Director’s Blog – Adaptation is Key to Climate Change for Resilient Urban Ecosystems

The recent release of the latest climate analytics and prediction from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s (IPCC) 2014 Fifth Assessment Synthesis Report has reignited the already fierce battle over the future of our planet’s ecosystem stability. Chaired by Dr. Rajendra Pachauri, the modeling efforts of this diverse team have yielded sobering predictions for the future of the earth. The report champions adaptation as a critical factor in ameliorating the impacts of the climate change caused primarily by the rapid accumulation of excessive greenhouse gasses. It strongly suggests that mitigation and adaption must be viewed as complimentary strategies and essentially inseparable.

Despite the fact that there is nearly unanimous scientific support for the reality of anthropogenic climate change, a recent commentary in Conservation Magazine (February 2015) reports that only about half of Americans believe that climate change is real. In addition, many of our environmental policies remain focused on mitigation of greenhouse gasses as the primary response to global warming. This represents a double whammy – if you will pardon the pun – in our efforts to take positive action in response to the destabilizing forces of rapid climate chaos.

This dysfunctional duo (climate change disbelief and reliance only on mitigation) presents a terrible quandary for those who work with public stakeholders, especially those in underserved urban communities where the impacts are intensified. These neighborhoods are suffering the impacts of droughts, excessive heat, associated pollution impacts and green infrastructure degradation that follows climate change inaction or intervention policies that neglect adaptation. These communities, along with the rest of the globe are caught up in the long lag times associated with ecosystem change. The beneficiaries of mitigation interventions to slow the production of greenhouse gasses will be our great grandchildren. Indeed, future generations of the Earth’s human inhabitants should not suffer unnecessarily for our failure to act in the present. However, climate adaptation is needed now to serve the current inhabitants.

The authors of the IPCC envision a broad range of adaptations to climate change that fall into three broad categories; 1) reducing the vulnerability and exposure through effective disaster planning, poverty alleviation and ecosystem management, 2) incremental transformation of the physical, institutional and social systems that support our communities and 3) transformation of the practical, political and personal spheres of change.

The impacts of climate change are particularly acute in ecosystems that are water-stressed, such as Southern California. We need stronger efforts to conserve and reuse our precious water reserves and a viable plan for building green infrastructure that can thrive in human communities with reduced irrigation, intensified heat, the pollutants associated with highly industrialized economies and still provide the enhanced ecosystem services we need. Enhanced water capture, tree planting initiatives and carbon sequestration efforts are vital responses to the challenge we face. However, these initiatives, along with many others, require social will, physical capacity and economic commitment in order to be effective interventions

The science and policy of adaptation make for powerful learning opportunities in the Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) education communities. At CURes, we are committed to bringing this perspective to our educational and restorative justice schools initiatives. Of course, we are not alone in these efforts; many enlightened education and community providers have embraced this practical and effective approach. We salute all of these efforts and implore a larger commitment moving forward.

About the Author:  Dr. Eric Strauss serves as President’s Professor of Biology at Loyola Marymount University and Executive Director of CURes. With collaborative research specialties in animal behavior, endangered species management, urban ecosystems and science education, Eric has extended the model for faculty scholarship by co-founding the Urban Ecology Institute in Boston while he served as a faculty member at Boston College and CURes in LA, both of which provide educational, research and restoration programs to underserved neighborhoods and their residents. In addition, Dr. Strauss is the Founding Editor of a web-based peer-reviewed journal, Cities and the Environment, which is funded in part by the USDA Forest Service. His research includes collaborative long-term studies of coyotes, White tailed deer, crows, turtles and other vertebrates, with a specialty in understanding wildlife in urban areas and the appropriate management responses to wildlife problems and zoonotic disease. His work also includes investigating the role of green space and urban forests in supporting of healthy neighborhoods and how those features can be used to improve science education and restorative justice. He has co-written multi-media textbooks in biology and urban ecology as well as hosting multiple video series on the life sciences and ecology. Dr. Strauss received his BS in Mass Communication from Emerson College and Ph.D. in Biology from Tufts University in 1990.