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DEAR SIR:

Earlier this year (January 2012) the US government released a draft document entitled “National Fish, Wildlife & Plants Climate Adaptation Strategy” (http://www.wildlifeadaptationstrategy.gov). This document notes that climate change is already affecting that country's natural resources and “faced with a future climate that will be unlike that of the recent past, the nation has no choice but to adapt to the changes.” Climate change is described as “serious and urgent.” I could not agree more.

This document is a welcome change from previous US government policy, which questioned the reality of global climate change. It reflects current scientific knowledge and points to a path forward that, although laudable, is unfortunately, but perhaps understandably, US-centric rather than global. Climate change does not recognize or respect political borders. I hope that this document will form the basis for similar plans by other governments, perhaps eventually (hopefully not too late) leading to a global plan.

In this regard I am surprised that the document did not provide for global linkages and/or actions. This is a critical limitation to the document. Such linkages and actions should comprise a 10th guiding principle of human response to climate change (the existing 9 principles include “collaborating across all levels of government, working with non-government entities such as private landowners and other sectors like agriculture and energy, and engaging the public”).

I also note that this and possibly other plans for adaptation, even if global, will only treat the symptoms, not the cause—hence the title of this letter. The prognosis is not encouraging, particularly since in many areas of government there are still doubters, whereas among the general public, climate skeptics abound, fired up by radio shock jocks, and misinformed by the social media and non-peer-reviewed articles available on the web. Even in developed countries, government support for research and actions to deal with climate change is inconsistent, likely mirroring the decline in public concern about climate change even as scientific confidence and media coverage increase (Ratter et al. 2012).

However, I am impressed by the document despite its US-centric limitations. I urge the Society of Environmental Toxicology and Chemistry (SETAC) members and the scientific community to read it; there is a great deal of useful and compelling information. But the great deal of information is also a problem. The overarching goal of this document is “a simple one: to inspire, enable and increase meaningful action.” The document includes some compelling pictorial text boxes; my favorite is: “What happens to tribal identity if birch bark disappears?” But a document that has 81 pages of dense text and 14 pages of references is not likely to inspire nonscientists.

Yes, this document provides a basis for scientific discussion, but less is needed to truly engage nonscientists, in particular the public and the decision-makers who listen to them. The document has a short section on Ecosystem Services, yet fails to emphatically link these to human well-being in a way that will be meaningful to nonscientists. We face “…a new world and all bets are off” (Corlett 2012); this needs to be brutally clear. The inextricable linkage between human well-being and the environment needs to be hammered home by means of short, non-technical, reader-friendly, social and other media. This document and, hopefully, subsequent more global documents can serve as a foundation.

The concept of human-created change ahead of global climate change, to maintain ecosystem services, needs to be front and center (Chapman 2012). This concept is implicit, not explicit in the document—probably because acceptance of drastic, intentional environmental change rather than futile attempts to maintain the status quo will be difficult, particularly because there will be debate about a slippery slope potentially leading to environmental or other atrocities. But, “we can now no longer go home again. Where we go and our future homes can be determined by default or by intent. The choice is wholly ours” (Chapman 2011).

The guillotine that is global climate change is descending. The bandage that is the “National Fish, Wildlife & Plants Climate Adaptation Strategy” will only be useful if the guillotine does not fully descend. By all means, let us have the best bandages possible; but, let us also ensure that a bandage is not irrelevant to the long-term survival of our species.

REFERENCES

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  • Chapman PM. 2011. Global climate change means never going home again. Mar Pollut Bull 62:22692270.
  • Chapman PM. 2012. Management of coastal lagoons under climate change. Estuar Coast Shelf Sci 10.1016/j.ecss.2012.01.010.
  • Corlett RT. 2012. Climate change in the tropics: The end of the world as we know it? Biol Conserv 151:2225.
  • Ratter BMW, Philipp KHI, von Storch H. 2012. Between hype and decline: Recent trends in public perception of climate change. Environ Sci Policy 18:38.

Peter M Chapman pmchapman@golder.com*, * Golder Associates Ltd, 500-4260 Still Creek Drive, Burnaby, British Columbia V5C 6C6, Canada