Thursday, December 03, 2009

Climate Change Turns Conservationists Into Triage Doctors

How are plant and animal populations going to survive in a warming world?  What are some solutions that will help minimize the impacts of global warming on biodiversity and the ecosystem services upon which civilization depends?

CBC has a great article exploring these questions:

Conservationists around the world, who are struggling to protect plants and animals in the face of rapid climate change, are beginning to compare themselves with harried triage doctors. While, technically, conservation is about keeping things as they are, scientists now say that may no longer be possible.

"The point is not to think outside the box, but to recognize that the box itself has moved and, in the 21st century, will continue to move more and more rapidly," University of Colorado ecologist Timothy Seastedt and his colleagues write in the journal Frontiers in Ecology and the Environment.

Seastedt and others argue land managers must focus on ecosystem diversity to give plants and animals the best chance to adapt to the change scientists say is coming: The more diversified a system, the more resilient.

Trying to return ecosystems to some historic or natural state is no longer possible, they say.

"To be honest, the combination of climate and atmospheric chemistries we're experiencing now — you can't find any historical match," Seastedt says.

"It's clear that our policy makers are not making the tough decisions needed to prevent significant climate change."

"A number of conservationists and a few scientists classify our viewpoint as defeatism, but they're missing the point. We still can keep the parts, the biota; we just have to find creative ways to do that," Seastedt says.

Indeed, the best we can do is find ways to apply the best available science.  We need to pay careful attention to what works (which will often vary from system to system, and culture to culture), build upon our successes, and discard what's not getting the job done.

It is going to be painfully fascinating to see which impacts of warming on biodiversity come back to haunt us in ways we are not even considering right now.  Following the analogy of conservationists being triage doctors, the more we can build our immune systems up by taking our vitamins and eating healthily and exercising, so to speak, via smart conservation strategies, the more buffered we will be to the impacts of the surprises that Mother Nature undoubtedly has in store for humanity...

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