By Chris Morrill, Executive Director
This year, our world experienced a summer that was replete with record-setting climate impacts – continued severe drought, persistent wildfires, floods caused by both rain and melting glaciers, and one of the longest and hottest heat waves on record. For the last couple hundred years, humanity has worked to bend nature to its will by extracting minerals, cutting down forests, clearing land for agriculture, and rerouting rivers. In narrow ways, these efforts have led to the most economically “rich” world in history.
However, without delving into the fact that this approach caused climate change, we need to acknowledge that we have been left more vulnerable and less resilient to manage these disasters in this era of a changing climate.
We’ve sacrificed diversity and complexity for simplicity and efficiency. The latter being our current model for economic growth, the former the bedrock of resilience.
As climate impacts grow, it is great to see more “natural solutions” being proposed. For example, earlier this month beavers received some good publicity with the California Department of Fish and Wildlife initiating the hiring search for its first employee of its new beaver restoration unit (which will oversee a recovery program specifically for the North American beaver). Several articles highlight how beavers’ work can provide fuel breaks, improve water retention, and increase biodiversity. This is a far cry from the time when beavers were killed for their pelts and exterminated as nuisances.
Wetlands, which have been filled in to accommodate development, are now recognized as an important tool against sea level rise. Designated flood plains in the Central Valley are now being used for flood control, adding important fish habitat, recharging groundwater, and restoring nutrients to the soil.
None of these are perfect solutions, but when combined with other approaches they can improve our ability to adapt to climate change and build healthier ecosystems.
The reality is that these systems remain complex and our use of natural solutions will also likely create unintended consequences and new conflicts. However, an approach that prioritizes embracing natural systems and the resilience that comes with them will create a stronger society and one better positioned for our unknown future.