Don't wait for world leaders to solve climate challenges, writes guest columnist Howard D. Grimes. Change is coming and regions must adapt agriculture and biofuel production to continue to feed and fuel the world.
FOR two weeks, world leaders met in Copenhagen and attempted to address the underlying causes of global climate change, notably atmospheric carbon-dioxide levels.
The result left many dissatisfied. That’s no surprise when you bring representatives of nearly 200 nations together to seek agreement on a complex problem with such far-reaching economic and environmental ramifications.
The lesson learned in Copenhagen is simple. Political process and economic incentives are not likely to result in immediate reduction of atmospheric carbon-dioxide levels or in the mitigation of global climate change.
However, that does not mean that we are powerless in the face of this issue. Far from it. Rather than waiting for a global solution to climate change, we must prepare for its impacts. Our pragmatic response should be to predict the downstream effects of regional climate changes. We must be ready to respond to those changes right here at home.
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Making long-term, global predictions based on current data is enormously complex; this complexity leads to some of the controversy surrounding global climate change. However, a vast majority of climate and Earth scientists agree on some key changes we can expect — more droughts, more floods, less snow and ice, more extreme weather conditions and a rising sea level.
The impact will vary by region. While one area suffers from drought, another may be experiencing flooding. By 2020, Africa will lose 50 percent of its rain-fed agricultural yields. Across the globe, there will be widespread problems in soil quality, lower crop yields and water availability.
To confound matters more, our planet faces a confluence of unprecedented challenges to our food supply. The United Nations estimates that we will have to increase our food supply by 70 percent over the next 30 to 50 years. Simultaneously, our agricultural scientists will be expected to develop novel and sustainable biofuel sources. As one of the largest food exporters in the nation, coupled with our potential for biomass production for fuel, Washington will be front and center.
The anticipated changes in our global climate and their varied impact on regional climate systems where crops are grown confound a “one size fits all” response as considered in Copenhagen.
That’s why we must work to mitigate the consequences of global climate change at the regional level — in Eastern Washington, in sub-Saharan Africa, or wherever food crops are grown. The U.S. and world require a dynamic and responsive research-based approach that will allow the rapid development and deployment of regional responses to climate change.
Our land-grant research universities have many of these tools in hand and, in concert with the National Institute for Food and Agriculture and other agencies, others can be developed quickly.
We must be able to predict regional climate change over a multiyear period, identify the best crops to grow in these regions based on climate, soil and water conditions, then introduce these crops efficiently and sustainably at a regional level. We must develop regional information to manage our water resources and adapt our agricultural production systems to maintain food security.
Our research scientists are leading the way toward new, innovative and dynamic approaches that will predict regional climate change. We can then deploy new crop varieties suited for these conditions while simultaneously introducing the best management practices to stabilize food production and security for our nation and world.
Meanwhile, just in case, I will continue to bicycle to work.
Howard D. Grimes is vice president for research and dean of the Washington State University Graduate School.