, Volume 82, Issue 1-2, pp 93-111

Context and climate change: an integrated assessment for Barrow, Alaska

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Abstract

An intensive approach to Barrow, Alaska’s adaptations to climate change and variability during recent decades suggests reconsideration of the interconnected roles of science, policy, and decision-making structures. First, profound uncertainties are inherent in unique interactions among the many natural and human factors affecting Barrow’s vulnerability. Science cannot significantly reduce these uncertainties through extensive approaches, but intensive approaches can reconstruct and update local trends, clarify the underlying dynamics, and harvest experience for policy purposes. Second, sound policies to reduce Barrow’s vulnerability to coastal erosion and flooding must incorporate these profound uncertainties and the multiple values of the community. Minimizing vulnerability to climate change is only one of the community’s interests, and must compete with other interests for limited time, attention, funds and other resources. Third, the community itself is in the best position to understand its own context, to decide on sound policies, and to take responsibility for those decisions. In short, local context matters in science, policy, and decision-making structures for adaptation to climate change and variability. Overall, cognitive constraints may be the most important human dimension of climate change. Factoring the global problem into more tractable local problems would make the most of our cognitive capacity.