Environment

The Road to Doomsday

Collide-a-ScapeBy Keith KloorMar 17, 2009 6:02 PM

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You may not know this but between now and doomsday, there's still a lot of choices to be made related to climate change. (I'll get to a few of them in a minute.) That's because all the news and blog chatter in recent months has focused on how we all of a sudden found ourselves on the fast track to carbon hell. Let's quickly recap: This eye-popping study published in late January, with its headline cut from the tabloids, had an End Times feel to it for environmentalists already convinced that a Final Reckoning was coming due, in the form of Australian wildfires and California drought. The paper (through no fault of the authors) likely set the stage for what came next: an ugly (and to my mind, frivolous) sideshow over the media's supposed culpability as a facilitator of planetary collapse. By last week, the dire warnings and urgent call to action that came out of Copenhagen solidified the gestalt on global warming: we're screwed...unless we act now. Actually, we're already screwed no matter what. It's time we stopped obsessing primarily on how to avert doomsday and started paying an equal amount of attention to how we're going to adapt to the many widely anticipated impacts from climate change that are, in fact, just down the road. In terms of our own societal and ecosystem vulnerabilities, Tom Yulsman provides an excellent rejoinder to those who seem to ignore the clarion call for climate change adaptation. Fortunately, numerous organizations and federal agencies are thinking hard about the game-changing impacts to wildlife, which are expected to occur even if the world changed to a carbon-free economy tomorrow. In November, Defenders of Wildlife issued a report titled, "Protecting wildlife and Ecosystems in a Warming World." The report urged policymakers to rank ecological adapatation measures on par with that of carbon emission reductions. In December, the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service released a little-noticed draft "Climate Change Strategic Plan," to be implemented over the next five years. The FWS is currently soliciting feedback from its employees and citizens on the plan, before it releases a final version later this year. In the meantime, here's the first graph:

Climate change is the most compelling conservation challenge of our time. Accelerating climate change will amplify current resource management challenges involving habitat fragmentation, degradation, and loss, as well as urbanization, invasive species, disease, parasites, and water management. As rising temperatures affect the dynamics of complex natural systems, the potential exists for mass species extinctions and disruptions.

The rest of this week I'll be talking to ecologists and scientists at FWS and other federal agencies that are working on incorporating climate change into long-term management plans for ecosystems and wildlife. Check back occasionally to hear how ecological adaptation is being wrestled with in regions ranging from the Sonoran desert to the Everglades. It's time the public started wrestling with this issue as well.

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