When Climate Change Demands a New Nature, Will We Be Ready?

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Published on September 30th, 2009  |  Discuss This Article  

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In 50 years, many parts of the world will be unrecognizable because of climate change, population growth, shifting agriculture, new energy sources, hundreds of new cities and imperiled water supplies. The pressures of the climate crisis, coupled with the global recession, are pushing the conservation movement to reexamine many of its core assumptions.

There is a sense in the public at large that very little can be done about it, or at least a frustration about not knowing what it means locally — for our daily lives as opposed to for global averages. Conferences, scientific articles, jobs and money are being thrown at climate change — all producing their own emissions, but precious little in the way of pragmatic solutions.

In order to address the hesitation and despair swirling around climate change, The Nature Conservancy held a special “climate clinic” in Salt Lake City in early September.

Inspired by University of California ecologist Erika Zavaleta and the Conservancy’s learning leader (Karen Poiani) and climate leader (Jon Hoekstra), more than 100 Conservancy scientists treated 20 on-the-ground conservation projects (“patients”) from around the world.

They asked: What should be altered about Nature Conservancy projects in light of the best available information regarding the impacts of climate change on each projects geography?

Staff from every project had access to the Climate Wizard so they could consider recent climate trends as well as future projections for their area. They read scientific articles regarding the ecology of their conservation targets and systems in relation to possible climate impacts. They also had local experts who knew about the natural history and ecology of their systems.

Every project was dragged through six months of homework, of seminars and of candid peer review. No more fretting –- time to dig in and seriously examine options for adapting to the impacts of climate change.

In this one climate clinic, the Conservancy catapulted itself to the forefront of climate change adaptation. Each Conservancy project will now alter (or not, if that was the conclusion) its approach in the face of climate disruption.

And over the next few months Poiani and Hoekstra will be synthesizing the results from diagnosing all of the “climate patients” and come up with treatment guidelines based on practice, not on speculation.

As a trailer to the articles that will soon appear, I want to highlight five big lessons from the climate clinic:

  1. There are several projects that really do not need to change anything. This is because climate impacts are in some places modest, or because our in-place strategies — such as enhancing habitat corridors or reducing other environmental stresses — are credible responses to climate stress.
  2. And there are several projects in which particular species or vegetation types may have to be given up on, at least locally.
  3. The whole idea of thinking about conservation in terms of species, and especially one-species-at-a-time, is exorbitantly inefficient when it comes to climate change — a much better approach is to conserve ecological processes and function, since species will move around.
  4. Commonly, it is not the direct impacts of climate on species that are as important as the indirect effects that arise because humans will build seawalls, enlarge levees or shift agriculture when faced with climate stress.
  5. Most importantly, we are having a hard time facing change — and realizing that historical variability, baselines, ecoregional boundaries and “keeping things as they were” are maladaptive ideas.

In 50 years, many parts of the world will be unrecognizable because of climate change, population growth, shifting agriculture, new energy sources, hundreds of new cities and imperiled water supplies. The pressures of the climate crisis, coupled with the global recession, are pushing the conservation movement to reexamine many of its core assumptions.

The hard-nosed thinking unleashed by the Conservancy’s climate clinic is a good first step in the process of reexamining conservation’s core assumptions in the face of a changing planet. We need many more steps — in fact we need leaps, and a transformation that leads us to designing a new world, a world with a heavy hand of management and no wilderness untouched by humans, and a world with objectives that look to the future instead of to the past.

There are sprinklings of these ideas in the scientific literature (see Emma Marris’s article on “novel ecosystems” in a recent edition of Nature), but the scientific community has been even slower than the Conservancy to come to grips with the tidal wave of change and what it means to our plans for the Earth’s lands and waters.

(Image: Flowering dune vegetation: Sandhill Grevillea G. stenobotrya (left) and joyweed Alternanthera nodiflora on a desert sand dune, some of the many wildflowers which grow on the dunefields, Channel Country, Queensland, Australia. Credit: Wayne Lawler/Ecopix courtesy of Australian Bush Heritage Fund.)

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Comments: When Climate Change Demands a New Nature, Will We Be Ready?

  •  Comment from StuE

    What total BS! More lies and fearmongering rubbish! All based on the IPCC modelling that has been proved to be a lie by 100 participating scientists. The World is about to be depopulated by the Eugenicists that are running this planet and have been working since the 1960′s to cause environmental damage to put it in your face and then blame co2 as the problem demonising c02 when the planet is at 600 million year lows. And now you people are carrying on like Doctors…give me a break! The agriculture will be decimated by design and replaced by GMO death courtesy of Monsanto – now there’s a real environmental problem you should be working on – the planned food shortage to bring you under control of the New World Order.The world is not overpopulated with 19.5 people per square KM compare that to Singapore with a density 1,000 times that level. You people have been brainwashed and now you are going to work on the solution? I can tell you the answer – it’s called Genocide that’s where you are being manipulated so it will be sorry Sir/Madam , time for you to die, to save the planet.

  •  Comment from Climates Change

    “There is a sense in the public at large that very little can be done about it”

    I don’t think that is the case. I think its that people think very little will be done about it. I think people are very aware that the sacrifices we will have to make to prevent dangerous climate change are too great to be agreed upon. Politicians don’t wont make unpopular decisions, and telling us we have to change the way we live will certainly not be popular. Things will have to get worse before they get better.

  •  Comment from Stue

    So,there was a time 600 million years ago,when there was more CO2. I guess you dont realize that the climate was very different back then. Thats the WHOLE DAMN POINT! Its lower now than it was when then,and its cooler now than it was then,and the reason is the damn CO2! (See why scientists get angry over this stuff? Climate change denyers are lacking common sense)

    BTW,places with high population density like Singapore and Japan cant produce enough food or energy to support themselves and have to import what they need.

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