Mark Lynas's "Six Degrees: Our Future on a Hotter Planet" has re-calibrated climate change for me. And that's saying a lot because I think about this stuff pretty much all of the time. I've just finished reading Six Degrees (though I realize I am discovering this book three years after its publication), and I think its premise is brilliant. It's brilliant because it organizes the scientific literature on climate change into a unique framework, one that helps the reader visualize future outcomes. It takes the census-range of projected climate change that is likely to occur by 2100, somewhere in the range 2-6 degrees Celsius, and breaks that into single degrees. The first chapter, 1 degree, covers the impacts of climate changes that we see already today--things like shifts in species ranges, changes in fire frequency, and pest outbreaks. The second chapter imagines a climate that's 2 degrees warmer that the pre-industrial average temperature, a world that may have more intense hurricanes and summer drought in California due to decreased winter snow fall, for example. And so on.
I am at the Steve Schneider memorial symposium and am tweeting about a number of very interesting talks. In putting my own talk together, “Integrative climate science for this century: in training and practice,” I've been thinking about interdisciplinarity and thought that I'd blog about that today.
There is a growing scientific literature about the role that humans might play in helping species move to new locations under climate change. Colleagues and I first wrote about the idea in 2007 in an article in Conservation Biology called, "A framework for debate of assisted migration in an era of climate change." The idea is that humans could help species that are limited in their ability to move or shift geographically under climate change. These limitations could arise from human land uses that are incompatible with species movement (think: agriculture for a forest-dwelling species) or natural restrictions on species dispersal (think: small, walking beetle populations moving hundreds of miles).
And moving is thought to be the primary way that species respond to climate changes--some individuals disperse (fly, walk, or disperse their seeds) to locations that are newly suitable and other populations die-out where conditions become unsuitable. That's what happened to many species (but not all) when the climate has changed (naturally) in the past. But this time is different because the climate is changing very rapidly (and it's hard for many species to move quickly) and lots of human activities stand in the way (such as urban development). So maybe people could step in and help put species that are strongly affected by climate change where they need to go. Now, this has lots of potential problems associated it with it, but that's not the topic of my blog today.
I've been spending some time recently with colleagues in English and Sociology (John Sitter and Andy Weigert). We are creating a minor in sustainability--an entirely new entity for my university--and a new introductory course for students in this field. We're going to teach the course with multiple faculty, with multiple perspectives, because no one can embody alone the lofty idea of sustainability and all its challenges and opportunities. So, among other things, I've been learning from my humanist colleagues about literature and how people use stories to envision sustainability. And here is where I've learned about the importance of science fiction in environmental policy and decision-making. Think 1984. Think Fahrenheit 451. Narratives about the future--good futures and bad ones--are critical to helping us decide what world we want and what one we want to avoid.