2018-08-10 / Home & Garden

Adaptation: Global Imperatives at the Local Landscape Level

Stopping to smell the flowers
By Arlene Marturano

Alizé Carèrre, cultural anthropologist and scientist, grew up living in a tree house in Ithaca, New York. She credits her family’s adaptive lifestyle of adjusting to the ever-changing dance and dialog with an oak tree in their living room with her flexible, inquisitive, and hopeful perspective. She believes humans are creative, innovative, and adaptable to environmental challenges and circumstances.

As a National Geographic Young Explorer, she travels the world to find out how indigenous people are adapting to problems of flooding, deforestation, food security, and invasive species in a time of climate change.

In 2012 she visited Madagascar, the second most deforested area in the world. Trees were cut for charcoal, logging of exotic woods like rosewood, slash and burn agriculture, and grazing. With soil cover removed, erosion produced deep gullies or holes called ‘lavakas’ across the landscape.


Being raised in a treehouse overlooking a Finger Lake in New York provided Carérre with the perspective that humans are part of nature not separate from it. 
Photo by Alizé Carérre Being raised in a treehouse overlooking a Finger Lake in New York provided Carérre with the perspective that humans are part of nature not separate from it. Photo by Alizé Carérre One obvious perspective is to view a doomsday scenario of environmental degradation with the loss of farmland leading to food insecurity. In the early stages of a lavaka there is wasteland but over time water and nutrients are funneled into gullies forming constellations of fertility. When local farmers noticed trees regenerating, they employed adaptive methods like practicing agroforestry and growing terraced lavakas of 15-16 food crops in the erosional formations. Human ingenuity changed a landscape of hardship into one of opportunity.

Bangladesh, a country with 160 million people in an area the size of Wisconsin, is treading water. By 2050, 18 million residents will be displaced by the rising seawater. Carèrre notes, “Most Bangladeshis grow up understanding that to stay alive is to stay afloat.” How are people adapting to the rising water?


Alizé Carérre (r) tours floating gardens for growing crops and raising poultry in Bangledesh. 
Photo by Katie Nicolova Alizé Carérre (r) tours floating gardens for growing crops and raising poultry in Bangledesh. Photo by Katie Nicolova Residents have woven bamboo, water hyacinth, and manure floating mats to enable them to fish, raise poultry, and grow crops. Each year the mats are ripped apart and made anew. A local architect seized inspiration from the floating farms and gardens to design floating schools, libraries, hospitals and playgrounds.

In Vanuatu, a South Pacific island near Fiji, outbreaks of coral-eating Crownof Thorns (COT) sea stars can decimate a reef in three days.

Carèrre accompanied local fisherman on underwater dives to inject COT with vinegar and citrus, remove them, compost and convert the starfish carcasses into fertilizer for local crops, and restore reef health over time.

Carèrre is documenting her case studies of local peoples adapting to climate change in a series of National Geographic films for K-12 students. Her approach in each film is to capture the flexibility, invention, and resilience required for our species to survive and thrive. The work brings to young malleable minds not only discourse on adaptation but also the important insights local ecological knowledge provides for the management of resources and ecosystems in times of environmental change.

Follow Carerre’s explorations atwww.alizecarrere.com.

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