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Sustainability as a moving target

Natural Resources Leadership Academy track to focus on climate adaptation

Natural Resources Leadership Academy Instructor John Matthews wades in a lake and collects aquatic insects with a net.

Pictured above is Natural Resources Leadership Academy Instructor John Matthews studying how aquatic insects have been affected by changes in precipitation and air temperature over the past 50 years. This photo was taken in 2006 while he was working on his PhD research in a pond in Caledon, Ontario.

By Heather Turner
April 4, 2016

Climate change is often a heated topic, no pun intended. Many have different ideas and beliefs, and sometimes the issue can cause a passionate debate.

John Matthews, however, isn’t interested in discussing whether or not climate change is real. His goal is to create a collaborative environment where people of diverse backgrounds work together to find sustainable solutions to climate change and climate adaptation.

“I believe this topic is important because it is the central problem of our time,” he says. “It’s a hard problem, it’s an important problem, it’s an ongoing problem, but it’s also a tractable problem.”

To get the conversation going this summer, John will teach a track, or course, Resilient and Robust Resource Management, at Oregon State University’s fifth annual Natural Resources Leadership Academy (NRLA).

John Matthews, secretariat coordinator and co-founder of the Alliance for Global Water Adaptation (AGWA), will teach a track titled Resilient and Robust Resource Management at this year’s Natural Resources Leadership Academy. Watch the video above to learn what you will explore in this track.

“This course is going to focus on sustainability as a moving target, especially the aspect of climate change and how we relate to ecosystems and to economics,” he says.

John’s track will be held during the second week of the NRLA, June 20-24, along with a track titled Environmental Water Transactions. Week 1 of the academy, held June 12-17, features three tracks: Natural Resources and Community Values, Collaborative Governance, and Water Conflict Management.

The NRLA brings together professionals and graduate students from across the world to enhance leadership skills, establish connections and learn from experts on timely, relevant topics in today’s changing world. Housed at America’s natural resources university, the academy features internationally renowned faculty who will lead participants through a variety of topics covering areas of conflict management, communication, sustainable natural resources and leadership.

And John was the ideal person to lead this track on resource management. He serves as secretariat coordinator and co-founder of the Alliance for Global Water Adaptation (AGWA) – a global network of more than 800 professionals who are focused on mainstreaming the process of climate adaptation in their work.

“Having someone of John’s caliber and experience here at OSU is a real boon to the academy and to the campus community at large,” says NRLA Academic Director and Instructor Aaron Wolf. “He works globally at the highest levels and will bring vast expertise into the classroom. Moreover, given the structure of the academy, those interested in the tracks offered the first week can supplement their training with John’s track and vice versa.”

The track will use global case studies to approach climate adaptation from several perspectives, including how the eco-hydrological landscape responds to climate shifts, how built and managed aspects of the landscape interact with climate change, how a variety of institutions engage with non-stationary management, and how governance frameworks and management agreements encompass dynamic institutional and hydrological relationships.

“This is the time, this is the topic that young people really need to begin to consider what the implications are for their work going forward.”

John Matthews stands in front of summer tents for a family of indigenous yak herders in the eastern Tibetan plateau in Qinghai Province, China.

In 2010 in the eastern Tibetan plateau in Qinghai Province, China, John stands in front of summer tents for a family of indigenous yak herders. He traveled to the headwaters of the Mekong and Yangtze rivers as part of a small World Wildlife Fund expedition to survey monks, herders and government officials about how intense, rapid climate change was altering ecosystems and livelihoods of that region. “It was a devastatingly beautiful and upsetting trip,” John says. “I had no idea how quickly climate change was moving – faster than anywhere else I have been. I cried for three days when I got home.”

“This is the time, this is the topic that young people really need to begin to consider what the implications are for their work going forward,” John says. “I cannot stress enough that our generation, the next generation, my great-grandchildren are really going to be worried about how is it that we respond to ongoing climate impacts.”

John, an aquatic ecologist, will be taking a holistic approach to his NRLA track, where he will co-teach with experts from a wide range of backgrounds, including an economist, an engineer and a geographer.

“No single discipline has all of the answers,” he says. “The state of the science is moving so rapidly now that if we’re not engaged in a full conversation between researchers, practitioners and the policy world, then we won’t come to an effective solution in time.”

Having completed postdoctoral studies at Oregon State almost a decade ago and living in Corvallis for 10 years, John is a neighbor, member of the community and now colleague at Oregon State.

“What I’m most looking forward to from the Natural Resources Leadership Academy is seeing not just our class working in isolation, developing its own insights by itself, but interacting with all of the other classes,” he says. “Having a broader conversation, a family of conversations that are coming together, feeding and building on each other.

“I hope participants come out of this class with a very positive attitude toward climate change. It’s something they can successfully integrate into their work and develop useful and sustainable solutions for.”