Five local approaches to climigration

Every community facing climigration has its own story to tell. Every relocation is different because the people affected and the places they might move to (and from) have unique cultures, needs, and challenges. Still, we believe as communities seriously consider managed retreat, or undertake it, they can learn from the successes and obstacles of others. To facilitate peer-to-peer learning and to incentivize experimental efforts to try new ways to approach this challenge, the Climigration Network put out an RFP last summer in search of concept-level proposals for innovative community-led projects on managed retreat. After reviewing the applications, five teams were each awarded $7,500 to develop their proposals.

Here, we are glad to highlight the teams that received the awards and their innovative approaches. The five winners are situated across the United States, and work across a range of fields, including human rights, applied theater, community advocacy, grassroots organizing, and citizen science. Their approaches are creative, instructive, and uniquely influenced by their local context. Each project focuses on using the award to complete one or two small but pivotal steps in a larger vision, positioning them for further support and engagement.

The 2018 Climigration Awardees are:

  • The Alaska Institute for Justice - Alaska Native communities working together to develop community-led relocation guidelines to protect their human rights.

  • The Anthropocene Alliance - Resident leaders in seven flood-prone, marginalized communities in TX, FL, LA, NY, CT, and VA are exploring ways to discuss managed retreat with their neighbors.

  • The Lowlander Center - Building the space for a dialogue between Bayou-Lowlands “sending communities” and inland-high ground “receiving communities” in Louisiana.

  • The Seabrook-Hamptons Estuary Alliance - Convening a community-wide conversation about managed retreat in the Town of Hampton, New Hampshire.

  • UNH PowerPlay - Scientists, experts in technical assistance and outreach, and professional actors developing an interactive applied theater workshop to help improve communication and understanding with communities facing managed retreat.

Keep reading to learn more about each project!

Courtesy of Alaska Institute for Justice.

Courtesy of Alaska Institute for Justice.

Alaska Institute for Justice

For the last fourteen years, the Alaska Institute for Justice has focused on protecting the human rights of Alaskans, including immigrants, refugees, human trafficking victims, and Alaska Native communities. The Alaska Institute for Justice houses three programs: Alaska Immigration Justice Project, the only non-profit program providing legal services to Alaska’s immigrant and refugee communities; Language Interpreter Center, training bilingual Alaskans to work as professional interpreters and translators for the legal, medical and social service community; and Research and Policy Institute, working with Alaska Native communities on climate adaptation strategies.

The Climigration Network award helped the Institute work with five Alaskan Native communities to develop community-led relocation guidelines based in human rights protections. Part of this tool focuses on community-based environmental monitoring and analyzing policy level barriers to implementing community-based retreat.

AIJ used the award to compensate the Alaskan Native community residents who are working on the guidelines for their valuable time and expertise. Reflecting on the work accomplished with the award, Robin Bronen, the AIJ’s executive director, writes, “the process to create a human-rights based framework to respond to climate-forced relocation is extraordinarily complicated, and requires deep trust to engage with people about losing the places they love and call home.” Additional funding is needed so AIJ can continue to develop these guidelines. By developing a human rights-based approach to community-led coastal retreat, AIJ is developing and implementing a model that can be used by other U.S. communities that are no longer able to stay in the places they call home.

Citizen science in action. Courtesy of New Hampshire Sea Grant.

Citizen science in action. Courtesy of New Hampshire Sea Grant.

New Hampshire Sea Grant and PowerPlay Interactive Development

Collaborators from three different units housed at the University of New Hampshire: New Hampshire Sea Grant; the Institute for the Study of Earth, Oceans, and Space (EOS); and PowerPlay Interactive Development teamed up to apply for the Climigration Network Award. Sea Grant is a federal-university partnership supporting coastal and marine research, extension, outreach and education; EOS is a high level research unit focused on topics including climate; and PowerPlay uses applied theater as an interactive tool to stimulate professional education and community engagement.

For the award, the team worked together to develop an applied theater workshop focused on managed retreat. The first phase was dedicated to research: gathering the unique points of view, frustrations, concerns, tensions, fears, and general behaviors of various stakeholders engaged in conversations around coastal adaptation and managed retreat. With their findings, the team crafted a dramatic scenario featuring the perspectives of three archetypal roles — scientist, property owner, and policymaker. These points of view formed the core of an interactive workshop. In January of 2019, the team piloted the workshop with the New Hampshire Coastal Adaptation Workgroup (NHCAW), a coalition of 24 organizations providing technical assistance in the state’s coastal communities, and gathered additional reactions and input. The session allowed participants to question the characters, and revise and revisit dramatized interactions in order to develop a more nuanced understanding of a complex issue, while also building empathy across various perspectives.

The next phase of the project includes introducing other local and regional audiences to the inaugural version of the workshop while seeking funding to further develop, formalize, deliver, and evaluate the end product. The overall goal of the effort is to address the limits of technical information-based approaches by elevating and exposing the social, psychological, and emotional dynamics inherent to community conversations about managed retreat.

Point au Chien gathering. Credit Alessandra Jerolleman.

