Consensus Building: Confronting Climate Change as a Community

Posted on: Wed, 06/30/2021

Community disputes can present dynamics far more complex than a lawsuit or mediation session. Solutions require consensus building, a process that empowers engaged residents to take ownership of the situation and start a conversation that continues to grow within the community. Communities, educational institutions, governmental bodies—any group can learn to use innovative approaches to resolve conflict.

In the Hudson River-bank village of Piermont, New York, water levels continue to rise at an above-average rate. The 2,500 residents needed to understand ways to cope with the enormous challenges of coastal retreat and flood risk and learn to collaborate on solutions among divergent opinions.

Consensus Building Institute (CBI), a nonprofit organization, worked with the constituents of Piermont to bring them together in safe but frank dialogues about issues surrounding climate change and help them realize that they share a future that must adapt to a rising sea level. 

CBI, in partnership with the Village of Piermont and the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation’s Hudson River Estuary Program, Scenic Hudson, and Nechamen Consulting, aimed to achieve a critical mass of insights and actionable data through utilizing personal assessment materials, community flood maps, and information on programs and funding for risk-mitigation efforts.

Bennett Brooks, a Senior Mediator at CBI who facilitated the project, observed the “delicate dance as individual residents wrestle to understand their own unique risks and preferences, manage the strong emotions that come with understanding the enormity of the flood risk coming their way, and then connect with neighbors to try and figure out whether and how they can collaborate on solutions.” 

This work increased local understanding on ways to cope with future flooding and started neighborhoods and local leadership on the road to meeting those challenges head on—together. 

According to Brooks, “Workshop discussions and post workshop surveys suggested folks were eager to stay engaged and involve even more of their neighbors in the conversations.”

In Piermont, New York, residents are confronting a force of nature. Water cannot be reasoned with or appeased. For this community, adapting to conditions beyond its control while easing conflict with neighbors required broad buy-in to the process, careful planning, and difficult but necessary compromises.

A grant received from the AAA-ICDR Foundation in 2018 enabled CBI to work with the community members in Piermont from 2018 to 2020. For more information on the Foundation and the programs it supports, click here.


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