Building a Green Texas: Activating a New Generation of Sustainability Leaders
Climate change disproportionately impacts low-income and otherwise marginalized communities that typically have the fewest resources to adapt. Furthermore, the very communities that feel the effects of climate change most acutely have been historically underrepresented in the fields of sustainability and green building. The Building a Green Texas (BGT) project helps address these concerns by giving high school students opportunities to develop the knowledge, skills, and confidence to tackle challenges posed by climate change. In the process, students gain valuable green career skills and credentials and become part of a green building school-to-job pipeline that will help contribute to a more diverse workforce. Texas-based nonprofit EcoRise, the University of Texas at Austin, and the University of Texas Marine Science Institute/National Estuarine Reserve System of NOAA’s Office for Coastal Management will lead this robust, three-year project beginning in Central Texas in Year 1 and expanding into Houston and Texas Gulf Coast communities in Year 2. Through school-year field experiences and paid summer internships, students in the program will use established scientific evidence, citizen science, and an understanding of location-specific socioeconomic and ecological factors to explore current and future extreme weather phenomena and other environmental hazards facing their communities. They will gain real-world learning experiences and career exposure by directly engaging with scientists, civic leaders, green building professionals, and NOAA data and staff. As students help design community-based green building projects, they will consider scientific uncertainty, cultural knowledge, and social equity, in the real-world context of improving community resilience.
Increasing Sea-Level Rise Resilience in the Northern Gulf of Mexico
Sea-level rise (SLR) will disproportionately affect the northern Gulf of Mexico (nGOM; coastal Mississippi, Alabama, and northwest Florida) due to a confluence of socioeconomic challenges (e.g., vulnerable industry, low per capita income, low level of educational attainment, etc.), higher than average rates of SLR, and low-lying topography. Resilience of nGOM social, economic, and cultural resources in the face of SLR requires an informed and engaged constituency and leadership that understands their risks, SLR adaptation options, and the civic processes required for action. Multiple formal and informal needs assessments have identified specific educational and informational gaps that act as barriers to SLR action in nGOM coastal communities. To address the SLR resilience barriers identified by nGOM stakeholders and decision-makers, the project team will implement a comprehensive and diverse education program that engages multiple sectors within coastal communities including youth, educators, municipal officials, concerned citizens, and non-participants (i.e., those who have not yet been engaged in dialogue around SLR resilience). The goal of the project is science and civics literate constituencies in the northern Gulf of Mexico that can actively support cultures, economies, and ecosystems that are resilient to SLR. This goal will be achieved by developing an inclusive SLR education program that spans ages, locations, and demographics. There are three categories of project activities targeting different community sectors: 1) educator workshops encouraging application of an existing SLR curriculum for high school students; 2) Community Connection Dialogues that connect community leaders working on SLR with engaged constituents to inform and empower future action; and 3) pop-in immersive SLR experiences at “every day” locations (e.g., baseball games, art walks) to reach those without the means/motivation to engage in SLR resilience. The SLR curriculum, Community Connection Dialogues, and Pop-Ins are three parts of a whole that work to bring community members at all levels of understanding and engagement into the conversation and direct them towards the next step in their pathway to SLR community resilience. This work is being led by Mississippi State University in partnership with the Mississippi-Alabama Sea Grant Consortium, Dauphin Island Sea Lab, Alabama School of Mathematics and Science, Gulf of Mexico Alliance, and the University of South Alabama. Collaborators from across the region will include the Mississippi State University Gulf Coast Community Design Studio, the five Gulf National Estuarine Research Reserves, Audubon Nature Institute, 350 Pensacola, League of Women Voters of Mobile, EEECHO, Ocean Springs Environmental Committee, UF/IFAS, Perdido & Pensacola Bays Estuary Program, Better Growth Mobile, Cities of Ocean Springs, MS and Pensacola, FL, Counties of Jackson, MS and Santa Rosa, FL, and the GoM Climate and Resilience Community of Practice.
Community Resilience Informed by Science and Experience (C-RISE)
Coastal rural communities have deep cultural connections to and rely heavily upon the marine environment and economy. Due to their remoteness, isolation from central planning agencies, and lack of financial and municipal resources, they are highly vulnerable to climate impacts such as sea level rise. The Gulf of Maine Research Institute (GMRI) and key project partners, Upswell and the Island Institute, will develop, convene and facilitate regional trainings by which Maine’s rural coastal communities can increase their capacity to plan and prepare for coastal climate impacts by developing the knowledge, skills, and relationships necessary to create data- and community-informed climate resilience plans. Cornerstone to the regional trainings is an engagement tool that builds common knowledge, incorporates diverse community value and voice, provides a framework for community planning and decision making, and builds relationships amongst participants. These trainings will also leverage and engage resilience professionals in Maine to share and represent their resources as communities apply those to their newly acquired skills and frameworks for community planning and decision making. Community leaders from the regional trainings will continue their learning through participation in a professional learning community. We will also leverage GMRI’s prior NOAA Environmental Literacy Grant, titled “Community Resilience Informed by Science and Experience (C-RISE),” to deliver community education programming that builds the capacity of residents in coastal communities to support resiliency planning and adaptation actions by providing participants with knowledge of and access to local sea level rise data. This project will serve 20 rural coastal and island communities in Maine through four regional trainings. Each community will select a diverse and equitable representation of 10 stakeholders and community leaders to participate in the trainings. Community education events will be accessible to all residents of each community. These interventions will build community literacy and capacity for developing coastal resilience plans that benefit the social, environmental, and economic health of the community and align with Maine’s Climate Action Plan. An advisory group including representatives from NOAA’s Office for Coastal Management, Maine Sea Grant, Wells National Estuarine Research Reserve, the State of Maine’s Governor’s Office of Policy Innovation and the Future, Maine Geological Survey, Maine Department of Environmental Protection, the Town of Vinalhaven, and the Town of St. George will guide the development and implementation of this project. Researchers at the University of Maine, Orono will evaluate the implementation of the project as well as assess the impact of this project on a communities’ ability to make community-informed climate plans. This project reflects NOAA’s Community Resilience Education Theory of Change, specifically supporting resilience planners and community members to develop trusting relationships focused on their collective environmental literacy through genuine conversations around resilience planning and decision making. With NOAA, we envision communities that have the capability to anticipate, prepare for, respond to, and recover from significant multi-hazard threats with minimum damage to social well-being, the economy, and the environment.