Network Member of the Month: Claudia Avendano

“I think the achievement of resilience at a coastal level in the whole state is one of the few topics that can actually bring everybody into a conversation because resilience is about helping your resource to remain there for the next generations – whatever your issue is.”

– Claudia Avendano

An interview with the Member of the Month:

Tell us a little about yourself?
I’m from Mexico and I’m an Oceanographer and a I’m a Coastal Planner. I am wrapping up my PhD. My doctoral dissertation is actually in the application of adaptation pathways; it’s a new methodology to know in which order you should apply the mitigation and adaptation measurements. We just finished a project in Mexico with the World Bank, where we designed adaptation measurements for a region in the Gulf of Mexico, in Tabasco, Mexico. We use the state-of-the-art techniques to define what is going to happen and to project new climate scenarios over the next 100 years.

What is particularly motivating to you? Why did you choose to get into this field? 
I was born with a passion for the ocean. Before I even could understand it, I was watching two TV shows: The Underwater World of Jacques Cousteau and Cosmos with Carl Sagan. I either saved the ocean or saved the universe.

I was five years old when I decided to be an oceanographer. I did accomplish my dream. When I was five years old I said, “I’m going to be an oceanographer.” It sounded like one of those things your little kid says: “I want to be a fireman,” but [you think] s/he will grow out of it. Well, I never grew out of it. I became an oceanographer and I did my major in physical oceanography and my minor in geomorphology.

Then, in practicing in the oceanography area, I took interest in the coastal processes. Then, I realized that knowing about the oceanography and all of the processes just gives me an understanding of the problem but I could do nothing about it. So, the way to influence – the way to make a change – for me, was to change to the political [side] and that’s how I moved from physical oceanography to coastal adaptation planning.

Your work focuses on whole-community resilience. Can you describe that in more detail?
We are doing what is called the adaptation under the concept of resiliency. The way of thinking, behind how to help the system is to increase the resiliency of the population, increase the resiliency of the economy, and increase the resiliency of the natural environment. That makes the community more resilient because then all of the people get organized, and actually can bounce out of the disaster, as a community, helping each other.

I think the achievement of resilience at a coastal level in the whole state is one of the few topics that can actually bring everybody into a conversation because resilience is about helping your resource to remain there for the next generations – whatever your issue is.

Tell us about your work educating elected officials about coastal adaptation.
I am working here in California with BEACON, the joint powers authority for the counties of Ventura and Santa Barbara, and with all of the coastal cities in between, helping the elected officials to get a little bit more familiar with all of these concepts. We are working to see what we can do on that local scale level to increase the resilience of the region.  I am educating elected officials from my policy perspective as a planner in how adaptation works in the decision-making process. The elected officials don’t need the level of detail and technical knowledge of a scientist, but they do need to understand the information from the policy point of view.  I think that education process is very important for elected officials. The marriage between the science and the policy is one of the best ways to further adaptation everywhere in the world.

Tell us more about your work on adaptation pathways.
The decision-makers want to know what to look at first. We worked with the local populations [in Tabasco, Mexico] and we identified several adaptation measurements that are going to be most beneficial for the region. Now the policy question is: what do I do first? How much is going to cost? Where do I put my money? Where do I get the most results? What is most urgent to do?

I’m going to be creating like a map for the decision makers, outlining how you go about implementing the selected adaptation measurements. [In it] we consider the triple bottom line approach. triple firm approach. Every adaptation measurement has to benefit – equally – the economy, the community and the environment.

All of the adaptation practices that we implemented in this project in Mexico, are actually rooted in the European practices. It’s very interesting to see how the same techniques can be adapted in different countries, in different coastal settings. The way that you practice adaptation in urban settings is very different when you have rural, natural settings. That’s why I like practicing in the Netherlands in Italy, in Spain, in Mexico, and in California – because it’s a very different experience everywhere.

Tell us more about your knowledge exchange work, internationally.
I am also working with an initiative that is called the USNC, United States of Netherlands Connection, where I am the California coordinator. My job is to promote the knowledge exchange between California and the Netherlands about adaptation. Every year I lead a group of people to the Netherlands. We take professionals that are interested in resiliency, sustainability, coastal adaptation practices, and observing how they are applied worldwide. It’s a life changing experience. It has been very enriching to see people from different cultures and from different countries [sharing adaptation knowledge]. They actually get to ask the questions to the experts like, “how do I apply this theory or this new information into my daily practice?” They actually bring the ideas home.