Association of State Wetland Managers - Protecting the Nation's Wetlands.

The Compleat Wetlander: No More Resources for Climate Change – So Let’s Keep the Savings in the Bank

Everyone in the country is aware of our enormous federal deficit and the public is hugely concerned.  There have been too many withdrawals compared to deposits and savings are increasingly scarce.

Finding funding to address climate change and more specifically protecting and supporting the natural resources of the country is simply not a priority or even a topic to worry about for many Americans.  A fair number aren’t sure there is a problem.  And for those who are concerned, they’ve generally got higher priorities. 

Most of the national discussion on climate change is about reducing green house emissions and carbon trading.  A small but growing sector is also talking about what to do about sea level rise.  Overall there is very little discussion about adaptation to changing temperatures and rainfall patterns, particularly about protecting and conserving and managing wetlands, streams and other water resources. Many water resources agencies are being told to find ways to address climate change without any additional funding.

This is tough. In the U.S. and world, climate change is threatening the extinction of many species.  More severe floods and droughts may endanger people and property and businesses and eventually local and regional economies.  There is uncertainty about what to do because the past cannot be used as a basis to predict the future like we thought it could.  It reminds me of the banking crises.

Earth is by and large a closed system.  The sun provides some pretty significant additions with warmth and light and gravity.  But there isn’t much else coming in.  The world is like a gargantuan bank, where it is possible for people to make savings, deposits and withdrawals of carbon.

This world-wide carbon bank has been operating over a gargantuan timeframe as well.  Coal and oil were once plants and then the world had a much warmer climate.  Plants grew so fast that they didn’t break down.  Instead the piled up, were covered and compressed and stored underground.   Millions of years of carbon saving and sequestering occurred and as that happened, the planet cooled.  Cause and effect?  I’m not a climatologist, but it seems logical that a return of carbon to the atmosphere is likely to support a return to the earlier much warmer climate  — one where mammals were only minor players and human beings were a remote possibility millions of years in the future.

What is certain is that coal, natural gas and oil reserves were created from organic material—living plants and animals.  Coal in particular comes from primeval swamps both salt and freshwater
. In fact without wetlands, we would not have coal. So what about today’s wetlands?  There are still swamps and other waters on the surface of the earth today that store enormous amounts of carbon.  But much less attention has been given to protecting existing stores of carbon – the same general types of plants and environments that started that ancient carbon sequestration process—and carbon soils in particular.   Wetland soils store carbon and can tie it up far longer than carbon stored in plants alone.   If ignored or altered wetland soils can also be a significant source of greenhouse gases released back to the atmosphere.  Protecting carbon stores in wetlands and other water resources merits serious attention and action in the United States and abroad.  The world needs to retain its existing wetland carbon ‘savings’ and prevent withdrawals.

An unseen carbon sink

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