren Hertel on Thursday, April 23 2015


For thirteen years Amber Pairis (2001) worked as a biologist doing species research in the field. She frequently found herself involved in projects that brought stakeholders to the table to figure out solutions to conservation problems and it was no surprise that she eventually found herself in the policy world in Washington, DC, and then recruited to her native California to lead efforts to work collaboratively and coordinate mainstream climate change into policies and programs.

She worked in these roles at the state and national level for 10 years moving around the country before deciding to shift her focus to come home to the region of California where she was born and raised.  Pairis had a vision for embedding her work locally and believed she could best make a difference in her own community, focused on community engagement, which is what she is currently doing as the lead at the San Diego Climate Science Alliance.  This work is funded by a Switzer Leadership Grant to the California Landscape Conservation Cooperative, part of a collaborative of regional networks organized under the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service.  The Cooperative links scientific expertise with on-the-ground conservation and management needs.  Pairis’s focus on transparency in all of her dealings with people, and being solution oriented have helped her find common ground and gain credibility with a variety of stakeholders throughout her career, and her new role is a chance for her to expand her leadership opportunities using her unique skillset.

Climate change adaptation “isn’t something government is going to be able to solve alone,” says Pairis.  “We need to engage people in this conversation in a meaningful way.  The rubber really meets the road on the ground in your community,” she adds. “And that is where change will happen”.

Everything she does now is focused on how to be a catalyst in her community, engaging people in climate change adaptation.  On the youth education front, she has created a new program called  Climate Kids that uses art, storytelling and science to introduce children to climate change concepts in a way that is not scary but inspires them to be stewards of our planet.  This idea has now grown into projects in four cities, the newest in Tijuana, Mexico with the potential to reach 600 children.  In addition, Pairis is working with the museum community in California to explore the important role museums play in communicating and engaging the public on climate change.  She is also busy building partnerships with the Baja California region to provide public agencies with natural resource adaptation strategies that can enhance their local coastal resiliency plans and practices.  And, above all, she is working to establish a science-focused local network that local organizations can tap into for information and strategies to incorporate climate change adaptation into their programs.

In her new role she continues to lead with her strengths: transparency, perseverance, and being open minded.  Now that she is working directly in her community, she is being called on to use these leadership traits daily in her dealings with people all over the climate change spectrum.  She was surprised when the teacher in her daughter’s kindergarten class was challenged by another parent after giving a presentation that Pairis helped prepare where the teacher compared climate change to the Earth having a fever.  The other parent came in asking why the teacher was covering the topic at all, given that the “climate change science isn’t real.”  Pairis realizes that as she works with children, parents, and other community members, she has to be able to explain things and move forward without alienating anyone.  Her strategy for now is to show people that the places they care about are changing.

Pairis feels that working on the hyperlocal level is her opportunity to make a significant impact in a short amount of time since, as she says, “we don’t have the luxury of time to be idle.”

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