Tackling Climate Change Now - and Later

I recently took a trip to Alaska, to learn about how climate change is affecting the people that live on the front lines of a warming world. The following was originally posted on the website Care2.com. In a small restaurant a stone’s throw from the Arctic Ocean last week I heard a familiar argument against investing in climate adaptation: focusing on adaptation takes attention away from the critical work of reducing dangerous carbon pollution. This case for "simply” capping carbon emissions (something that has been elusive for decades) has been a bread-and-butter argument of climate activists for years. However, mounting scientific evidence shows that climate changes are occurring and will continue to occur for years regardless of future pollution reductions.


Rather than the luxury of a “reduction vs. adaptation” debate, decades of inaction on climate pollution forced us into a “both-and” scenario: we must ramp down pollution immediately to prevent the worst case scenarios AND invest now to keep our communities and environment resilient in a warming world.

Two items in my email inbox this morning are proof positive that the Obama Administration is taking a hard look at adaptation. First, the Fish and Wildlife Service released its Strategic Plan for Adaptation to Accelerating Climate Change. The document outlines the Service’s approach to addressing climate effects, including the establishment of Regional Climate Science Partnerships, Landscape Conservation Cooperatives, facilitating the development of a National Fish and Wildlife Climate Adaptation Strategy, and becoming carbon neutral by 2020. This bold series of goals will demand equally bold budgets and personal commitment from FWS staff from the DC office to each and every refuge across the country.

As if that wasn’t enough to make an adaptation fan perk up, the University Corporation for Atmospheric Research (UCAR) released a statement today giving folks a heads up that they will soon release their National Climate Adaptation Summit Report, following the National Climate Adaptation Summit that took place in May. (More information on the interesting presentations given at the Summit can be found here). As with the FWS document, releasing reports is the easy part of climate adaptation—the hard and important part is ahead of us.

While FWS defines "adaptation" as “Minimizing the impact of climate change on fish and wildlife through the application of cutting-edge science in managing species and habitats”, this will mean different things to different communities. As I heard during presentations and quiet dinners during the NSSI meetings in Barrow, strategies such migration corridors that allow species to migrate northward to cooler habitat (which could work in much of the Lower 48) don’t work at the top of the continent when there’s no farther north for species to go. However, a common theme emerges: investing in adaptation protects and creating jobs across the country.

These plans and strategies are excellent first steps, but they need to be followed by second, third, and fourth ones so that we continue on the path towards improving the resiliency of our lands in a warming world. Another needed step right now is to ensure that the agencies like the Fish and Wildlife Service and the Forest Service have the funding they need to begin adapting our lands.

Follow JP on Twitter: @TWSjp