4.8 The Bay of Fundy and the tides of climate change

2.4 Lessons learned from The Charlotte County Community Vulnerability Assessment

Klenk et al. (2016) summarize the main lessons learned from the participative process and the use of tools such as participative mapping in the production of the Charlotte County Community Vulnerability Assessment (CCVA). The CCCVA process invited experts trained in producing maps of inland flooding risks and future sea level rise scenarios to inform working groups about changing environmental conditions. The resulting vulnerability maps helped participants imagine their future landscape and communities. The flooding and community vulnerability maps were essential to the working group discussions, yet for some participants, these maps merely quantified and rendered legible something they already knew –through recent lived experience. Participants were aware that sea levels would rise due to climate change and that extreme weather events such as those they experienced, were going to become more frequent. The maps, while useful for constructing likely future scenarios, could not tell them precisely when sea level rise will happen, nor when the next severe weather event would occur. Nevertheless, producing this baseline mapping data was a central aspiration of the CCCVA process, as the maps were meant to enable participants to visualize which places within of their communities were most at risk from flooding and future sea level rise. The encounter between the lived experience, concerns and aspirations of participants and a scientific approach to vulnerability assessment was insightful, especially with regards what aspects of local knowledge were integrated into the vulnerability maps, and which were not.

Interviews with participants suggest that some of the local problems with infrastructure, for example ineffective storm water conduits and culverts, were easy to point to as “vulnerable locations” on maps. Yet for some participants, identifying these “vulnerable spots” was not sufficient. Stories participants told during working group meetings about poorly designed or ineffective infrastructure, how their businesses and homes were impacted during the recent floods, and what solutions they thought might mitigate future flood impacts, expressed the continued frustration that some participants felt with local and provincial governance arrangements. These stories intertwined memories of recent extreme weather events, local knowledge associated with livelihoods, household and community life, and affective relationships between individuals and their changing, sometimes “disastrous environment”. Mapping social and economic vulnerabilities as dots on a community map was meant to capture some of the more intangible vulnerabilities participants felt.

The stories participants told during working group meetings and the interviews, are not merely an emotive layer separate and independent from local knowledge, inconsequential for adaptation planning. These lived experiences provide both the social and emotive content of local knowledge, vital to understanding the nature of the vulnerability participants were asked to identify in their communities, and with which they identified. While placing a numbered dot to represent a particularly “vulnerable spot” on a community map was informative from a Cartesian perspective, it could not adequately express how this vulnerability was tied to individuals’ patterns of local transportation, livelihoods, and the distrust some participants felt towards those who were in charge of maintaining or updating infrastructure—important elements of local knowledge as embodied experience. Indeed, stories of recent floods and extreme weather events recounted by participants are material stories, shaped by a history of relationships, between people, place, decision-makers, and environmental change. These stories can be lost, or dismissed, if they are solely represented by a dot on a community vulnerability map. The resulting maps are two-dimensional: they emphasize quantities (inland flooding risks tied to elevation, projected sea level rise), and the distribution of these and other risks across Cartesian points. The stories of the recent floods, and individual life histories revealed in the interviews, speak to more than such quantifiable risks. Such stories revealed a desire and need for broader discussion and dialogue between community members and decision-makers about how to proceed with planning for the future of these communities given projected climate change impacts.

Moreover, sea level rise scenarios produced in the CCCVA were particularly revealing in how local knowledge co-production in adaptation planning can be productive of unintended risks and vulnerabilities due to the nature of the participatory materials produced. During the working group meetings concerns emerged about the community vulnerability and flooding maps would be made available to local citizens, how they might be used by real estate agents, potentially negatively impacting the value of residential and commercial buildings identified at risk from future sea level rise. It is important to note that these coastal communities are situated in a rural, economically depressed region of the province, and characterized increasingly by an aging demographic with low and/or fixed incomes (Signer et al., 2014). The CCCVA maps identified homes and businesses that are at risk given projected climate change impacts—buildings that may represent the owners’ only financial assets. The normative register of these maps thus shifted from a “public good”, informing local climate change adaptation planning, to a new vulnerability—an unintended outcome of the CCCVA process, which revealed the contingencies of such co-productive experiments and their impacts on social imaginaries of the future.

As described above, the CCCVA utilized a community level advisory and engagement process to identify locations, groups, and processes that are most susceptible to climate change hazards, based on individuals lived experience and scientific projections. Numerous maps with annotations on locally specific areas of vulnerability were co-produced with scientists, which in turn gave rise to new vulnerabilities associated with the mapping process itself. In addition to these maps, the CCVA process allowed participants to voice their lived experience—connecting the dots, both literally and figuratively, between how individuals felt about and perceived climate change impacts and what they imagined their future might be, and what role they could play in reducing their vulnerability to climate hazards (Signer al., 2014 in Klenk et al., 2016).