Fostering Healthy Communities
through Connection with Nature
Climate is usually defined as the "average weather" in a place. It includes patterns of temperature, precipitation (rain or snow), humidity, wind and seasons. Climate patterns play a fundamental role in shaping natural ecosystems, and the human lives, communities, economies and cultures that depend on them. But the climate is not what it used to be - the past is no longer a reliable predictor of the future. Some short-term climate variation is normal, but longer-term trends now indicate a rapidly changing climate. Rising levels of carbon dioxide and other heat-trapping gases (greenhouse gases) in the atmosphere have warmed the Earth and are causing wide-ranging disruptive impacts, including melting snow and ice; rising sea levels; more extreme heat events, fires and drought; and more extreme storms, rainfall and floods. Scientists project that these trends will continue and in some cases accelerate, posing significant risks to human health and the health of the ecosystems and natural resources on which we depend.
Because so many systems are tied to climate, a change in climate can affect many related aspects of where and how people, plants and animals live, such as food production, availability and use of water, and health risks. Human health and well-being impacts of climate change include but are not limited to heat stress, shift in distribution of diseases, property and infrastructure damage from storms and flooding and altered economic opportunities. Climate change can affect ecosystems and their services by forcing organisms to shift to new areas, reducing available habitat or rendering it unsuitable, fostering the spread of disease and exotic invasive species, and altering the ability of populations of organisms to survive. For example, a change in the usual timing of rains or temperatures can affect when plants bloom and set fruit, when insects hatch or when streams are their fullest. This can affect historically synchronized pollination of crops, food for migrating birds, spawning of fish, water supplies for drinking and irrigation, forest health, and more.
Communities around globe need to reduce human-caused greenhouse gas emissions to avoid worsening climate impacts and reduce the risk of creating changes beyond our ability to effectively respond and adapt. Communities also need to take adaptive measures to enhance their resilience to the climate changes we are already experiencing and are likely to occur even in a best case mitigation scenario. The Community Ecology Institute is working to help communities address this challenge by adopting policies to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, take action to create carbon sinks, engage their residents in effective climate change actions, and consider climate change adaptation and resilience in long-term planning.
Climate change mitigation consists of actions to limit the magnitude or rate of long-term climate change. Climate change mitigation generally involves reductions in human (anthropogenic) emissions of greenhouse gases (GHGs). Mitigation may also be achieved by increasing the capacity of carbon sinks, e.g., through reforestation. Mitigation policies can substantially reduce the risks associated with human-induced global warming.
Climate change adaptation and resilience seeks to reduce the vulnerability of social and biological systems to relatively sudden climatic changes. Even if GHG emissions are stabilized relatively soon, climate change and its effects will last many years, and adaptation will be necessary. The capacity and potential for humans to adapt (called adaptive capacity) is unevenly distributed across different regions, communities, and populations. Community adaptation plans must focus more on the concept of community resiliency, or a community’s ability to recover after climate-related natural disasters. Reducing environmental hazards and disaster risks to protect human health and the environment is a major component of community resiliency. For optimal success, these efforts must involve multi-disciplinary collaboration and partnerships with community-based organization.
The Community Ecology Institute