We talk a lot in the academic world about transformation—climate change adaptation on steroids! But what does it mean and how would we go about it? At its most basic level, transformation is thinking about how we move from where we are now, toward a more sustainable future. It is not so much about reacting to changes as they happen (reactive adaptation) but rather about thinking of adaptation and resilience-building as a proactive and long-term planning process. The movie “The Current War” (about Thomas Edison, George Westinghouse and Nikola Tesla’s race to bring convenient and easy access to power and light to the masses), is a great example of the technological, societal and behavioural changes needed for large scale transformation.
Transformation means that we may have to do things in fundamentally different ways. Transformation, or transformative adaptation, as some people call it, may need to occur when gradual or incremental adaptation may not be enough. For instance, rebuilding infrastructure year after year after extreme weather events is considered adaptation. But what if that becomes too cost-prohibitive and more innovative solutions are needed? Transformation often happens when changes take place faster than expected. Transformation requires a long-term vision of what is more sustainable, while, at the same, also time planning for short-term gains. When we look at a community, it also means ensuring strong engagement and communication among partners and stakeholders, and removing barriers to change by empowering citizens and communities to take action. It may sound like a tall order, but think what things would be like if we began to use a transformation mindset.
For example, think about a field of vacant land in your neighbourhood. What is its history? Who owns it? Why does it exist the way it does and Is it okay the way it is? Does someone have future plans for it and, if so, what are they and what could they use the land for? All of these great questions lead us to envision the many positive uses for this land: greenspace, a playground, community garden, or organic farm, for example.
Now think even bigger. Increase the scale from one vacant lot to an entire waterfront where flooding is occurring more frequently with increased storms. As the size of the area changes, so does the complexity, but the questions remain the same. In previous blog posts we have focused on a number of ideas, such as the global sustainability goals, tree planting, biodiversity protection, swales, agricultural ditches, greenspace, and shoreline protection. All of these areas could be used as a focus for transformation. Innovation and innovative thinking are key ingredients for transformation to happen. So ask yourself this: Are you an innovator?