Researchers delve into climate change puzzle

USDA and university researchers are investigating the impact of heat stress and extreme weather on livestock and crops.

Capital Press

Published on September 11, 2013 11:03AM

Government and university researchers are investigating a wide variety of impacts on agriculture anticipated as the climate changes in coming decades.

Heat stress on livestock and people, increased pest infestations, heat and drought stress on crops, flooding of crops and damage to facilities are among the impacts the USDA Agricultural Research Service has on its radar.

Integrating climate change into its programs, policies and operations was in response to a 2009 Executive Order. That order called for all federal agencies to submit adaptation plans to the Council of Environmental Quality.

Adapting to the coming changes — not just mitigating greenhouse gases — is vital, said Lara Whitely Binder, outreach specialist at the University of Washington’s Climate Impacts Group. She spoke at a recent seminar presented by the University of Rhode Island’s Metcalf Institute and the Seattle Times.

“The discussion is no longer if climate change, but how much climate change,” she said. “No warming is not an option.”

Imminent changes will affect “hydropower, salmon, where we live, how we build, flood management, water supply and how and where we grow food,” she said.

We have — right now — the knowledge, data and tools necessary for understanding local impacts and developing local strategies for building climate resilience,” Amy Snover, director of the Climate Impacts Group at the University of Washington, said.

Approaches include local food hubs, better prediction of nitrogen requirements, web-based access to changing conditions and land-use planning to preserve and consolidate farmland.

Across all segments of the economy and government, adaptation will be an ongoing process, Whitely Binder said.

It will not be “set it and forget it,” she said, but a continuous resilience and ability to recover.

“We will make mistakes,” she said, because adaptations, both proactive and reactive, occur within complex circumstances. The effects of adaptation efforts are unknown as is the willingness for “transformational change — the way we live, the choices that we make.”

The effects of Superstorm Sandy were amplified by a rise in sea level, one result of climate change, she said. That points to the need for reconsidering how to rebuild permanent structures on the coast.


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