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The Compleat Wetlander: Climate change adaptation: As the world changes so will people

“When you have to make a choice and don’t make it, that is in itself a choice.”

-~William James

Earthquakes, wildfires and hurricanes have impacted millions of Americans in recent weeks and it is easy to find numerous articles and commentaries discussing whether these natural catastrophes are linked to global warming.
But while many may disagree about the reason for all these natural disasters—climate change induced by man, climate change induced by nature or no climate change at all—I haven’t come across anyone who has denied that wildfires, earthquakes, heat waves, hurricanes, floods and tornadoes have all occurred this year in the United States.  Furthermore, the toll on human life and property has been too high.  So regardless of all the things people find to disagree on, there ought to be one area of agreement.  Everyone should agree action should be taken to adapt to these changes, because the decision not to do anything is a decision as well with its own set of consequences.

Climate change is not something that will happen in the future.  It is happening now and has been for past 30 years.
So it seems only reasonable that in addition to continuing to study and understand climate change, it is also time to adapt to the changes that have already occurred and will continue to do so.

For example, sea level has been rising all up and down the East Coast. Estimates vary, but the overall trend is consistent.  Communities experience these changes in a number of ways, but the bottom line is the same.  More water and more flooding in coastal communities.  At the same time the Federal Emergency Management Agency is almost out of money while it has only begun responding to the destruction left by Hurricane Irene.  Congress is having difficulty deciding what the appropriate response is to increasing FEMA’s disaster relief budget at a time when federal budgets needs to shrink to reduce the deficit.

Last week I participated in a conference hosted by the Michigan Wetlands Association on Wetland Management in Response to Climate Change.  There were many fine presentations about observed and predicted changes in weather patterns in the Great Lakes as well as a number of new tools that have been developed to assess the vulnerability of wetlands as well as individual species to climate change. Overall there was much more information about the current and future impacts of climate change recommendations on specific ways to manage and conserve wetlands to adapt to climate change.  It is important to conserve and protect wetland resources.  But they can be important to human adaptation efforts as well.  Wetlands can play an important role in adaptation.  They can serve as buffers to higher storm surges along the coast.  They can store water to decrease flood crests.   They can replenish groundwater to sustain drinking water supplies.  They can filter and clean water carrying pollutants.  Wetlands can also serve as refugia for plants and animals that must migrate to new areas as old habitats change and become inhospitable. Wetlands and other natural resources including grasslands and forests can be conserved, restored and managed to help people adapt to climate change ultimately reducing threats to life and property and improving our quality of life.  But this can only happen if we begin to take action.

For more information visit:

Association of State Wetland Managers Climate Change Adaptation webpage:

Association of State Wetland Managers State Climate Change Adaptation Summaries

Wetlands International Climate Change website:

Coastal Wetlands and Global Climate Change

Ramsar Briefing Note on Wetlands and Climate Change

“Give to us clear vision that we may know where to stand and what to stand for – because unless we stand for something, we shall fall for anything.”

–Peter Marshall

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One Response to The Compleat Wetlander: Climate change adaptation: As the world changes so will people

  1. David Dow says:

    There is a need for local communities to both mitigate and adapt to climate change effects on their natural and socioeconomic systems. As a grassroots environmental activist living on Cape Cod, we need to develop an adaptation plan that focuses on both the natural and socioeconomic components of resilience. Since our saltwater wetlands have constraints to inland migration (roads; rail lines; houses and other infrastructure) as sea level rises, there are not many low cost options to address this challenge, given the current tight budgetary situation.

    We need to reduce our per capita energy consumption through insulating homes and businesses; making greater use of solar and wind energy; improving our public transportation system and car pooling; combining trips when we go shopping; etc. Since Cape Cod is facing major expenditures to upgrade our wastewater infrastructure from septic systems and to increase our solid waste recycling rates to compensate for increasing tipping fees, the crises of the moment preclude serious discussion on mitigation/adaptation schemes to address climate disruption. The major focus is on the reality that half of our homeowners can’t purchase private homeowners insurance (being forced into the state system of last resort) and that we are faced with rising rates/5-10% wind deductibles in all of the homeowner insurance products.

    I am sure that Cape Cod is not unique in the constraints that we face in making the transition to sustainability in an effort to reduce our ecological footprints. This problem will be more acute in coastal regions facing rapid population growth.

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