What it takes to become a Climate Adaptation Specialist

BY Jerome Goerke

snowy mountain at dawn

In today’s blog, we look at the qualities of a good Environmental Resilience Coordinator. Also known by similar titles such as Climate Adaptation Specialist, these individuals or agencies work as the central organizing entity between commercial, societal and environmental stakeholders (whether human or natural) to deal with matters linked to climate-induced migration, damage and privation. We’ll also examine the biological reasons why such qualities are important in light of the tasks these Specialists face.

Working with Systems

One essential quality required by all Specialists is System Thinking: This is the ability to understand how a complex and invisible system pieces together and feeds into other systems. As a species, humans are not particularly well suited for this, since they are limited by their own field of observation, individual memory and the ideological constructs they subsume over a lifetime. Also, like most mammals, humans are hardwired to seek primacy at the expense of those outside what they might consider the border of their ‘family’ unit. This familial or tribal unit can expand, solidify or retract depending on the level of perceived immediate threat or gain.

Connected to the above, humans are also primed to seek artificial or imaginary borders of delimitation to help them make sense of complex situations. This means that an ‘us’ versus ‘them’ manner of thinking invariably begins to form. This delimitation can lead to social order and a certain sense of cooperative efficiency, since who people think they are in their context shapes how they act and interpret events. When a framework becomes particularly successful over a long time, such as the city- or nation-state, the system becomes so entrenched in the affected human psyche that the invented constructs become indisputable. Verbal and visual struts, such as anthems and shibboleths, customs and bureaucratic processes all help to reinforce this sense of operating as part of a system.

This innate compulsion of humans to create and reinforce working systems is biological. Our cells do it, and we are the product of our cells. If you examine how city states have developed over the centuries, there is a distinct cellular pattern in the way they form, even with the high protective walls of our ancestors. Modern cities bear close resemblance to eukaryotic cells with respect to component composition, spatial pattern, and metabolic processes. Humans, with their ability to articulate complex sounds, have also adapted a unique method to use language as a means of creating new and diverse tribal units beyond geographical constraints. The primal desire to create a broader unit, and then protect it, is a universal human trait.

Recognizing Humans as a Species

A good Climate Adaptation Specialist will recognise this natural tendency for humans to seek artificial or imaginary borders of delimitation. They will take this as the starting point to define and then, as much as possible, reframe for the purposes of our mutual survival.

This may sound complex, so let’s try to simplify with an analogy. 

Systems, by their very nature, are nuanced, invisible and often enormous. They can only be seen at what might be called the ’emergent level’. We can perhaps see how ants work as one deeply interconnected social being, and not as a diverse set of beings, all working towards a common goal. But our ability to see that interconnectivity and mutual dependence in trees, for example, even in trees of different species, has taken us much longer to understand. It is still not fully understood by the larger population. This is because understanding how forests work requires a broad set of skills drawn from different disciplines. 

For in fact trees do not ‘compete’ in the mammalian sense. They instead work in a cooperative fashion because of the requirement to construct the systems that support the forest system as a whole. The fractalized nature of branch and root growth allows for light and nutrients to be dispersed among cells not directly connected to the actual ‘tree’ we perceive to be alone. This interconnected manner of mutual growth allows new trees and other mutualistic forms of life to grow, and therefore the entire forest to benefit. Being able to step back (or up) to see the ‘forest for the trees’ is a key trait for the Climate Adaptation Specialist, regardless of the system they are assessing.

Seeing individual groups, elements or sectors as parts of a whole is not easy, because external systems always overlap and interact with the system being analyzed. That is why Specialists are required to have diverse range of expertise, also known as Interdisciplinary Proficiency. Whether this proficiency predetermines the ability to system-think or vice-versa is not important: What is important is that the Specialist has the ethical principles and a steadfast commitment to fostering positive socio-environmental change in the communities they serve. This skill, coupled with the ability to system think, helps the Specialist form an agnostic or neutral view of any energy source, for example, fact or finding, since new possible solutions are always being produced due to human innovation.

To simplify further: Humans are biologically prone to forming groups for their self preservation–a process that then requires an ‘other’ to delimitate the group’s outer edge. The Specialist’s role is to recognize these ‘others’ as constructed frameworks built to make sense of the world. The only important ‘other’ at humanity’s current stage of existence is the rapid loss of biodiversity caused by humans compulsively fluctuating between tribal and individualist tendencies. As humans consume the finite sources of our host, the Earth, to satisfy this primal urge with increasingly powerful technology, those finite resources we need to rely upon will disappear. As such, the biological techniques we have used to drive progress must now be channeled towards regeneration and survival. 

This is no easy task.

Nevertheless, it is the role of the Specialist to try to channel this innate ability to innovate for the self towards cross-sectoral and cross-national mutualistic solutions, particularly in the face of sectoral opposition (and even bewilderment) when working for one entity or organization. 

So: How do we do that when humans are biologically drawn to act in self interest?

