Climate change adaptation could harm the environment

Adapting to climate change could have profound environmental repercussions, according to a new study from the University of East Anglia. Preventing climate change in the first place is far better than adapting to it, they argue.

Lead researcher Dr. Carlo Fezzi warns that global society must take into account not only the direct impact of climate change, but also the impact of how people respond to such change: “Climate change is just a little bit more complicated than we previously thought.”

The research team looked at the interaction between agricultural land use and river water quality, both of which will be heavily impacted by climate change. Using computer models, they predicted how climate change would lead to changes in agricultural practices as well as how these agricultural changes would impact water quality.

The team found that a temperature increase of between 1 degrees Celsius and 3 C would actually be beneficial for agricultural in Great Britain as warmer temperatures will boost crop yield and allow for more livestock. However, this intensification in agricultural practices in response to climate change would create new environmental pressures, particularly on water quality because they will increase the levels of nitrates and phosphates in streams and rivers.

And the problem is not restricted to water quality. The researchers warn that adaptation could impact water availability, wildlife, biodiversity, carbon policies, even the amount of recreation space.

Although Fezzi doesn’t think we should discourage adaptation policies, he encourages us to find a way to adapt in an environmentally sustainable way. And for him, that means going back to the beginning.

“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,” he said. “Prevention is better than cure.”


Photo credit: Carl Wycoff, flickr/Creative Commons

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