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Antioch University New England to launch new Climate Center

Article first appeared in the Sentinel Source

By KAITLIN MULHERE Sentinel Staff

The developers behind Antioch University New England’s new climate center hope it will be a resource not only for students and scientists, but also AUNE LOGOsmfor residents and municipal officials.

The Center for Climate Preparedness and Community Resiliency was announced last week as part of the White House Climate Data Initiative. The initiative encourages public and private organizations to use data on climate change risks to help businesses and communities make better-informed decisions about such issues as building new roads and bridges or preparing for flooding.

Along with organizations such as Google, The World Bank and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Antioch is one of 15 private-sector organizations that are part of the initiative so far.

In many ways, launching the center was a natural next step for the Keene University, which has been involved in different facets of climate research for more than a decade, said Abigail Abrash Walton, assistant to the president for sustainability and social justice at Antioch, and the director of the Center for Academic Innovation.

“It makes sense to leverage those (projects) by creating a center where there could be greater collaboration,” Abrash Walton, who attended the launch of the White House initiative last week in Washington, D.C., said.

Climate change research involves more than studying weather patterns, environmental studies faculty member Jim Gruber said. He directs the resource management conservation master’s degree program and the doctoral environmental studies program.

For example, Antioch has one graduate student studying the effects of climate change on agriculture in Rwanda, he said. Another is researching climate change and vulnerable populations, such as low-income senior citizens who have little mobility or extra income.

Topics such as food security, severe impacts from storms and building green infrastructure are all related to climate change, he said.

Antioch faculty and students also were involved in Keene’s development of a city climate adaptation plan in 2007 and in a organizing a challenge to encourage local businesses to reduce their greenhouse emissions by 10 percent, Abrash Walton said.

More recently, they studied culverts in the Lake Sunapee region to determine if they were suited for the increased frequency of flooding New Hampshire has seen and are now partnering with the University of New Hampshire for a research project on the coast.

All of those types of outreach and research will now fall under the umbrella of the new center, hopefully providing communication and collaboration across projects, Abrash Walton and Gruber said.

Antioch won’t build any new space to house the center, but there will be a new doctoral fellowship position developed to manage the center.

Antioch learned about the White House initiative and President Barack Obama’s call to action while working with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to plan a climate change conference in May, Abrash Walton said.

The conference, called “Local Solutions: Northeast Climate Change Preparedness Conference,” will be the kickoff for Antioch’s new center. The conference focuses on the region from the upper Chesapeake Bay watershed to Maine, a stretch of cities also important to the White House initiative, which is targeting research on the coastal effects of climate change, according to the release from Antioch.

The idea of the conference isn’t to look at climate forecasts for 20 years from now, said Christa Daniels, an adjunct faculty member in the environmental studies department.

Instead, she said, the question the conference aims to help local and regional officials answer is, “How can we respond to what’s happening now?”

In other words, how can communities prepare for and lessen the effects of weather events such as hurricanes Irene and Sandy, recent ice storms, or flooding that has washed away roads and ruined homes in the area?

Abrash Walton, Daniels and Gruber say studies show that these once-rare events are going to happen a lot more often.

Before switching to academia, Gruber worked in town government in Massachusetts, New Hampshire and Vermont, and so he understands the challenges local municipalities are facing, he said.

“The resources aren’t there,” he said. “There are so many demands on local government. They need practical solutions. That’s the goal of the conference and will be a focus of the center.”

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