The Role of Artificial & Altruistic Intelligence

Fortunately, AI can assist us here. The ability to use it to optimize Interdisciplinary Proficiency is a core skill for any Specialist. It is particularly well suited to finding hidden patterns and areas of mutual benefit that can be leveraged to connect different sets of self-interest. AI, however, can (and almost certainly will) also optimize humanity’s destructive capacity, since it is human intelligence squared. The human species is therefore caught in a delicate balance between those who seek to serve themselves (or those they perceive as kin), and those who seek to serve humanity as a whole. Let us call this balance one that exists between the majority who see the tree as the unit that needs to be supported, and the minority who understand the forest (within multiple forests) as being the actual system that needs support. This is not a new conundrum.

If we assume that the core skill of the Specialist is to find the shared vested interest between systems, what other qualities can help ensure that a tangible mutual benefit comes into being via some new or improved socio-environmental system?

Here are ten such qualities, starting with a recap of the first two essential ones:

1. Interdisciplinary Proficiency

A skilled Specialist draws upon knowledge from various disciplines, including sociology, psychology, economics, public policy, biology, ecology and community development, to name a few. This interdisciplinary approach enables a comprehensive understanding of complex social issues. It also facilitates the development of innovative environmental solutions. To do this effectively, learning how to use AI or form functioning collectives is a must.

2. Systems Thinking

Embracing a systems thinking mindset is fundamental for recognizing the interconnected nature of socio-environmental problems and their underlying causes. A proficient Specialist utilizes systems-based methodologies to analyze social systems and identify key leverage points for intervention. They can then design holistic solutions that consider broader contexts and potential ramifications. This will often require forming deep understanding of stakeholder-functions in broad, largely opaque networks that overlap and interlink. This is a difficult, time-consuming task and why Interdisciplinary Proficiency is a concomitant requirement.

3. Community Engagement

Effective Environmental Resilience Coordination necessitates genuine engagement with the communities affected by socio-environmental issues. An adept Specialist prioritizes participatory approaches that actively involve stakeholders in the problem-solving process to ensure solutions are effective when implemented. As such, exceptional communication skills are essential. A core element of good communication is actually knowing when to speak to develop trust, and when to remain silent to do the same. This is a skill that can be learnt in time.

4. Evidence-Informed Practice

Rigorous research and evidence-informed practice serve as guiding principles for an effective Specialist. This means conducting comprehensive assessments, gathering relevant data, and applying research findings to recommend, design and implement solutions grounded in evidence and best practices. For those who become skilled at recognizing typical human behavioural patterns, intuition will begin to play an important role in decision making.

5. Ethical Integrity 

Ethical considerations affect all aspects of a Specialist’s work, including upholding human rights, seeking out both conservative and progressive views, and being accountable to stakeholders. Specialists adhere to professional codes of conduct while prioritizing the well-being and dignity of the sectors they serve.

6. Long-Term Sustainability 

Sustainable solutions require a long-term perspective and a commitment to restoring the Earth’s biodiverse capacity. An adept Specialist focusses on solutions that promote resilience and foster self-reliance while aiming to create lasting positive environmental impacts. In part due to communication issues in the past twenty years and the highly complex nature of climate modeling, there is still a good level of climate skepticism across communities. This skepticism is natural and human, and does not need to be ‘overcome’, but instead listened to at the grassroots level. On this note, Specialists will recognize that new findings and studies can advance or apparently contradict earlier expectations. 

7. Collaborative Spirit 

In keeping with the above, collaboration with diverse stakeholders is required for maximizing impact and leveraging resources. An effective Specialist builds and cultivates collaborative partnerships and networks, harnessing collective expertise and mobilizing support for shared goals. This requires an ability to recognize and see through ideological frameworks into more fundamental human needs shared across borders. Being able to direct self-interest and doubt toward an expected or potential mutualistic gain is an important skill here.

8. Adaptability and Innovation 

Socio-environmental problems are dynamic and multifaceted, necessitating adaptability and innovation. A proficient Specialist must therefore continuously seek new ideas, approaches and technologies to enhance the effectiveness and efficiency of resilience coordination efforts. This includes searching for research that might contradict current assumptions, since this is in keeping with ensuring a level of ethical integrity. Like many innovators will know, resilience and patience are also concomitant skills here.

9. Transparency and Accountability

Open communication, transparency and accountability are critical for building trust and credibility. An adept Specialist maintains clear communication channels, provides regular updates on progress, and is responsive to feedback and concerns from stakeholders. They also do not seek to mask weaknesses, but understand that demonstrating weakness can actually be a strength, since it may be a means of creating a collaborative spirit.

10. Commitment to Lifelong Learning

Environmental Resilience Coordination is an evolving field, requiring a commitment to continuous learning and improvement. A Specialist must therefore invest free moments in professional development opportunities, staying informed about emerging trends, research findings and best practices–all of which can be greatly leveraged with an advance ability to use AI.

Follow us on Linkedin to alert the team that you are interested in greentech jobs. We’re always happy to hear from those who have received the call to serve the Earth.

Tags :
artificial intelligence,careers,climate adaptation,conservation efforts,deep learning,societal engineering
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