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Janice Barnes on Approaching Climate Change with Optimism


Last month, the United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change released a major report identifying the devastating impacts of climate change. The landmark report concluded that human activities are to blame for the current state of global warming, and that further climate disruptions are a certainty in the coming decades. Described by U.N, Secretary-General António Guterres as a “code red for humanity,” this report and its subsequent media coverage reflect a despairing view of the state and future of the world due to climate change. With the global temperature rising at an alarming rate, natural disasters increasing in both frequency and severity, sea levels rising and ice caps melting, who can argue with this pessimistic view?

After 30 years of working to mitigate the effects of climate change, Dr. Janice Barnes, GRI’s Distinguished Corporate Fellow, is no stranger to the gravity of the global climate situation. However, Dr. Barnes approaches challenging the effects of climate change with an optimism that seems virtually nonexistent in the climate conversation. As founder of Climate Adaptation Partners (CAP), Dr. Barnes leverages her background in design to ask “how might we?” when it comes to building resilience in the face of climate change. I had a conversation with Dr. Barnes in order to understand how maintaining this optimism is possible in a global conversation that is so often shrouded in hopeless negativity.

According to Dr. Barnes, this sort of optimism is not as unique as it seems. Despite optimism being a critical factor in her work on climate adaptation, planning, advocacy, and partnership building, optimism is not so much a purposeful or strategic decision, but rather “a natural consequence of being open.” She states that openness, along with curiosity, are what enable us to focus on evolution and knowledge that enable us to find solutions and build resilience. Openness and curiosity are critical because these qualities provide the motivation for building relationships. In the fight against devastation caused by climate change, “we are working on something huge that is well beyond our influence.” No one person, organization, community, or nation can do it all. A global collaborative effort is required, and it must be founded on meaningful relationships.

Read more to understand just what Dr. Janice Barnes means by a global collaborative effort founded on meaningful relationships.


About Dr. Janice Barnes

Janice Barnes, PhD, AIA, LEED AP, RELi AP, is the Founder of Climate Adaptation Partners (CAP), where she works with public and private clients to identify their risks and vulnerabilities and to meet their resilience goals. With 30 years of design experience bridging practical applications with empirical research, Dr. Barnes recognizes critical organizational processes and links these to appropriate design responses. Internationally recognized for this expertise, Dr. Barnes links environmental, social and economic indicators to advance resilience principles and connect knowledge across communities. Known for her abilities in facilitating stakeholder dialogues on complex issues, she frequently works with organizations seeking ways to generate new thinking and build dynamic strategies. Her message settles on a shared truth about the responsibilities to act on climate change once its implications are understood.

Previously, Dr. Barnes served as Principal and Director of Resilience at Waggonner & Ball, as well as Global Resilience Director and Principal at Perkins+Will, where she was the global lead on their work with the 100 Resilient Cities initiative for the City of Louisville and the City of Toronto. With the Rockefeller Foundation, she facilitated workshops in the National Disaster Recovery Competition Capacity-Building Academies, the Global Resilience Academy and the Resilience Americorps VISTA initiative. She led the development of the DC Climate Adaptation Plan in collaboration with Dr. Katherine Hayhoe of Atmos and Kleinfelder Engineering.


About GRI Distinguished Corporate Fellows 

Serving as a GRI Distinguished Corporate Fellow (DCF) signals a mutual desire to find projects through which our collaborative participation can actively embed resilience design, planning, practice, and technology. Designation as a DCF is a recognition made to exception professionals from private business and industry to share GRI’s commitment to advance societal resilience.


About the Author 

Kathleen FleischauerKathleen Fleischauer is a first year graduate student pursuing a Master of Science in Nonprofit Management at Northeastern University. Originally from upstate New York, she moved to Montreal, Quebec to pursue her undergraduate studies. In 2018, she graduated from McGill University with a Bachelor’s degree in International Development and Anthropology. Since receiving her Bachelor’s, Fleischauer has worked in Montreal, Chicago, and the south of France, and is currently the Global Development Coordinator at GRI.