Katelyn Doering, Staff Writer

Associate professor Debra Javeline of the department of political science presented “The Most Important Topic Political Scientists Are Not Studying: Adapting to Climate Change” on April 11 at the Hesburgh Center for International Studies.  In her presentation, Javeline emphasized the importance of interdisciplinary contributions to the discussion about our environment.

Javeline began by presenting evidence supported by a number of scientific, political and commercial groups that “climate change is a reality, past and present.”  Radical climate deniers in fact manipulate data, favoring smaller cycles and ignoring larger trends over the past hundred years.  She argued that the future debate needs to center around how the problem of anthropogenic, or human-caused, climate change may be improved through policy solutions.

To highlight the urgency of the problem, Javeline offered  evidence including numerous effects of climate change, mainly adverse weather patterns and disaster events,  ranging from extreme drought to rising sea levels, uneven rainfall patterns and infrastructure damage due to melting permafrost.  Many of these adverse effects are unique to local ecosystems, but their overall consequences are diverse and threaten the safety and well-being of people around the world, especially those in the poorest communities.

Javeline noted that these recent events occur in the present and provide direct evidence of an anthropogenic, increasingly troubling trend.  Moreover, scientists may draw conclusions about climate change solely from these directly observable events rather than controversial climate projections.

As the title of the presentation suggests, Javeline’s main focus was on adaptations to climate change implemented through policy.  The term “adaptation” refers to methods of coping with climate change as a long-term reality, rather than trying to intervene to reverse or mitigate the process.

Adaptation is necessary, argued Javeline, not only because climate change is a reality but because it addresses other environmental and social needs.  She described an intriguing set of adaptation options that can be locally implemented.  Farmers can plant different, better crops and water them with drip irrigation systems.  Urban planners can build green alleys with better drainage and encourage residents to plant rooftop gardens. Governments can invest in emergency warning systems and better energy infrastructure.  In extreme cases, populations can relocate.

These adaptations are difficult to affect through policy since they involve high levels of uncertainty about potential need and effectiveness.  Since these investments are also quite costly, governmental and industrial actors may hesitate to implement them.  Javeline pointed out, however, that the problem of climate change is simply too threatening of a reality to ignore, and argued that education about the benefits of these policies is crucial.  In order to solve the problem, people would need to overcome their short-term interests to recognize the scientific need for such improvements.

According to Javeline, political scientists studying a variety of different fields have a unique perspective on the problem of climate change.  These “intuitions and insights,” as she called them, can improve the discussion and help promote policy improvements.  The problem is relevant not only to obvious fields like comparative politics, but also to researchers studying federalism, international development, public opinion and the role of the media.

She notes that political research can be the most helpful in explaining variations in adaptation across regions and countries.  Many factors such as relative vulnerability and cultural concerns cause policy decisions to differ, but the effects of these variables have not been researched and verified.

Javeline’s informative presentation helps to illuminate the need for more climate change scholarship within the political world, for the good of both current and future populations who will suffer from threats to the environment.

The event, sponsored by the Kellogg Institute for International Studies, was affiliated with the conference on “Climate Change and the Common Good,” presented the week of April 8 and sponsored by the Reilly Center for Science, Technology and Values.  The conference approached the topic of climate change from several angles, including public policy, the media, national security and Catholic social teaching.

Katelyn Doering is a sophomore political science major who adores Shakespeare. She is “exceedingly well read” (Henry IV) and “as merry as the day is long” (Much Ado About Nothing).  Contact her at kdoering@nd.edu.