Adaptation by stealth: climate information use in the Great Lakes region across scales

Abstract

While there has been considerable focus on understanding barriers to climate information use associated with the character of climate knowledge, individuals’ negative perception of its usability and constraints of decision-contexts, less attention has been paid to understanding how different scales of decision-making influence information use. In this study, we explore how water and resource managers’ scales of decision-making and scope of decision responsibilities influence climate information use in two Great Lakes watersheds. We find that despite availability of tailored climate information, actual use of information remains low. Reasons include (a) lack of willingness to place climate on agendas because local managers perceive climate change as politically risky, (b) lack of formal mandate or authority at the city and county scale to translate climate information into on-the-ground action, (c) problems with the information itself, and (d) perceived lack of demand for climate information by those managers who have the mandate and authority to use (or help others use) climate information. Our findings suggest that (1) scientists and information brokers should produce information that meets a range of decision needs and reserve intensive tailoring efforts for decision makers who have willingness and authority to use climate information; (2) without support from higher levels of decision-making (e.g., state), it is unlikely that climate information use will accelerate significantly; and (3) the trend towards characterizing climate specific actions within a broader concept of sustainability practices, or “adaptation by stealth,” should be supported as a component of the climate adaptation repertoire.

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Acknowledgements

We would like to thank the water and resource managers in the Huron and Maumee watersheds who provided primary data for this research. We also thank James Arnott for the comments on an earlier draft. We thank three anonymous reviewers for their useful comments.

Authors’ contributions

All authors contributed extensively to this work. M.C.L. and C.J.K. jointly designed the research. C.J.K. conducted the data collection and L.V.R. analyzed the data. All authors contributed to writing and developing the manuscript at all stages.

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Correspondence to Laura Vang Rasmussen.

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Research for this study was funded by NSF Grant no. 1039043.

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Rasmussen, L.V., Kirchhoff, C.J. & Lemos, M.C. Adaptation by stealth: climate information use in the Great Lakes region across scales. Climatic Change 140, 451–465 (2017). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10584-016-1857-0

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Keywords

  • Climate Information
  • Stormwater Management
  • Precipitation Time Series
  • City Manager
  • Urban Forestry