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‘How We Respond’ Shows What U.S. Communities Are Doing to Address Climate Change

Julia Kumari Drapkin, founder of ISeeChange, a social media platform that collects stories about global environment changes, shows children historic New Orleans map to highlight parts of the city that once were swamp. | Impact Media Lab/AAAS

Communities across the United States are working with scientists and using scientific information to respond to climate change, according to the “How We Respond report released Sept. 16 by the American Association for the Advancement of Science. This new resource shares perspectives, multimedia and project details that 18 communities have developed to address local impacts of climate change or reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

Highlighted community-based solutions include projects that use wetlands to limit flooding and emissions, update transportation, water, food and waste systems, and deploy sea level sensors to monitor flooding. Climate change impacts vary across the nation and the globe, and how communities respond depends on their needs, values and resources, the report shows.

“We want to shine a light on how communities are taking action on climate change,” said Emily Therese Cloyd, director of the AAAS Center for Public Engagement with Science and Technology. “We hope ‘How We Respond’ gives communities ideas for how they can respond to climate change locally and ways that scientists and community members can work together to build stronger, more resilient communities.”

Netarts Bay, Oregon oysters are raised during their early development stages in hatcheries under controlled conditions to avoid exposing oyster larvae to the bay’s increasingly acidic water. | Impact Media Lab/AAAS

On Sept. 17, AAAS will host a Facebook Live event that will discuss “How We Respond” and feature the steps taken in Savannah, Georgia, one of the communities profiled in the report. Savannah Smart Sea Level Sensors is an innovative program that demonstrates how local initiatives can prepare for climate change impacts.

Scientists Russell Clark and Kim Cobb partnered with local students and community groups, including the local nonprofit Harambee House, to create and install low-cost sea level sensors around Savannah, giving residents a better picture of potential threats to their homes. The project has sparked the interest of surrounding communities and cities along the Eastern seaboard in expanding the sensor program, which will facilitate a more accurate emergency response system. The City of Savannah also is taking other measures to address climate change, including a program to restore the city’s dwindling tree population and create jobs for local residents.

The “How We Respond” report also summarizes the robust science on climate, citing the multiple and varied changes being felt today. Through profiles of the 18 U.S. communities, the report demonstrates how scientific information can be used in multiple stages of community response, from understanding the risks and analyzing possible options to implementing a plan and monitoring progress. Many communities, for example, are working with scientists to conduct vulnerability assessments that evaluate local climate risks and can help inform responses.

Multimedia associated with the report and website includes in-depth and brief profiles of communities, videos, photos and other resources. The report is intended for individuals and communities considering options for climate-related responses, decision makers and policymakers, and national and local reporters seeking examples of climate response.

Tonna-Marie Surgeon-Rogers, leader of an estuary research center in Wellfleet, Massachusetts, seeks to better incorporate wetland ecosystems into climate responses. | Impact Media Lab/AAAS

The How We Respond advisory committee includes active participation from climate and social scientists, communications professionals and community leaders who helped shape the initiative and provided their expertise.

“Much of the public discourse around climate change focuses on causes and impacts, yet we know that to mobilize action people need to be able to envision a positive, flourishing future,” said Ezra Markowitz, an advisor to the initiative and associate professor of environmental conversation at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst. “By highlighting such a diverse set of communities and organizations making positive progress on so many different levels and in so many different ways, ‘How We Respond’ can help refocus the climate change conversation around practical, implementable local solutions — exactly what people need to hear in order to envision their own successes."

Initiatives involving local governments, nonprofits and businesses detailed in “How We Respond” resources demonstrate a range of climate responses at the community level, and present solutions and approaches that could be adapted for other communities. They include:

AAAS aims to continue this science communication initiative by sharing “How We Respond” resources with communities as they consider responses to climate change and with decision makers and scientists, through meetings, presentations and discussion guides for these audiences. The “How We Respond” report and multimedia can be accessed at

Funders of this initiative include the Linden Trust for Conservation, Bob and Mary Litterman, Jerry Pausch, the estate of Joseph Kist, Jim McCarthy, Jean Taylor, and other individual donors.


[Associated image: ISeeChange ambassador gets help installing a rain gauge at a New Orleans community center. | Impact Media Lab/AAAS]



Tiffany Lohwater


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