The worst impact of climate change may be how humanity reacts to it

Aug 06, 2010

The way that humanity reacts to climate change may do more damage to many areas of the planet than climate change itself unless we plan properly, an important new study published in Conservation Letters by Conservation International's Will Turner and a group of other leading scientists has concluded.

The paper Climate change: helping nature survive the human response, looks at efforts to both reduce emissions of and potential action that could be taken by people to adapt to a changed climate and assesses the potential impact that these could have on global ecosystems.

In particular it notes that one fifth of the world's remaining lie within 50km of human populations that could be inundated if sea levels rise by 1m. These forests would make attractive sources of fuel-wood, building materials, food and other key resources and would be likely to attract a population forced to migrate by rising sea levels. About half of all Alliance for Zero Extinction sites - which contain the last surviving members of certain species - are also in these zones.

Dr Turner said: "There are numerous studies looking at the impacts of climate change on biodiversity, but very little time has been taken to consider what our responses to climate change might do to the planet."

The paper notes that efforts to reduce by constructing dams for hydropower generation can cause substantial damage to key freshwater ecosystems as well as to the flora and fauna in the flooded valleys. It also notes that the generally bogus concept that biofuels reduce is still being used as a justification for the felling of large swathes of biodiverse tropical forests.

The report also reviews studies examining the complex series of outcomes in historical examples of climate change and , and humanity's efforts to adapt to changing circumstances. Migration caused in part by climatic instability in Burkina Faso in the late 20th century, for example, led to a 13 per cent decline in forest cover as areas were cleared for agriculture, and a decline in fish supplies in Ghana may have led to a significant increase in bushmeat hunting.

Dr Turner added: "If we don't take a look at the whole picture, but instead choose to look only at small parts of it we stand to make poor decisions about how to respond that could do more damage than climate change itself to the planet's biodiversity and the ecosystem services that help to keep us all alive.

"While the Tsunami in 2004 was not a climate event, many of the responses that it stimulated are comparable with how people will react to extreme weather events - and the damage that the response to the Tsunami did to many of Aceh province's important ecosystems as a result of extraction of timber and other building materials, and poor choices of locations for building , should be a lesson to us all."

Although the challenge of sustaining biodiversity in the face of climate change seems daunting, the paper notes that we must - and can - rise to the challenge.

Turner adds: "Climate change mitigation and adaptation are essential. We have to ensure that these responses do not compromise the biodiversity and ecosystem services upon which societies ultimately depend. We have to reduce emissions, we have to ensure the stability of food supplies jeopardized by climate change, we have to help people survive severe weather events - but we must plan these things so that we don't destroy life-sustaining forests, wetlands, and oceans in the process.'

The paper concludes that there are many ways of ensuring that the human response to climate change delivers the best possible outcomes for both society and the environments, and notes that in particular, maintaining and restoring natural habitats are among the cheapest, safest, and easiest solutions at our disposal to reduce greenhouse-gas emissions and help people adapt to unavoidable changes.

Dr Turner said: "Providing a positive environmental outcome is often the best way to ensure the best outcome for people. If we are sensible, we can help people and nature together cope with climate change, if we are not it will cause suffering for people and serious problems for the environment."

Explore further: Madagascar to drain crude from stricken tanker

More information: Will R. Turner, Bethany A. Bradley, Lyndon D. Estes, David G. Hole, Michael Oppenheimer, David S. Wilcove, ‘Climate change: helping nature survive the human response’, Conservation Letters, Wiley-Blackwell, DOI:10.1111/j.1755-263X.2010.00128.x

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User comments : 9

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mysticshakra
2.8 / 5 (13) Aug 06, 2010
"The worst impact of climate change may be how humanity reacts to it."

Especially when they are reacting to a problem that doesn't exist.
freethinking
3 / 5 (12) Aug 06, 2010
I agree with the statement that the worst impact of climate change may be how humanity reacts to it.

Take a look at what crazed climate scientists have recommended. Seeding oceans with iron, putting all sorts of aerosoles into the atmosphere, telling people to use only 1 sheet of TP, paying Al Gore carbon credits, etc. etc..

If we listen to Al Gore his lies and people like him, elite Progressives will get rich, while the rest of humanity will be destitute and starving.
ODesign
5 / 5 (3) Aug 06, 2010
the phrase a the end "if we are not it will cause suffering for people and serious problems for the environment." could use a little more detail since not all people live under the same conditions and different people in different places will be impacted differently.

It's probably safe to include that people with money and power and influence to solve the problem will be inconvenienced and possibly see a reduction in profits if they aren't fast enough to take advantage of the new economics before others do. Poor, disenfranchised people will have a much different form of suffering that likely involves risk of death in conflicts over resources.
freethinking
3.3 / 5 (12) Aug 06, 2010
If progressives environmental elitist like Al Gore would put as much effort into eliminating corruption in the third world, a lot of suffering would end, starvation and famine would end.

Progressives say they care about people and the environment, but the oposite is true. If you support corruption, you support poverty.
Caliban
4.3 / 5 (6) Aug 06, 2010
If progressives environmental elitist like Al Gore would put as much effort into eliminating corruption in the third world, a lot of suffering would end, starvation and famine would end.

Progressives say they care about people and the environment, but the oposite is true. If you support corruption, you support poverty.


While he's at it, maybe he could put some effort into eliminating corruption in the First World(where most of the "support" for corruption in the 3rd World comes from), too -eh?

omatumr
2.1 / 5 (7) Aug 06, 2010
The climate has changed and will always change because the Sun is jerked, like a yo-yo on a string, by gravitational interactions of the Sun with the ever-changing positions of the planets [See: "Earth's Heat Source - The Sun", Energy & Environment 20 (2009) 131-144].

With kind regards,
Oliver K. Manuel
Former NASA Principal
Investigator for Apollo
Ravenrant
3.7 / 5 (3) Aug 07, 2010
Ironic, comments above illustrate the point of the article perfectly.
freethinking
2.3 / 5 (3) Aug 08, 2010
Caliban for once we agree. Corruption in the first world will cause the first world to become third world.

The president of any country that hangs around, supports, and is supported by self declared, unrepentent terrorists, racists, thugs, and people who dont pay their legally obligated taxes, is an enabler of corruption and should be thrown out of office.
Caliban
5 / 5 (3) Aug 08, 2010
Caliban for once we agree. Corruption in the first world will cause the first world to become third world.

The president of any country that hangs around, supports, and is supported by self declared, unrepentent terrorists, racists, thugs, and people who dont pay their legally obligated taxes, is an enabler of corruption and should be thrown out of office.


@freethinking,

I'll agree with you on that, but just note that I do so by first scrupulously interpreting your remark as being entirely devoid of sarcasm or irony.

A solid principle to operate from, though.

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