The threat climate change poses is real and dramatic, as demonstrated through increasingly common extreme weather events. Less obvious, however, are some of the follow-on effects from these impacts, such as the transport of contaminants through weather-driven run off.
These secondary challenges have become apparent during my ongoing work with the Pueblo de San Ildefonso in Santa Fe County, N.M. The Pueblo struggles with the effects of drought, wildfire and floods that are increasingly all too common. But, historically, it’s also had to worry about environmental contamination from neighboring Los Alamos National Lab (LANL). Now there are new concerns about heightened exposure of Pueblo lands and community members to these contaminants due to the effects of climate change on chemical transport.
I’ve been working with my Abt colleagues Lorine Giangola and Heather Hosterman and the Pueblo’s Department of Environmental and Cultural Preservation (DECP) on a series of climate planning workshops. An important aspect of these workshops is that they are attended by community members, including youth, elders, resource managers and Tribal council. During the first set of workshops, participants identified natural resources and locations that are central to their cultural practices and daily lives, and in the next set, we’ll be focusing on prioritizing vulnerabilities and identifying adaptation measures.
At the same time, my colleague Michelle Krasnec and I are working with the Pueblo to investigate the potential combined health impacts of climate change and the local environmental contamination from LANL. Of particular concern is that the health threats from climate-related extreme events and environmental contamination can have a compounding effect. For example, someone who’s already suffering the effects of poor air quality may be more susceptible to the effects of contaminants. The compounding effects of climate change mixed with environmental contaminants on health is relatively uncharted territory, so we’re starting our research with a review of the scientific literature. We intend to incorporate the results into the Pueblo’s climate resiliency planning.
We plan to tailor climate resiliency solutions for the Pueblo based on the input from the community and the results of our research. Our solutions can address not just the structural and health concerns but the cultural needs of Pueblo members who are battling climate change. With that specificity, we can ensure the community’s buy in even as we better address their needs. The latter is the goal, the former is the key to ensuring sustainable solutions for climate adaptation.