The US National Park Service’s Twitter accounts have been tweeting out climate facts, a move many on Twitter have labeled an act of resistance towards the Donald Trump administration, which is busy deciding whether or not to take down a federal climate change website.
It’s no wonder, either: The National Park Service approaches the problem of climate change like the Department of Defense might take on a suspected military threat: With sober, calculated scenario planning.
The agency has had an “adaptation” team for climate change since around 2012, which has taken on scenario planning as a central tool. The special task force is staffed with federal-level “adaptation ecologists,” a very new job title, who work to plot out possible vulnerabilities for individual parks in a climate-changed future.
Scenario planning is a tool used by the military to prepare for even the most seemingly outlandish scenarios if they may have devastating effects—like, for example, Russia launching nuclear weapons during the Cold War. It’s also a tactic used by energy giants, most notably Shell, who make large-scale, high-risk decisions that project far out into the future about investing in fossil fuel deposits that may never pay off, or pay off wildly well. They model for different energy demand scenarios, political climates, and unpredictable environmental shifts. “Scenarios give us lenses that help us see future prospects more clearly, make richer judgements and be more sensitive to uncertainties,” the head of one of Shell’s “scenarios” divisions said. That’s more or less exactly how the Park Service approaches climate change, too.
While climate change is undisputedly happening, the effects it will have on the hyper local level—will it rain more, or less in Badlands National Park in the next fifty years?—are wildly unpredictable. In short, scenario planning is about about managing for a full spectrum of plausible scenarios rather than just averaging for the middle, which is bound to miss the mark when serious climate change effects do come to pass. And it’s a novel idea when it comes to climate change, putting the National Park Service on the cutting edge.
In other words, it isn’t surprising that the National Park Service is coming out strong on climate change, despite the Trump administration’s anti-climate-science stance. They’ve been doing it all along.