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Adapting to Climate Change Could Still Mean Environmental Troubles

Mar 23, 2015 04:17 PM EDT
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You may have heard that regardless of what is causing climate change (be it natural, man-driven, or both) humanity must act now if there is any hope of preventing the problems that it will cause for society and the natural world alike in the future. However, some researchers are now making the argument that even adapting to our warming world will bring new and unconsidered problems.

That's at least according to a study recently published in the journal Nature Climate Change, which details how "climate change is a just a little bit more complicated than we previously thought."

"We need to take into account not only the direct impact of climate change, but also how people will respond to such change - the impact of adaptation," lead researcher Carlo Fezzi of the University of East Anglia said in a recent statement. "This is a whole new dimension to the climate change adaptation debate."

In the study, Fezzi and his colleagues paid special attention to the interaction between agricultural land use and river water quality - two factors that experts expect will be heavily impacted as climate change continues to encroach upon local ecosystems.

They looked at United Kingdom records pertaining to these factors that date back to the early 1970s, and used a fleet of computer models to predict future agricultural and water quality changes.

"We found that a moderately warmer climate in the range of between 1°C and 3°C will be mainly beneficial for agriculture in Great Britain," the team reported. "Particularly in the eastern uplands and midlands, warmer temperatures will boots crop yield and allow for more livestock. But some localized losses can be expected - particularly in the east of England, where lower rainfall may increase the risk of drought." (Scroll to read on...)

(Photo : pixabay)

To make up for those local losses, and to keep pace with the world's ever-growing demand for food, farming may be ramped up in regions where improved yield is seen. Past reports have also revealed that more farmland may become available as the Northern Hemisphere warms and weather patterns change, even while the number of overall harvests may drop globally.

"This intensification in agricultural practices in response to climate change, however, will also create new environmental pressures," Fezzi added. "For example changes in the agricultural sector will have a knock on effect for water quality - because they will cause increased amounts of nitrates and phosphates in streams and rivers."

We've already seen the consequences of this in some parts of the world, where the nitrates and nutrients from fertilizers and other agricultural runoff are promoting the excessive growth of algae blooms. When the blooms eventually die en masse, certain microorganisms start to over-consume oxygen to facilitate their decomposition. This creates suffocated "dead zones" where oxygen-breathing organisms can no longer survive. This is already being seen in regions like the Gulf of MexicoBaltic Sea, and Lake Erie.

The study also details how this will reduce the quality of water available for drinking, "significantly increasing the effort necessary to achieve quality standards required" by the European Union. (Scroll to read on...)

(Photo : pixabay)

"But the problem is not restricted to water quality," Fezzi is quick to explain. "Adaptation may have an impact on water availability, wildlife, biodiversity, carbon policies, and the amount of recreation space" - factors for which the data is understandably a bit more hazy.

It's also important to point out that farmers won't always see their changing practices as adapting to climate change. Nature World News has previously reported how farmers make a living as problem solvers year-by-year.

They are, "by necessity very focused on short-term weather, in-season decisions and managing immediate risks," Lois Wright Morton, a sociology professor at Iowa State University, explained in a statement. "They're thinking about when they can get in their field to do what they need to do, rather than looking 20 to 30 years down the road."

In that sense, raising production here and abandoning land there may just be part of the job. You can't exactly blame these professionals for not considering how seemingly routine changes could suddenly have adverse effects on a national or even international scale. After all, that's never happened before. (Scroll to read on...)

(Photo : pixabay) Farmers are certainly not the uneducated yokels that ignorant parties think they are. Experts in land management, farmers are tuned into the changes of local ecosystems and will adapt how and when they plant and harvest accordingly.

"And of course farming is not the only industry that may need to adapt to a warmer climate," Fezzi added. "Energy demand and production, fisheries, forestry and health services would all need to adapt as well, and each would have its own knock on effects," many of which have yet to be fully investigated.

So what should we do? Halt every adaptation in its tracks until we fully understand what's going on? The researchers wrote that such action would be "very short sighted."

"But we should make sure we adapt in an environmentally sustainable way," Fezzi explained. "Climate change is a long-term process and science allows us to anticipate its impact on both the environment and society. This should encourage the development of forward-looking policies."

Essentially, the researcher and his team are arguing that experts should focus on running with global industries - both anticipating adaptations and helping to mitigate their adverse effects before they get out of hand.

"Prevention is better than cure," Fezzi concluded. "Instead of waiting for ecosystems to be in danger and then trying to save them, we can anticipate a potential problem and do something about it before it becomes an actual threat."

Of course, cooperation between scientists, professionals, and the policymakers who influence them will be needed for this to become a reality, and that is an issue unto itself.

For more great nature science stories and general news, please visit our sister site, Headlines and Global News (HNGN).

- follow Brian on Twitter @BS_ButNoBS

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