Conference on the Adirondacks Speakers look to prepare for inevitable surprises

LAKE PLACID – Climate change must be dealt with, but other key environmental issues shouldn’t be lost in the conversation, science writer Andrew C. Revkin told an audience Wednesday morning during the 20th annual Conference on the Adirondacks at the High Peaks Resort hotel.

“We’re changing the system in so many ways,” Revkin said. “If you’re not tracking those things as you’re tracking the impacts of greenhouse driven climate change, you can end up missing the boat.”

Some of the other major issues facing the world today are the spread of invasive species, industrial pollution in impoverished nations and a communication gap between scientists and lawmakers.

Revkin, who writes the Dot Earth environmental blog for the New York Times, was one of two featured speakers to tackle the issue of climate change Wednesday morning, the first day of the two-day conference. The other speaker was paleoecologist Steve Jackson, a distinguished scientist who is a founding director of the Department of the Interior Southwest Climate Science Center. Jackson also conducted research on the effects of climate change on terrestrial ecosystems in the Adirondack High Peaks in the late 1970s.

Both men talked about the complexities surrounding climate change. One of them is that the consequences are difficult to predict.

“We need to prepare for inevitable surprises,” Jackson said. “We are going to be surprised. Our predictive capacity is limited, and it always is going to be limited, simply by the intrinsic nature of climate variability.”

Jackson also talked about the need for the scientific community to do a better job of reaching a larger audience with the information its members learn from research projects. That includes building a stronger network between the different groups that deal with the subject.

“(We have to) recognize that there are different cultures and communities out there in the public at large, in the management agencies, in the policy community, in the private sector, the NGOs and in the research culture in universities,” Jackson said. “We have to be able to span the boundaries between those varies cultures and communities and span them not in a one way direction but in all directions.”

That type of communication is actually what the Conference of the Adirondacks, which is organized by the Adirondack Research Consortium, is all about. The conference consisted of talks from numerous featured speakers, along with shorter presentations to smaller audiences on scientific topics, ranging from biomass heating to the impacts of mercury on birds. Attendees included scientists, government officials, college students and members of the public.

“The goals of the Adirondack Research Consortium are to facilitate research and disseminate information so that people can make better decisions, both at a policy level and also in their daily lives,” said Dan Spada, president of ARC’s board of directors. “We try to assemble a broad diversity of speakers on a wide variety of topics, both in the natural sciences and social sciences.”

This year’s theme was to look backward and forward 20 years because of the 20 year anniversary. Spada said that one of the goals going forward is to improve the communication gaps between scientists, policy makers and the public.

“Scientists have for a long time talked to each other,” Spada said. “We’ve published papers. The papers go in journals that maybe 300 people read or 500 people read. We really need to get that research out to policy makers and the public, so that they can use that information. It’s good information. It has implications for their daily lives, both at a very local level, backyard level, but also on a regional level, on a townwide level, on a countywide level. So that’s what we’re trying to do. We’re trying to get that information out there.”

A couple of awards were given out during the conference. State Department of Environmental Conservation Commissioner Joe Martens received the 2013 Adirondack Achievement Award and Elizabeth Thorndike was honored with the 20th anniversary Adirondack Leadership and Legacy Award. Thorndike founded the Center for Environmental Information Inc. In Rochester and is on the state Energy Research and Development Authority board.

Martens was unable to attend the conference but offered a prepared statement after receiving his award.

“It is a great honor to be recognized by the Adirondack Research Consortium, the Adirondacks leading research organization for 20 years,” Martens said. “It is a privilege to serve Governor (Andrew) Cuomo and the state of New York as DEC Commissioner at such an important time for the Park and its communities. The state is doing all it can to increase tourism for the benefit of the local economies by creating new opportunities to explore the magnificent natural wonders of the Adirondack Park in an environmentally sustainable way.”