Big Conference; small fish
“I hope you’re enjoying it!”
These were Penny Wong’s opening words of encouragement to the staff and participants in Australia’s National Climate Change Adaptation Research Conference. Penny Wong is the minister of Climate Change and Energy Efficiency, and she was referring to the fact that her department is responsible for funding one of the key organizers of this conference, the National Climate Change Adaptation Research Facility (NCCARF). To be honest, her words sounded disinterested and patronizing. Less like a champion of important work, and more like your aunt casually mentioning that sweater she knitted for you last Christmas.
And the rest of Wong’s address, which opened this Conference on Adaptation Futures, pretty much confirmed to a room of almost 1000 adaptation researchers that in the big political game of climate change, climate adaptation is a small fish at best. Adaptation research barely rated a mention in the 20 minute speech, which focused mostly on scoring political points and underscoring the scientific consensus on climate change.
Apparently in Penny Wong’s world that’s what science is for: building consensus and convincing people of facts. It’s hard to see where adaptation research fits into a mental model like that.
It’s too bad. Personally, I think adaptation research is about helping people do things. It’s not necessarily about convincing them, and it is not premised on the (false) idea that once we all agree on what is happening in the world, the solutions will come easily. Today I’ve seen some great examples of work that embraces complexity, acknowledges values, and honors many different kinds of knowledge. It is encouraging to see this, but it’s too bad PM Wong couldn’t stick around to see it for herself.