Changing Climate, Changing Communities

This week in North Philly Notes, Braden Leap, author of Gone Goose, writes about how the population of Sumner, MO, the Wild Goose Capital of the World, responded to climate change and the lack of geese.

Communities being disrupted by disasters related to climate change have become a semi-regular fixture on the nightly news. One night, a reporter walks through the scorched remains of a neighborhood following a deadly forest fire. The next, they’re boating down the flooded main street of a small town following another major hurricane. But how do communities respond to climate related disruptions that range from catastrophic fires and floods, to warmer winters, to the shifting geographic ranges of an array of plants and animals? This is an especially urgent question because climate related transformations are taking place across the U.S. and around the world, and they aren’t likely to stop any time soon.

Climate catastrophe gets a lot of attention, and rightly so, but if we hope to sustain communities as they are disrupted by climate change, we need to know far more about how people work together—or why they don’t—to effectively respond when their lives are disrupted by shifting climatological conditions. Accordingly, in my recently published book, Gone Goose: The Remaking of an American Town in the Age of Climate Change, I consider how members of a rural Missouri town were reconfiguring their community in response to climate change. Although Sumner, Missouri claims the title of Wild Goose Capital of the World, the nearly 200,000 Canada geese that used to migrate there no longer come to Sumner because of a combination of land use changes and shifting climatological conditions. For a town whose culture and economy were intimately tied to geese and goose hunting, this has been a dramatic transformation.

gone goose_smWhile we often hear stories of small Midwestern towns fading away, that’s not exactly what was happening in Sumner. The population may have been dwindling, but after talking and working with residents for nearly two years, I found that community members were effectively rearranging the social and ecological complexities comprising their town to respond to the lack of geese. Men were dramatically transforming the landscape to make it more amenable to duck hunting. Women reorganized the town’s annual festival to cater to families instead of goose hunters. Both were working with staff at the National Wildlife Refuge adjacent to the community to make it suitable for public uses other than goose hunting. In all three instances, they were strategically leveraging the social and ecological complexities of Sumner to rearrange and sustain their ties to the people and places they valued.

Although Sumner is undoubtedly unique, I argue it provides some important lessons for other communities disrupted by climate change. Most notably, it is sometimes possible for communities to be sustained and even improved. For this to happen, people must effectively utilize and rearrange the social and ecological beings and things comprising their communities. This is a somewhat hopeful lesson, but one that must be tempered by the realities of communities and climate change. Not all places will have the social and ecological inputs to adapt. The effects of climate change can also be so catastrophic that it can be impossible to adjust. Communities being inundated with saltwater because of rising sea levels provide a clear example. The environments in which our communities are entangled will continue to present both opportunities and challenges over the coming decades and centuries, but it seems clear that in some cases there can be more to climate change than catastrophe.

 

Advertisements

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: