Editorial: All Hands On Deck

Nora Goldstein, Editor, BioCycle

Nora Goldstein
BioCycle May 2014, Vol. 55, No. 4, p. 4

Over the past month, two reports have been issued that basically state we are in a “now or never” situation to address our changing climate. On April 13, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) released a new report showing that global emissions of greenhouse gases have risen to unprecedented levels despite a growing number of policies to reduce climate change. Between 1970 and 2000, according to the IPCC report, GHG emissions rose at an annual rate of 1.3 percent; now, they are rising at a rate of 2.2 percent per year — largely due to an increase in coal usage from developing countries.

Then, on May 6, the U.S. Global Change Research Program released its Third National Climate Assessment. In a nutshell, the assessment concluded that the effects of human-induced climate change are being felt in every corner of the U.S. “Climate change, once considered an issue for a distant future, has moved firmly into the present,” states the assessment. Americans are noticing changes all around them. Summers are longer and hotter, and extended periods of unusual heat last longer than any living American has ever experienced. Winters are generally shorter and warmer. Rain comes in heavier downpours. People are seeing changes in the length and severity of seasonal allergies, the plant varieties that thrive in their gardens, and the kinds of birds they see in any particular month in their neighborhoods.

The scientists contributing to the new IPCC report note they “are still optimistic” that the world can stay below a global rise of 2°C (3.6°F) compared to preindustrial levels. Fossil fuel burning would need to peak in the near future and then fall to between 40 to 70 percent of 2010 levels by 2050 and then continue falling until 2100, in order to stay within a 2°C rise. The IPCC also reports that the most ambitious mitigation plan would only reduce economic growth by about 0.06 percentage points per year. “This doesn’t even take into account the co-benefits of climate action, such as improved public health and increased energy efficiency savings, which could further reduce the impact to the global economy and perhaps even lead to a net benefit.” Notes Rajendra K. Pachauri, one of the cochairs of Working Group III: “What comes out very clear from this report is that the high-speed mitigation train needs to leave the station soon, and all of global society needs to get on board.”

Now, more than ever we need to rise above the “noise” (aka, the ongoing debate of whether climate change is real) and make change happen fast. As BioCycle has been arguing for years, and each issue of the magazine and every conference we hold illustrate, the tools we need to make change happen are at our fingertips. The buzz and excitement at BioCycle REFOR14 WEST last month in San Diego was palpable. A “we can do this” attitude was evident — an attitude that BioCycle intends to translate into concrete action steps that are supported by all of your projects, programs, policies, technologies, practices and research.

In an inspiring Op Ed piece titled “Gardening For Climate Change” in the New York Times on Sunday, May 4, James Barilla, author of My Backyard Jungle, wrote: “We have to figure out how to garden with the new seasons, such as they are. Extreme gardening for an extreme climate.” At the end of his piece, he talks about sandhill milkweed, “a favorite host” for the habitat-endangered monarch butterflies. Barilla is planting sandhill milkweed in his front yard, even though he has never seen this species grow in his neighborhood before. “I am hopeful it can adapt to our local conditions,” he writes. “Taken alone, this small-scale transformation in my yard doesn’t matter all that much. But a constellation of small patches of milkweed, connecting one neighborhood to the next, might mean the difference between life and death for the monarchs. We need to start thinking not just about what used to be, but what could be. It’s going to take a lot of work. But it sure beats despair.”

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