Biodiversity and climate change

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This afternoon I attended an event presenting and discussing the recent report by the second Ad Hoc Technical Expert Group on Biodiversity and Climate Change (AHTEG) on Connecting Biodiversity and Climate Change: Adaptation and Mitigation. The report highlights the role biodiversity plays in mitigating climate change, through both carbon sequestration and by maintaining carbon sinks.

On the other side, climate change impacts biodiversity, being a major threat imbalancing ecosystems from tropical to alpine. Here we see the interlinkages between the carbon cycle and the water cycle. And from this we find serious impacts on food security, poverty, and other social priorities.

The critical question here is to what degree Americans as well as the rest of the world is aware of these linkages and sees these as important, enough to push their political representatives to vote for stronger action.

To understand how Americans understand and value the importance of biodiversity in their lives and voting behavior, Beldon and Russonello conducted a national public opinion study in 1996. They found that only 19% of the American public had ever heard about the "loss of biodiversity" or even the term "biodiversity." Yet many acknowledged awareness that species are disappearing, with the majority agreeing that protecting biodiversity is important and needs to be more strongly enforced. The strength of this opinion, however, declined when put in competition with jobs and other economic and social priorities. This survey was followed up by another opinion survey in 2002, in which the number of those aware of "biodiversity" grew to 30%. Further, the 2002 study showed an increased number claiming biodiversity protection as personally "very important" (from 48% to 55%).

While awareness and support may be growing, it needs to grow a lot more and quickly. The links between climate change and biodiversity, including the impact on the tiny ocean organisms which ensures we have air to breathe, need to be understood. Our use and dependence of the earth's ecological services needs to be part of our national and personal cost and benefit accounting. The US has a huge ecological debt, and we need to start paying it off before our account is turned over to the collection agency.