The science of climate is a complex issue. While the physical aspects of this issue are most understood, both climate variability and climate change resulting from natural causes are altered by many anthropogenic influences. Further, the impact of climate variability varies greatly across geographic regions. All ecosystems have evolved to survive changes in climate and environment throughout the ages. Some ecosystems have been able to adjust better than others. The impacts of climate variability and climate change focus on key aspects of this complex issue; i.e., vulnerability and adaptation. Some examples of vulnerability include coastal infrastructure, land use strategy, urban environment, and human health.

Adaptation to changes can be through passive adjustment, reactive response, or proactive action. Passive adjustment is a "survival of the fittest" approach. Adaptation is based on how well the system will adjust to changes after they become the new normal frame of reference. Reactive response is a "wait and see" approach.

Climatic Change (2005) 70: 137-164

© Springer 2005

Adaptation measures are not adopted until after the alteration occurs. While the response is measured by the magnitude of change, it is often implemented too late to help the system cope with the consequences. A proactive measure focuses on preparations in advance of the event to help mitigate the impact on the system. The desired adaptation strategy involves proactive measures through long-term planning to mitigate the negative effects of changing climate conditions and to take advantage of the new opportunities of positive effects. However, in order to anticipate and respond to alterations in climate, a thorough understanding of the regional ecosystems is necessary. This section focuses specifically on the vulnerability of agriculture and forestry to climate variability and climate change in North America.

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