Thursday, September 26, 2013

In the News: Mapping Climate Change

The issue of climate change is a somewhat nebulous one to picture.  We know that on the whole, our global climate is changing, but those changes will manifest differently depending upon geographic location.  Some areas are expected to grow hotter and drier, others colder and drier, and yet others warmer and wetter.  Climate change will not look the same across the globe, and that has significant implications for each country's mitigation and adaptation strategies to best cope with this unprecedented challenge.  In order to help governments plan their climate change adaptation strategies, a team of scientists recently published their research on the subject, along with a global map illustrating the variation in climate change susceptibility.


The meaning of the map colors are as follows:

Dark Gray: highest level of climate stability and intact vegetation.  These are the areas projected to experience the least effects of climate change.

Dark Green: low climate stability but high levels of intact vegetation. 

Dark Orange: high level of climate stability, but low level of intact vegetation.

Pale Cream: low climate stability and low levels of intact vegetation.  These are the areas that will likely suffer the worst effects of climate change.

The designations above are to be used in determining which regions are the most viable candidates, and will achieve the highest return on investment, when it comes to conservation efforts.  Climate change will affect all of the regions pictured above: their ecosystems, wildlife, and ability to further safeguard against the devastating effects of climate change. When limited resources are available for conservation, they must be delegated appropriately to maximize their success -- a broad, sweeping strategy implemented uniformly across the globe is not a wise solution, as the map above indicates.  So which of the above areas make the most sense to invest our conservation efforts?

According to the authors, the areas with high climate stability and high levels of intact vegetation (dark gray) are the best candidates for designation as Protected Areas.  These are the hardiest areas which will require the least effort to maintain their current ecosystems and species diversity in the face of climate change.  These are the most crucial areas to save, and luckily, they are also the "easiest" (relatively speaking...) to protect.

Areas which also deserve conservation efforts, but which will require more effort and resources, are those with high climate stability and low levels of intact vegetation.  Conservation efforts would focus on restoring vegetation to the area.  Any vegetation that is reestablished will have a good chance for survival and propagation, as these areas will remain stable in the face of climate change, and could potentially graduate to the "dark gray" category above.

The unfortunate "pale cream" areas on the map above are those least likely to benefit from conservation efforts. With little intact vegetation and low climate stability, any restoration efforts in these areas would be resource-intensive and difficult to maintain as the climate continues to change.

There are a few things that came to mind looking at the climate change vulnerability map:

Washington is looking pretty good!  The map is difficult to see, but from what I can tell, most of our state is a dark greenish-gray color.  From my interpretation of the map, I take that to mean that we have fairly high (but not the highest) climate stability, and high levels of intact vegetation, which is to be expected in a place known as the Evergreen State, I would think! 

Climate refugees. Look at all of the pale cream and light orange areas on the map-- those are the areas most likely to be hit hard by climate change, and those where conservation efforts will require maximum resources and offer minimal impact.  Will the billions of people who call those areas home be able to survive, or will they be forced to move to the green, gray, or dark orange areas?  This is one aspect of climate change that is not often mentioned: areas where resources are currently plentiful will experience stress as more people migrate to the area after fleeing declining conditions in their own regions.  We can expect conflicts to arise as a result, especially in regions of the globe that already experience political instability.

The need for action. This map says loud and clear: look at all of these vulnerable areas. Look at all of these vulnerable people, animals, and ecosystems.  With climate change occurring at an unprecedented and increasing rate, every day lost to inaction is another life lost, another species gone extinct, and even more ground that we will have to find a way to make up.  Stay tuned to my blog and read back through the older posts for ideas on how you can minimize your personal impact on climate change. Find a climate change campaign that you're able to get onboard with: 350.org is a great place to start. And be sure to support initiatives, legislation, and government leaders with a goal of protecting our environment and taking action against the biggest threat we have ever faced: climate change.

Did you find anything surprising on the map? Would love to hear your thoughts in the comments below!

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