Adapting to the Climate Crisis One Bioswale at a Time

Meet Roy McGowan, the winner of We Don’t Have Time’s American University Climate Idea Contest. This contest was part of We Don’t Have Time’s COP27 Broadcast; Forward Together: How to Ensure the Climate Transition is Just and Equitable.

Roy McGowan, winner of the 2022 Climate Idea Contest
Roy McGowan, winner of the 2022 Climate Idea Contest

Roy McGowan’s idea was innovative and logical and could be used to manage rainwater and lessen the likelihood of flooding in the DC area. He introduced the idea of implementing bioswales in DC in order to manage stormwater runoff and increase biodiversity.
A bioswale is a vegetated channel or ditch in the ground, usually next to roadways, that allow water to flow in where it can then be naturally filtered by the native plants growing inside the bioswale.


We Don’t Have Time sat down with McGowan to hear more about his climate idea, as well as more about who he is as a person. He has always been interested in sustainability and urban planning, and is a sophomore in college. He is a member of the Kogod Sustainability Club at American University as well as an EcoRep for American University’s Office of Sustainability.
As he was walking around AU’s campus one day, he saw a bioswale near the new Hall of Science building, and something clicked in his mind.
“We are at the highest point of DC, with stormwater management, how can we divert it from these high risk areas [downtown]?”
DC was built on a marshland, and many areas are susceptible to flooding as a result. Specifically, says McGowan, the Museum of American History is the most prone to flooding in downtown DC. Implementing bioswales throughout DC is a great way to naturally divert and filter stormwater, decreasing the toll of climate change on the capital city.
According to McGowan, the first step towards implementing bioswales in the DC area would be finding suitable roadways for this solution, potentially using GIS technology. Although there are upfront costs associated with performing an analysis of city roadways, the long-term benefits far outweigh these costs.
In our interview, McGowan outlined the three types of problems involved with design thinking: wicked problems, complex problems, and easy problems. “Wicked problems are climate change as a whole, and complex problems are things that fall under that umbrella. So they are more so just big ideas that can be easily implemented.”
In this situation, as McGowan stated, the wicked problem would be climate change. It is an enormous issue with many complexities surrounding it. However, a complex problem would be the issue of stormwater runoff and a lack of biodiversity in cities. There are solutions to this complex problem that are not as daunting, such as McGowan’s bioswale idea, that could have a large impact on the wicked problem.
McGowan also emphasized the concept of feasibility. Of course, the main goal is always to solve the wicked problem of climate change, but in order to have the biggest impact, you have to start by zooming in on the issues and tackling a more specific problem. Once you do that, you can start chipping away at the overall climate crisis. In the words of Roy McGowan, “We have to start somewhere, and we have to start today.”
Click here to read Roy’s winning climate idea: ​​
Click here to watch We Don’t Have Time’s COP27 Broadcast

This article was written by Jane Mercer. For any questions, please reach out to
  • Elizabeth Gathigia

    74 w

    Super great idea!

    • john linus Tom

      74 w

      Wonderful 🥳

      • Timothy Ndegwa

        79 w


        • Marine Stephan

          79 w

          great idea!

          • Sarah Chabane

            79 w

            A super important idea for adapting to climate change!

            • Patrick Kiash

              79 w

              We have to start somewhere, and you have to start today. Great words reminding us that we don't have time to wait, we need to act now! Congratulations for your climate idea winning 2022! Here your are receiving warm congrats from climate idea winner year 2020! Lets combine all our effort to fight climate crisis and together we can do it!

              • Tabitha Kimani

                79 w

                Congratulations Roy on your win which will enable you to scale up this noble idea.

                Welcome, let's solve the climate crisis together
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