Climate change was recognized as one of the five major drivers of degradation in biodiversity and ecosystems in the 2005 Millennium Ecosystem Assessment, and the 1992 UN Framework Convention on Climate Change recognized its profound implications for human well-being. The two main responses to climate change are mitigation (roughly speaking, reducing the emission of greenhouse gasses such as carbon dioxide and methane) and adaptation (again roughly speaking, developing management, engineering and behavioural responses to the coming changes). While most of the effort and financial investment to date has gone into mitigation, the results have been deeply disappointing and the periodic reports from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) have been increasingly alarming about the growth of greenhouse gas emissions. It is hard to ignore the growing evidence of their impacts, judging from the rate of extreme weather events, melting polar icecaps, retreating glaciers, melting permafrost, changing breeding seasons, increasing acidification of the oceans, and so forth, but viable mitigation solutions remain elusive.
Alternatives to fossil fuels such as the various forms of renewable energy (wind, solar, biofuels, hydro, tidal, geothermal) all carry varying degrees of negative impacts on the world’s ecosystems. This leaves conservation and energy efficiency as the most reasonable responses, though they are insufficient by themselves to address the problems of climate change or energy consumption. Sadly, neither governments nor the general public seem willing to take the necessary painful step of reducing dependence on carbon-emitting fossil fuels, even while recognizing that their supply is ultimately non-renewable and their effects on climate will change both ecosystems and the course of human civilization.
While efforts at mitigation must continue, despite their frustrations, it is long past time to accelerate plans for adapting to the climate changes that seem inevitable, and to implement at least some of these plans. Climate Savvy is a good recipe book for helping resource managers start adapting to the coming changes, however uncertain these changes may be at any particular site. It starts with a brief introduction to climate change and its relevance to natural resource management, emphasizing the point that new approaches will be required. The remainder of the book is divided into three main parts. Part 1 devotes four chapters to building adaptation plans, including useful advice on how to buy time, assessing vulnerability to climate change, developing strategies to reduce vulnerability, and emphasizing the role of models and technology. Part 2 has five chapters on taking action, including strengthening protected areas, addressing the needs of species, the role of connectivity in the landscape, habitat restoration, and dealing with the problem of invasive species. These are mainstream conservation actions familiar to resource managers but here seen through the lens of climate change. Part 3 has four chapters on governance issues, including regulating harvest of energy, regulating pollutants, integrating the needs of nature and people, and adapting governance for change. Again, much of this is familiar ground for readers of this journal but enriched with climate change concerns added to the usual responses.
The Afterword contains some additional useful advice, presented in a semi-light-hearted way that is very welcome after a fairly depressing prognosis of the impacts of climate change, using headings borrowed from a renowned American philosopher, including: ‘The future ain’t what it used to be’, ‘When you come to a fork in the road, take it’, ‘You can observe a lot by just watching’, ‘We make too many wrong mistakes’, ‘If you don’t know where you’re going, you might not get there’, ‘If the world was perfect, it wouldn’t be’, and ‘It ain’t over ‘til it’s over.’
Most of the book’s prescriptions are sensible and would be useful advice for resource managers even if climate change were not such a worrying concern. For individuals working in conservation this is an excellent and balanced discussion of the kinds of climate-related issues they are likely to face in the coming years. But some minor problems creep in: some suggested approaches to adaptation are in fact more like mitigation (e.g. ‘reduce the rate and extent of local and regional climate change’); the discussion of the Amazon Basin should have mentioned that while this vast forest may support its own climate, in some recent drought years it has been a net producer of carbon dioxide rather than a carbon sink; more advice on converting knowledge about rates of change into action to address these would have been useful; and more citations would be helpful (for example, the alleged case in which a World Health Organization van was burned in an Indian village because its caduceus-like symbol with a snake was despised by villagers).
But the book also has a few more fundamental limitations. Firstly, it defines adaptation in solely human terms, explicitly excluding evolutionary or biological adaptation even though it discusses the latter forms in some detail and says relatively little about how to change human behaviour. Secondly, the book is specifically aimed at resource managers as if they were major players in the climate change issue. Whilst of course everybody must contribute, and maintaining biological diversity is the best insurance for adapting to changing conditions, the most important actors are surely on other stages, and expecting resource managers to ‘reduce the rate and extent of global change’ (p. 83) or stopping the Chinese from building dams on the upper Mekong River (p. 190) is hardly realistic. Thirdly, the book is written from an American perspective, although with some international examples well integrated throughout; but nowhere does it mention the sad reality in the USA that politics is the key constraint to progress, with one political party, whose name cannot be mentioned, being led by Senators who steadfastly deny even the reality of climate change, much less the need to do anything about it. Fourthly, the book lacks the historical perspective that might have provided important insights about how people have actually adapted to major climate changes throughout history without the wise guidance of resource managers; this provides the ‘evolutionary and reverential literature’ that the authors say is lacking, instead charging the IPCC of forcing adaptation on us ‘almost by edict’. The reality is that both ecosystems and humans will adapt, one way or another; the IPCC is just trying to reduce the pain of doing so. Finally, the book includes humans almost as an afterthought, even though modern resource managers deal with the human dimension on a regular basis, and arguably the most important aspect of climate change for people is that historically it has been accompanied by serious human conflicts, even ones that may be existential when applied to modern conditions.
In short, this is a useful handbook for helping resource managers realize some of the challenges that they will need to address in the coming years. The readers of this journal will find it a helpful discussion but, in the end, it feels more like displacement behaviour. It is putting the focus on some of the victims of climate change (species, protected areas, natural habitats) rather that the perpetrators (look in the rear-view mirror of your Land Rover).