Environmental change: Evidence continues to mount that, driven by changes in our climate, the planet’s natural environment is changing in ways that over the next few decades will provide real risks, but also opportunities, for many sectors of the economy. Our climate changes slowly, but as it does the immediate effect on the environment is significant and can be long term.
This process will profoundly affect where and how we live, the price and distribution of food, access to clean water, prevalence of drought and wildfire, migration of people, wildlife, plants and insects, the way we build roads, bridges and levees, the spread of disease, the cost and availability of insurance, and even our favored forms of recreation. As climate changes are global with regional environmental impacts such as water resources and food security, they also have a direct bearing on our national security strategy at home and abroad.
Life in the coming decades will be different, but it does not need to be worse if the innovative and entrepreneurial spirit of America mobilizes us to plan for and adapt to this new era. This will require a new partnership between federal agencies, research institutions and the private sector, in which the role of the private sector is central.
Adapting to changes that can be abrupt and devastating or those that may last for decades requires serious advance planning based on reliable predictive information and robust risk management. That information simply cannot be obtained from conventional sources, such as day to day weather forecasts or 100-year global warming projections. However, owing in part to recent progress in our ability to monitor and predict the Earth as a coupled system, it is now possible to begin providing such information.
An information supply chain: Reliable environmental prediction requires models that integrate information about our atmosphere, our oceans, our inland waters, our ecosystems and, increasingly, about the human system. Scientists have been successfully refining models in each of these areas, while also learning how to synthesize the results to yield reliable information about the developing future.
Actionable information based on environmental prediction depends, however, on much more than the results of climate models. The Texas rancher needs to know, on average, over the coming decade how many head of cattle will his land support. That is a question for an agricultural scientist to answer using environmental predictions as one source of input. Health officials need to know if some areas of the country will become vulnerable to emerging diseases such as cholera and, if so, where. That is a question for public health scientists, again relying on information about environmental change. As land fertility and water supply change, populations will move. Preparing for those future patterns is a question for social scientists and engineers. Finally, good economic and risk management will be essential in making decisions based on the information provided.
A principal objective of CIRUN is to develop pilot projects that will demonstrate how multi-level partnerships from climate scientists to end users can build the full information supply chains required to support planning for environmental change.
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