Climate Change vs Everything Else
We’re inundated with predictions of ecosystem collapse, biodiversity loss, extreme weather, and societal upheavals due to climate change. The behavior of policymakers and common sense suggests ecological and societal adaptations will occur slowly (or not at all) in the face of slow climate changes. How can we be most effective at making a difference and adapting to the new normal? Where should we focus our efforts on protecting and restoring aquatic ecosystems? This course tackles tough realities that human-dominated ecosystems are subjected to a plethora of physical, chemical, and biological stressors – which in part are related to 1) land uses, 2) societal and political norms, 3) economic constraints, and 4) the sensitivity and resilience of the regional ecosystems. These components vary across geographies and vary as system drivers. It is important to understand the contribution of each of the 4 drivers and how they are intertwined in the face of climate change. Without such an understanding, management efforts to protect and restore aquatic ecosystems likely will fail. Examples of these system drivers and typical stressors include: Urban and agricultural runoff of excess nutrients, harmful algal blooms, suspended solids, metals, and pesticides; Habitat alteration including high/flashy flows, siltation, elevated temperature, vegetation loss, and sunlight; Elevated levels of nutrients, pathogens, pesticides, petroleum products (PAHs), metals, salts, tire particles, and plastics; Human dominated landscapes - declining habitat and plant and animal biodiversity along with increasing pathogens (fungal, bacterial, viral), parasites and invasive/introduced species. Essentially all of these stressors are accentuated by global change, ecosystem warming, and global connectivity. These many stressors intertwine with climate change drivers (flooding, drought, wildfires, higher temperatures) and vary in their extent and magnitude depending on their geographic setting (ecoregion), socio-economic conditions, education, and cultural/historical traditions.
In general, increased poverty shifts the importance of managing stressors to basic remedies dealing with sewage, erosion, habitat destruction, flashy and intense runoff and plastic litter. These situations are often wrapped in environmental justice issues, particularly in urban environments and those near rivers and coastal areas subject to flooding. The poorest societies will be most affected, becoming climate change migrants. While it is critical to understand the scientific issues relating stressors to ecosystem health – it is equally important to understand how society and economics drive the prevalence of these stressors and their interactions with climate change. The interactions of physical, chemical and biological stressors must be understood in order to design effective and efficient adaptation management strategies. These strategies must be region-specific, as “one size does not fit all”.