In July 2010, exceptionally heavy rains flooded hundreds of thousands of agricultural acres in Pakistan. Nearly 2,000 people died. The floods came as heat waves wreaked similar havoc in Russia and Europe, and while floods swept through China. By the end of the year, 2010 had become one of the hottest years on record globally. Real-world examples of extreme, once-anomalous weather events that climate scientists had been predicting were suddenly frequent and ubiquitous, prompting a heightened sense of urgency from the United Nations, including the UN Security Council.
When representatives from countries met in Kyoto in 1997, there was cautious optimism about getting ahead of what were largely believed to be future environmental problems. Since then, ice caps have begun melting at record rates; heat waves and droughts have scorched agricultural lands; once-in-a-lifetime super storms have ravaged coasts; and in general, a new normal has emerged for the planet’s climate.
Delegates from around the world met in Doha recently for the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC). While they discussed ways of limiting the impacts of climate change, they faced relatively low expectations and a public that, at least in many industrialized countries, appeared to have lost interest and hope in our ability to slow temperature increases. Yet new research continues to point out ways of mitigating those changes. The ability of coastal environments to absorb carbon is one such opportunity.
GRAND JUNCTION, Colo., USA—Pikas like the cold. In fact, they need the cold. But it is getting increasingly difficult for the small, rabbit-like mammal to find its ideal climate on the mountain slopes it calls home.
In the birthplace of the potato, things are heating up. Over the past decade, the Quechua farmers working at the El Parque de la Papa, outside Cusco, Peru, started noticing that the potato varieties they used to grow at lower altitudes can now only be cultivated much higher up the mountainside. “Temperate zones in the mountains are moving upwards—which is to say it’s getting warmer," says Shakeel Bhatti, Secretary of the International Treaty on Plant Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture. Climate change, he says, is pushing temperatures up—and now he, his colleagues and the potato park farmers are looking for potato varieties that can adapt.
In 1986, a tiny but hungry new arrival took up residence in Malawi’s conifer trees. The cypress aphid may not have been native to the southern African forests, but once it came, it planned to stay. Unchecked by its natural predators found in its native Northern Hemisphere forests, and now living in warmer weather that allowed it to reproduce nearly year-round, the aphids spread to neighboring Tanzania within the year. Within the decade, they were cropping up as far away as Ethiopia, South Africa and even the island nation of Mauritius.