Point au Chien gathering. Credit Alessandra Jerolleman.

Lowlander Center

Based in Louisiana, non-profit Lowlander Center supports and builds resiliency among all those living in lowland areas of the United States. With a variety of ongoing research projects, political engagements, and community collaborations, the Center has been particularly active in Isle de Jean Charles, a coastal Louisiana area that has lost up to 98% of its land mass in the last half-century due to erosion and rising seas. It is also home to the Biloxi-Chitimacha-Choctaw Tribe, at least for now, as they begin to formally retreat after receiving state funds in 2016 to resettle.

Lowlander Center used its Climigration Network grant funding to convene key stakeholders to develop the Dialogue Series’ pilot workshops: a facilitated discussion between displaced and receiving communities in Louisiana, designed to help understand what makes for successful emplacement. These will consist of three 2-day workshops among lowland and inland community leaders, designed to help sketch out a replicable and scalable framework for a dialogue series on lowland-inland community migration. The workshops will use a Participatory Action Research approach, with an emphasis on being co-designed with the community, and guided by non-partisan mediators.

The next step will be to focus on inland communities and their capacity to receive new residents. Many of the inland communities are challenged by a variety of public health issues including failing infrastructure. As dialogues take place, decreasing vulnerabilities will be addressed while increasing the capacity of both the coastal and inland communities. Conversations have started within watersheds, connecting people in dialogue who are already connected through water.

Runner-up in the “Weather” category of SHEA’s 2016 photo contest. Photo by Ronald Grant, courtesy of SHEA.

Runner-up in the “Weather” category of SHEA’s 2016 photo contest. Photo by Ronald Grant, courtesy of SHEA.

Seabrook-Hamptons Estuary Alliance

Started as a gathering of concerned citizens in 2013, the Seabrook-Hamptons Estuary Alliance (SHEA) has grown organically into a dynamic non-profit organization that shares resources and gathers information regarding coastal preservation and resiliency. Their namesake 5,000-acre salt marsh serves many vital ecological roles, and the Alliance seeks to help property owners and town officials learn about and protect the estuary, and to cope with more frequent and intense flooding throughout the estuary. Their awarded project seeks to bring retreat, along with other adaptation options, more explicitly into the local planning discourse. Through a consensus-building process, SHEA plans to bring a spectrum of stakeholders together to better understand their perspectives on retreat, and identify opportunities for flood management strategies where everyone benefits. 

The Climigration Award enabled SHEA to hire an independent consultant to conduct a Situation Assessment — a review of the knowns and unknowns regarding flood vulnerability and impacts. The Assessment also aimed to gather key stakeholders together to help understand the flooding threats in the area. Compiling the assessment showed how crucial it is that Hampton be better prepared for future flooding, and that related projects be implemented with careful coordination. A Coastal Hazards Adaptation Team, with representatives from most Town boards and commissions, was formed and has met monthly since January, 2019 to help address these dire needs. The Team’s work will include: developing maps to highlight current and future vulnerable neighborhoods and facilities; reviewing case histories of adaptation strategies from other coastal communities; helping to identify appropriate adaptation strategies, including managed retreat, and evaluate their pros and cons, for representative neighborhoods and/or infrastructure; and communicating the range of adaptation options to residents and municipal officials.

A community voice in Louisiana. Courtesy of Anthropocene Alliance.

A community voice in Louisiana. Courtesy of Anthropocene Alliance.

Anthropocene Alliance

Anthropocene Alliance (Aa) combats climate change and environmental abuse by building grassroots coalitions in the communities most adversely affected by both. They provide support and training to community leaders, and connect them to the government agencies, nonprofit programs and pro bono experts who can help them the most.

In 2017, they launched Higher Ground, the largest flood survivor organization in the U.S., representing a network of 42 communities, from 20 U.S. states. Members have been impacted by hurricanes Katrina, Matthew, Sandy, Florence, Irma, and Harvey, and by unnamed flooding events such as those currently affecting large swathes of the midwest. Half the groups they work with represent low-income and communities of color. With Aa’s help they are matched with pro bono guidance in hydrology, floodplain management, citizen weather monitoring, insurance, case management, community planning, architecture, law, and legislation.

Their Climigration Network award enabled seven community leaders from around the U.S. to start the difficult discussion around managed retreat with their neighbors. They met with residents and conducted surveys. The research revealed the deep level of concern that residents have about their future. For example, one respondent simply said, “I am concerned that New Orleans will not exist in the very near future.” The surveys also revealed key tensions around managed retreat. One respondent said, “most of the people who live in these areas have been here their whole lives. Their homes aren't just buildings, they are a part of who they are.” In addition to providing feedback and insights through the surveys, the residents asked for more education around adaptation options, including managed retreat.

Thanks to a small grant from the American Geophysical Union, the seven community leaders are continuing their discussions with residents in 2019. Meanwhile, Aa continues expanding its network to assist impacted communities. A couple recent initiatives include recruiting a pro bono environmental engineer to help interested communities map out priority neighborhoods for managed retreat, and bringing in a legal team to help them understand the legal and legislative barriers and opportunities to climigration.