What is Climate Mitigation?
Climate mitigation describes actions taken to slow climate change by reducing levels of greenhouse gases in our atmosphere. There are two primary areas for climate mitigation:
1) Reducing greenhouse gas emissions by reducing our use of fossil fuels (e.g., making buildings and vehicles more energy efficient, converting to clean renewable energy solutions such as wind and solar);
2) Conserving natural resources, such as grasslands and forests, that store carbon and other greenhouse gases. Improved management of these resources can contribute to the reductions in greenhouse gases. These are referred to as “Natural Climate Solutions.”
Grasses store carbon in their roots or the soil. Unlike forests, the majority of carbon is not released if the grasses catch fire, making them better able to withstand climate change.
Natural Climate Solutions have the potential to store about 1/3 of greenhouse gas emissions in the U.S.
We would need to conserve an additional 1 million acres of forest and 1.7 million acres of grassland a year over the next 10 years to achieve this level of reduction.
Why Mitigate Climate Change?
We are already experiencing the impact of global climate change. More severe weather events, more frequent droughts, floods and earthquakes, global pandemics (like corona virus). This is just the beginning. The effects of the greenhouse gases we are releasing into the atmosphere today will be felt thirty years from now. That amount is much higher than the amount of gases released two or three decades ago that are impacting us now.
The Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES) released a report in May 2019 warning that globally, a million species of plants and animals are are risk of extinction. This is an alarming and unprecedented loss of the world’s biodiversity.
We cannot avoid the effects of greenhouse gases that have already been released. Their impact is already “built” into our atmosphere. But we can reduce and prepare for them. And we can avoid making those impacts even more catastrophic by reducing our emissions now (see “What Happens if We Do Nothing?” below).
Grassland Bird Trust (GBT) joins a host of other land trusts, environmental organization and government agencies working to mitigate climate change.
About Climate Change
Climate change is the long-term rise of the global average temperature across Earth, and it’s one of the greatest threats to human survival in the modern age! Climate change harms both people and wildlife. The severity of climate change’s impact varies from place to place, but there isn’t a single place on Earth that hasn’t already been affected to some degree.
Although the climate has fluctuated for all of Earth’s history, the last hundred years have seen an unprecedented increase in greenhouse gases in the atmosphere. As a result, the Earth has become on average 1.78 degrees Fahrenheit (0.99 degrees Celsius) warmer since the 1880s. This doesn’t sound like much, but climate scientists predict a rise of 2 degrees Celsius would inflict catastrophic, life-altering damage on the worlds’ ecosystems. The goal is to hold global warming below 1.5 degrees Celsius.
Melting Glaciers and Sea Ice:
The melting glaciers and sea ice in Earth’s Arctic and Antarctic regions concerning ways that global warming is already impacting the planet. The Antarctic has lost an average of 145 gigatons of its ice mass every year since 2002. That’s equal to the loss of about one-third of all the water in Lake Erie – every year! Greenland’s ice sheets have lost nearly twice that – about 283 gigaton of ice mass a year over the same period. The release of all that fresh water contributes to rising ocean temperatures and sea level.
Changes to Weather:
Climate change is causing drastic changes to weather across the globe in the form of droughts, flooding, storms and wildfires. Although some areas experience these weather patterns naturally, the severity and rate of such events has been increasing. The 2019 wildfires in California and Australia destroyed thousands of acres of forests and woodlands, and Australia lost nearly 1/3 of its wildlife! Droughts in the Mid-Western United States are the worst they’ve been in a millennium. Heavy downpours that contribute to flooding and damage crops have increased significantly in the U.S. over the last 70 years.
What Happens if We Do Nothing?
The global sea level has risen by eight inches over the last 140 years. Scientists warn that by the end of the 21st century the sea level could rise as high as 7 feet. Rising sea levels could displace hundreds of millions of people across the globe, including more than five million people in the U.S. who live in coastal areas less than four feet above sea level.
Even slight changes in atmospheric temperatures can change precipitation patterns, leading to long periods of drought. Central America and Europe can expect more frequent and severe droughts in the coming years. The Southwestern U.S. in particular is at risk, with some projections implying decades long “megadroughts.”
Invasive Pests and Diseases:
Pest populations increase as temperatures rise. Shorter winters will not only keep populations active for more of the year, but insects tend to feed more in higher temperatures. The increase in pest activity will increase crop damage and the spread of diseases. Rates of vector-borne diseases such as malaria, Zika and Lyme disease, will increase as well. Increased rainfall, flooding, and even drought could contaminate water sources, causing increases in diseases such as cholera and dengue.
8% of the current species on Earth are projected to disappear due to climate change. Globally, 23% of bird populations are already being impacted, with grassland birds in particular seeing dramatic population losses (over 50% loss in the U.S. and Canada). Species such as the Short-eared owl, Northern harrier, Horned lark and others live in grassland ecosystems that are extremely vulnerable to climate and weather shifts.
Millions of climate migrants will be forced to relocate to more habitable areas as coastal regions and river valleys flood and arid regions become uninhabitable due to droughts. Increasing population density will put a greater strain on resources in those areas, including water and food.
The human population is projected to reach 8 billion by 2024 and will continue to grow well into the 22nd century. The increased population will demand larger food outputs, yet crop yields have been gradually decreasing as a result of climate change. Increases in pests, rainfall and temperature changes will continue to contribute to the reduction in global food supplies. This could lead to famines, particularly in food deserts and underdeveloped regions.
Destroyed habitats force animals toward human settlements and humans more closely together in large urban areas. This will lead to disease outbreaks that may become more difficult to control, such as the recent corona virus pandemic. Contaminated waters and toxic algae blooms caused by warming oceans are also likely to increase the rate and severity of certain diseases, such as West Nile virus, malaria and red tide.
See links below to learn more:
- NASA, NOAA Data Show 2016 Warmest Year on Record Globally
- Ice, Snow, and Glaciers and the Water Cycle
- Ice Sheets
- Megadroughts in U.S. West Projected to be Worst of the Millennium
- Extreme Weather
- Sea Level Projections
- Report: Flooded Future: Global vulnerability to sea level rise worse than previously understood
- Earth’s Freshwater Future: Extremes of Flood and Drought
- Climate Change And Infectious Diseases
- Climate change is accelerating the sixth extinction
- IPBES: Climate Change Is a Key Driver for Species Extinction
- Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services