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Adaptation & Mitigation

In the coming decades, climate change will affect our environmental, social, and economic resources. We have the ability to respond in a variety of ways to influence how our changing climate will affect us and the natural and built environments we depend on. Our responses fall into two broad categories: mitigation and adaptation. Mitigation refers to the steps we take to slow down the rate of climate change through reductions of greenhouse gases in our atmosphere, while adaptation refers to the ways we prepare for and react to changes in our climate to reduce the risks posed by those changes.

Human activities increase the amount of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere, mainly through the burning of fossil fuels and deforestation, which accelerate global climate change. One type of mitigation strategy is limiting greenhouse gas emissions through laws that restrict how much can be released into the air by certain nations or industries. On a global scale, nations are still working to negotiate limits on greenhouse gas emissions through the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change. Though the United States has yet to pass legislation to mitigate climate change, California, Minnesota, and Hawaii have established greenhouse gas emissions targets for their states. Individuals can also help reduce emissions by reducing energy use at school, work, and in their homes; driving and flying less; and by carpooling, biking, or walking more. Mitigation efforts also include ways to store carbon in the environment to inhibit its release into the atmosphere as carbon dioxide, a major greenhouse gas. Natural resource professionals can mitigate through preventing destruction of forests and protecting wetlands and peatlands that play an important role in capturing and storing greenhouse gases.

Adaptation means identifying and preparing for the impacts of climate change. Impacts like increased flooding, heat waves, longer growing seasons, and warmer winters will leave human populations and ecosystems at risk, but there are things we can do to be less vulnerable to these changes. For example, communities can prepare for climate change by updating stormwater infrastructure to handle bigger floods; rezoning flood plains to avoid property damage with increased flooding; and developing heat emergency action plans to assist vulnerable urban populations during heat waves. Natural resource managers can also help plants and animals adapt by making changes such as planting vegetation to provide more shade for coldwater trout streams or creating wildlife corridors to help animals move to more suitable habitats as the climate changes.

Even with aggressive mitigation efforts, our climate will continue to change over the next 50 to 100 years because of the amount and longevity of greenhouse gases already in the atmosphere. We have to prepare for and adapt to those changes. As a society, we must pursue both mitigation and adaptation in order to remain resilient in the face of climate change.

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