Michigan professor talks climate change solutions

Maria Carmen Lemos delivers a lecture entitled "Building Capacity for Adapting to Climate Change" to the UConn community in the Konover Auditorium in Storrs, Connecticut, on Thursday, March 30, 2017. This lecture is the fifth lecture out of the seven-part Edwin Way Teale Lecture Series. (Owen Bonaventura/The Daily Campus)

Professor and Associate Dean of Research of the School of Natural Resources and Environment at the University of Michigan gave a lecture on Thursday afternoon about perspective solutions to combating climate change.

Dr. Maria Carmen Lemos specializes in research related to the human aspects of global change and how science can be applied to creating solutions, particularly within climate change.

“I study how people use science to make decisions,” Lemos said.

She has conducted research around the world, with her lecture focusing mostly on the work she has done in Brazil, her native country.

Lemos’ lecture focused on the term “adaptive capacity,” which is defined in her presentation as “the ability of systems, institutions, humans and other organisms to adjust to potential damage to take advantage of opportunities or to respond.”

There is also generic adaptive capacity and specific capacity. Lemos discussed how adaptive capacity is used with scientific knowledge to promote change. She said how the government becomes involved, what kind of programs are set up and what the outcomes are.

In a time where climate change is becoming an extremely relevant issue and is a major agenda for many governments, it is important to explore adaptation opportunities, especially in more impoverished nations, said Lemos.

Lemos’ research, which was done in impoverished parts of Brazil, focused primarily on droughts and water conservation. Droughts have an extreme effect on farmers livelihoods and is becoming more and more relevant with climate change.

Lemos stressed the relationship between poverty and vulnerability. The poorest people who rely on crops for the money are most vulnerable when droughts hit. As part of adaptive capacity, cash transfer programs were set up to provide children with the opportunity to go to school and families to afford food and proper healthcare.

Years later when revisited, the program proved to help reduce poverty a small amount. Short term effects included more money, and long term effects included better livelihoods due to children receiving education.

“The idea is if you phase it very slowly, that livelihood [one of poverty] might go away,” said Lemos.

Shifting resources from traditional methods, such as water trucks, to poverty reduction may be more beneficial in the long run and increase adaptive capacity. However, it is important to note that the program alone is not necessarily the best option, including things such as irrigation is more effective in increasing livelihood.

Lemos’ conclusion was that higher generic capacity is not the sole solution.

“You have to have Generic Capacity, it’s necessary but not sufficient,” she said.

In a time where climate change is becoming more and more of an issue, it is important to start searching for realistic and effective solutions to helping people live the best life they can within the circumstances.

Lemos’ lecture was part of the Edwin Way Teale Lecture Series, a series focused on the environment. The next Teale Lecture will be held on April 19 and 20 in the Konover Auditorium at the Dodd Center.


Melissa Scrivani is a campus correspondent for The Daily Campus. She can be reached via email at melissa.scrivani@uconn.edu.