Even as our Nation emerges from profound public health and economic crises borne of a pandemic, we face a climate crisis that threatens our people and communities, public health and economy, and, starkly, our ability to live on planet Earth.-Presidential Executive Order on Tackling the Climate Crisis
According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), the northern hemisphere experienced its hottest summer on record in 2020. We are already experiencing the consequential impacts of a warming planet, and NOAA clarifies, these impacts extend well beyond an increase in temperature, affecting ecosystems and communities in the United States (US) and around the world.
All sectors of life are impacted including water, human health, ecosystem health, agriculture, wildlife, transportation, air, and energy. Since 1980, the US has experienced 279 Climate and Extreme Weather (C/EW) disasters with total costs exceeding $1 billion. The combined costs of all these disasters exceeded $1.825 trillion. Between 1980 and 2019, the annual average number of C/EW disaster events with losses exceeding $1 billion in the US was 6.6; yet, there were a record-breaking 22 in 2020.
As the outreach arm of the 112 national Land Grant institutions, including those representing and serving historically underserved communities, we have a responsibility to change our nation’s path forward by leading with programming and partnerships that directly address climate change adaptation, mitigation, and resilience. Cooperative Extension will develop and implement programs that strengthen climate and social resilience by emphasizing building relationships of trust as a foundation for partnership in the co-creation of knowledge and responsive programming
How is the Cooperative Extension System responding?
The Cooperative Extension System has over 200 unique climate education programs that include mitigation, resilience, and adaptation. When factoring in programming around water conservation, nutrient management, nutrition, energy, animal agriculture and other programs that indirectly tie to climate change, that number would likely jump 10-fold. Cooperative Extension has the capacity to engage communities in important dialogue, and the educational resources to affect change across a spectrum of diverse audiences including rural, urban, and underserved groups. Examples include: Extension Disaster Education Network, Tipping Point Planner, Weather Ready Farms, Sustainable Development Initiatives, Water Conservation Programs, Septic System Resources, Climate Adaptation Academy, Extension Climate Outreach Team, and Teens Reaching Youth for the Environment.
Our climate change priority areas include lifting up and creating new adaptation, mitigation, and resilience programming and funding opportunities to address:
- Climate-Smart Agriculture & Food Systems – Cooperative Extension will support the adaptation, mitigation, and resilience of U.S. agriculture to climate change. Helping farmers, ranchers, and landowners develop and adopt climate-sensitive practices will improve the profitability and sustainability of plant and animal systems across the rural-urban spectrum. These practices will develop adequate and safe food systems as supply chains strain under shifting climate conditions. In addition, Extension programs will help expand a climate responsive workforce in U.S. communities.
- Climate-Resilient Communities – Cooperative Extension will work with communities across the rural-urban spectrum to develop climate responsive plans to support transitioning to climate resilient communities. The plans will focus on the development of strategies that communities can deploy to strengthen the adaption, mitigation, and resilience to climate change. In addition, these plans would also focus on supporting communities as they develop risk management plans surrounding natural disasters – fires, floods, rising temperatures, and increased incidence of extreme weather events.
- Ecosystem Services – Cooperative Extension will promote nature-based and natural climate solutions that provide co-benefits for mitigation and adaptation across human and natural communities. Extension will support the protection of healthy ecosystems, natural areas and resources amid changing climates. Translational research and Extension programs focused on adaptation, mitigation, and resilience can help reduce atmospheric greenhouse gas emissions from agriculture and forest production. In addition, climate smart management practices for our forests, waterways, and other natural habitats will reduce the negative impacts of climate change on ecosystems and human communities. Mitigation practices will include efforts such as carbon markets and alternative energy development to sequester carbon and reduce greenhouse gas emissions, and to help inform and educate the public on these concepts.
What difference is Cooperative Extension making?
Effective Cooperative Extension climate educators meet people where they are, engage audiences and clientele in authentic and mutually beneficial ways, and create safe and productive spaces for facilitating participatory decision-making. Employing these leadership traits and laying this foundation during the earliest phases of work proves critical for long-term programmatic success, especially given the widespread politicization of climate science and issues that persist. Extension currently provides tools for communities to develop cost-effective climate sensitive management plans, tools for farmers to make climate sensitive agronomic decisions, and provides municipalities with information and tools to help them adapt to a changing climate.
What can be done with additional resources and partnerships?
Climate change affects all communities and ethnic groups, and often those in the most underserved communities are impacted the most severely. Equity (racial, socio-economic and cultural) must be a driving force behind any climate efforts. Success rests upon the relationship-building between Extension and the communities and clientele for whom programs and products are developed and delivered. Within and outside of the Cooperative Extension System, collaboration and partnerships are consistently named as keys of climate program success. With additional funding and resources, Cooperative Extension can scale up vital local projects to a national scale.