If you stop 100 people on the street and ask them about climate change, 87 of them would know something about it, according to polls.
But if you asked the same 100 people if they’ve ever heard of “adaptation to climate change,” I bet you’d get 100 blank stares.
That’s a problem.
For sure, we need those 87 people who know about climate change to catalyze public solutions to the emissions problem. But we also need a profound and broad public recognition that climate disruption is already upon us, is already wreaking havoc, and demands that we adapt to this disruption and stress.
Moreover we need that public and our political leaders to start taking action NOW to adapt to increased storm surges, to adapt to more severe floods, to adapt to more severe droughts, and to do something about coastal cities slowly feeling the ocean rising to submerge them.
Secondly, we need people and our leaders to realize our natural ecosystems often provide the best (and cheapest) adaptation approaches.
Oyster reefs and wetlands can reduce storm surge, hardwood forests in natural floodplains can absorb floodwaters, native aridlands vegetation will better survive droughts and better hold on to soils so that vast dust storms are not created.
In many cases we will need to restore these natural ecosystems because we have carelessly converted them to structures and land uses that absolutely cannot adapt.
My sense of urgency about the need to get some action on the adaptation front was ignited by a study just published in The Proceedings of the National Academy of Science on the “irreversibility” of climate change. By irreversibility the researchers (Susan Solomon and colleagues) mean what we have reaped in terms of climate disruption now will last for 1,000 years.
Maybe you already thought you knew this — I think a lot of us knew we already are facing with a degree of climate disruption that demands a new way of doing our conservation business. But this is a pretty stark paper and a compelling analysis. It focuses on floods, sea level rise, and droughts.
Read it and you will begin to realize why I say we need to take action to start using our natural systems around the world to provide the resilience the planet needs in the face of this climate upheaval.
(Image: A Bobtail Lizard or Shingletail Lizard (Tiliqua rugosa) crosses a red-dirt road in the Gondwana Link landscape of southern Western Australia. Credit: Mark Godfrey/TNC.)
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