There are solutions, and then there are solutions

Richard Houghton

Acting President & Senior Scientist
Richard A. Houghton

There are solutions, and then there are solutions

Two recent studies by Center scientists point to the need to mitigate against further global warming. Yes, climatic change is already here, and we have to adapt. But if we don’t continue and, in fact, increase our efforts to mitigate more warming, the effects of that warming will only get worse. A two-degree warming is better than a four-degree warming (or six or eight).

The second study was by a group of scientists that included Mike Coe, Marcia Macedo, Eric Davidson, Dan Nepstad, and that was led by Paulo Brando, a WHRC Distinguished Visiting Scientist. Their paper described one of the effects of drought on Amazon forests.  The experimental burns carried out over several years showed that these tropical forests were difficult to burn in most years.  Fires wouldn’t take.  But during a year of drought, the fires did take and, in fact, led to a die-off of the burned forest. Because the Amazon has suffered two 100-year droughts in the last 8 years (2005 and 2010), there is every reason to believe the droughts are becoming more frequent and severe as a result of climate change, and that tropical forest die-off may be one of the effects of increased warming. Needless to say, the emissions of carbon dioxide from these fires act as a positive feedback and add to global warming.

Both experiments (warming pieces of the tundra and burning pieces of the Amazon) were conducted to get a better idea of how ecosystems might respond to a warming.   Alas, the results are bad news — more climatic disruption. Furthermore, REDD and “corridors,” although solutions, are not sufficient. It makes little sense to conserve tropical forests so that they can burn in a hotter, drier world. The ultimate solution lies in preventing further climatic disruption, and that requires the eventual replacement of fossil fuels with renewable forms of energy (sun, wind, water).