Corinne Kenwood / Sun Staff Photographer

National Geographic explorer and Ithaca native Alizé Carrère suggests humans will be able to adapt to effects of climate change in a new web series.

November 9, 2017

National Geographic Explorer, Ithaca Native Details Adaptability in a Changing Climate

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Not every dialogue surrounding climate change has to question the end of the world, said National Geographic explorer Alizé Carrère.

Instead the narrative can push us to consider what we may be doing right when it comes to adapting to climate change, as Carrère has attempted to show through her soon-to-be-released web series on what it truly means to be an adaptable species.

Detailing three case studies, Carrère spoke about her work as a National Geographic Explorer at a lecture Wednesday night sponsored by Cornell Botanic Gardens in its fall lecture series.

Carrère studies how local populations have adapted to the effects of climate change. This work has launched into a web series, soon to be released on the National Geographic channel.

Carrère gave the audience an advanced screening of the pilot episode, set in Bangladesh and focusing on the development of floating farms, and to a greater extent of floating communities. Because of rising sea levels in the greatly-at risk area, millions of Bangladesh residents, she explained, are expected to be climate change refugees in the years to come.

For Carrère, an Ithaca native, this interest in nature and adaptative behaviors that spurred her career with National Geographic stemmed from her childhood experiences.

Growing up in what she describes as a quasi-treehouse on the lake, Carrère said her earliest memories were colored with the natural landscape of Ithaca.

Shortly after earning her bachelor’s from McGill University, Carrère received the National Geographic Young Explorer Grant. From this grant, she traveled to Madagascar to study how local farmers had adapted to mass deforestation.

Carrère said the farmers have taken advantage of erosional gullies, “lavakas” — a gaping hole in the ground formed as a result of deforestation — to create a hyper-efficient method of subsistence farming.

Because nutrients become concentrated in these “holes,” they become prime growing spots and push the tree growth upwards. Farmers can then plant in the soil under these trees.

During her time in Madagascar, she shared her observations of these adaptive strategies on a personal blog. People began to share examples of adaptive methods they had observed in their own areas, inspiring the idea for a web series.

This web series explores hyperlocal examples of adaptation throughout the world. Carrère was careful to maintain that her series on climate change stresses a need to learn from the present climate conditions and local responses.

At the center of the National Geographic web series, Carrère said, is the concept of “edutainment” and an emphasis on storytelling that focuses on human adaptability and resilience.

For Carrère, this optimistic perspective is so often overshadowed by the “doomsday narrative,” which does more to change public opinion than behavior.

Carrère said that much of the conversation around climate change for the past few decades have been centered around mitigation and determining the source of changes, which she argues has been a polarizing topic.

“Most of what I’ve seen is that for much of the climate change dialogue, of the conversation these days, it all focuses on what we do wrong,” she said.

Carrère left her audience with three points to consider moving forward: the possible impact of positive storytelling in talks about climate change, the issue of how best to explain high-stakes issues to those in low-stake contexts, and the role of children in the future of climate change.

“We have much to learn from those with the most to lose,” Carrère said.