An ecosystems-oriented approach to reducing climate change risk

Many possible topics to choose among for my inaugural blog post.  Rather than focusing on the tea party or some other easy target, I’d like to talk about what some of the leading thinkers on adaptation are saying.

Yesterday, the University Corporation for Atmospheric Research delivered a report to John Holdren, the President’s science and technology advisor, recommending actions at the national and regional levels to prepare for the changing climate.

You can download the report here.

The report was the product of the the National Climate Adaptation Summit held earlier this year, which I attended.   By necessity, only a small subset of summit participants was involved in drafting the report.  I am among the participants who saw the report for the first time this week and now is my chance to react to this important document.

The report does a nice job summarizing the best thinking on what action is needed on climate change adaptation, with two glaring exceptions: it gives no attention to the emerging discipline of ecosystem-oriented adaptation and gives no indication of which among the many types of adaptation efforts underway deserves priority attention.   Instead, the report puts ecosystems / natural resources on equal par with the long list of other societal assets.  It emphasizes the need for all agencies and sectors with at-risk assets to integrate their planning.

The premise of the report is correct:  to address the looming threat of climate change,  virtually all of our institutions, both private and public, will need to reconsider how they do business, to reduce both their carbon footprint and their exposure to climate disruptions already piped into the system.   However, building an effective overarching structure for every single agency to coordinate its adaptation efforts with every other agency will take a very long time.  Some sort of prioritization is needed;  if you try to do everything at once, you may end up doing nothing very well.

Our nation must therefore give top priority to adaptation strategies that minimize climate change’s harmful impacts on ecosystems.  Every day we get more evidence that we have very little time to rescue the ecosystems that sustain not only our fish and wildlife, but also our economy and jobs, our food and water, and our quality of life.  Species extinctions, intensified floods, wildfires and droughts, and many other ecosystem disruptions are well underway due to climate change.    With ecosystems being damaged much more dramatically by climate change than human systems, and human systems so dependent on the health of ecosystems, ecosystem health must be put first in line.