Getting Better Together

By John Matthews, Conservation International

When I was in graduate school, I spent a lot of time reading mostly abstract scientific papers about how the world's climate was shifting. My time in the field was spent measuring how changes in rainfall and air temperatures have been affecting dragonflies. I began to feel very worried about how even small shifts in our climate were going to affect a lot of freshwater species.

Two years ago, I was hired by WWF to help colleagues around the world think through the problems that climate change was making for people and wild species all over the world. In my second week with WWF, a colleague called: Can you be in New Delhi in ten days? Within a few hours of landing we went to a national park that was a wetland recognized for its international importance. To my horror, I couldn't see any water. Large trees were growing in the parched soil. I thought, I have nothing to say that's useful here. There are no aquatic ecosystems left in this place. My Indian colleagues took us all a few miles upstream to a bridge, overlooking a dry riverbed full of grazing sheep.

Here I saw the cremation sites of people who had brought their relative's remains from far away, so that their ashes could wash downstream to the sacred Ganges of northern India. But there had been no water here for five years. There were only ashes.

I was so horrified at myself, so suddenly aware that my experience in North America had led me to view species and ecosystems as something wild and separate from myself. I felt quite suddenly aware that my species was managing freshwater ecosystems in ways that combined with the effects of climate change to cause really serious negative impacts to people and those ecosystems. The people who lived near this river needed it back, and they needed it to be healthy. And quite literally they needed it for their spirit. I thought, we have to get better, and we have to get better together: people, species, ecosystems.

Since that first big trip with WWF, I've traveled over 350,000 miles (about 500,000 kms) and met amazing people all over the world who are working to help people and ecosystems to get better together. These are stories of promise. They say that conservation is not just about losing less than we might have otherwise. It's about doing more, and doing more effectively. This site is designed to begin to tell those stories.

My entries are going to focus on one particular, personal thread around water. Freshwater is critical for almost every species that lives, from the edge of the ocean to the tops of glacier-covered mountains - not to mention species in the rivers, lakes, caves, and estuaries of the world. And of course water is critical to humans: our food, our household needs, much of our clothing, even our energy. In fact, water is so critical for us, that humans will probably experience most of the impacts of climate change through changes in water availability and water quality.

How will we - humans and other species - adjust to these changes? What happens when we have too much rain or too little snow? What if we have plenty of water, but it's starting to come at the wrong time of year? That's the story I want to tell you here. That's the process of climate change adaptation - of preparing for the emerging climate.

There are a lot of things to be upset about in the world today. Climate change is one of them. But it's one thing that we can do something about. This site is meant to show that humans are, in many ways and in lots of places, finally trying to get things right with the environment. We're not perfect (and we have a long ways to go), but climate change is strangely acting as a catalyst to make lots of people think that we need to start working together as we face new kinds of climate problems.

Some of the stories I'll tell will be about people I've met and species I've gotten to know something about - real stories from the field about practical, on the ground work. And some of them will be about meeting rooms and people in suits: policy work and negotiations, which is how we usually manage to get our complicated societies to actually change what they do. Both are the tools we need to get better, together.