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Volunteers plant trees to mitigate efects of climate change. Photo Christine Boynton

Responding to Climate Change

UMass Amherst Meets the Moment

Climate change. It’s really big. So big that it’s difficult to know how to easily talk about the many interconnected pieces and parts that define it, not to mention the myriad efforts we must enact now to make a difference.  Our changing climate is one of the most complicated issues facing our planet today: a massive global challenge affecting us on local, regional, and national, and international scales.  There’s no time to waste in addressing this interdisciplinary puzzle, so huge and exciting collaborations are underway.

New to Climate Change?

Most people have heard general information about climate change by now, but below we provide some basic facts – along with some ideas for what readers can do to adapt to changes.   To go even further, some may want to take this quick quiz to test their knowledge: 

In broad strokes, a coordinated societal response to climate change involves a two-pronged approach:

1. Mitigation: Limiting the total amount of climate change by reducing emissions and stabilizing the levels of heat-trapping greenhouse gases in the atmosphere, while also sequestering carbon.

2. Adaptation: Responding and adapting communities and infrastructure to the climate change already underway.

Mitigation – or limiting the impacts of climate change – involves reducing the flow of heat-trapping greenhouse gases into the atmosphere, either by reducing sources of these gases (for example, the burning of fossil fuels for electricity, heat or transport) or enhancing the “sinks” that accumulate and store these gases (such as the oceans, forests and soil). It is essential to reign in the total amount of temperature increases we’re facing as soon as possible so that they remain at a level that we can still reasonably adapt to. According to  NASA, the goal of mitigation is to avoid significant human interference with the climate system, and to “stabilize greenhouse gas levels in a timeframe sufficient to allow ecosystems to adapt naturally to climate change, ensure that food production is not threatened, and to enable economic development to proceed in a sustainable manner.”

Adaptation – or responding to and preparing for life in a changing climate – involves adjusting to actual or expected future climate shifts. We are already feeling the effects of climate change, like sea level rise and more extreme weather events. The goal of adaptation is to reduce our vulnerability and help human and natural communities to become resilient in response to climate impacts. Adaptation also involves making the most of any potential beneficial opportunities associated with climate change (for example, longer growing seasons or increased yields in some regions).

The University of Massachusetts, Amherst is a leader in climate change adaptation in the Commonwealth, with Extension playing an important role in helping communities and ecosystems prepare and respond to climate change impacts. Across the university, climate change is a rapidly growing area of research, education, outreach, and other activities. Across the university alone, several departments are dedicated to researching and offering strategies. Among these are two key research centers:

These centers consist of paleoclimatologists, climate scientists, hydrologists, foresters, energy and agricultural faculty, experts in sustainability, fellows, graduate and undergraduate students – just to name a few. All of these researchers are dedicated to investigating specific aspects of our changing climate. This vast amount of investment reflects a commitment to both mitigation and adaptation. The research aims to enable us to better understand practical measures we can take as citizens, governments, and businesses to bring climate change under control while there is still a window of opportunity.

Extension’s Climate Adaptation Coordinator

Melissa Ocana is the Climate Adaptation Coordinator for the University of Massachusetts Center for Agriculture, Food and the Environment (CAFE). She is passionate about building the capacity of practitioners and the networks of relationships that are needed if we are to have any hope of transforming quickly enough to respond to climate change impacts.  Her work includes coordinating the Massachusetts Ecosystem Climate Adaptation Network (Mass ECAN). This is a statewide community of climate adaptation practitioners and researchers interested in ecosystems and natural resources conservation. Mass ECAN members include local and state agencies, municipal decision-makers, conservation non-profits, private consultants, foresters, and natural resource and environmental managers.

Ocana, along with many partners, have developed accessible publications that break down effective ways to collaborate and protect people, places and ecosystems from climate-intensified risks and vulnerabilities. These resources include both compelling photographs of the problem as well as bulleted steps to address a multitude of issues. They include: Watershed Scale Climate Collaboration; Taking Cues from Nature to Adapt to Climate Change; Adaptation Actions for Resistance, Resilience, and Transformation, Promoting Peer to Peer Learning for Climate Adaptation

UMass Extension Tackling Climate Change

UMass Extension has introduced a new website that is serving as a clearinghouse for climate change information. This resource is a one-stop-shop for current information about myriad aspects of climate change, peer-reviewed research, current initiatives, and specific ways to prepare for and respond to climate change impacts.

Climate change mitigation and adaptation efforts are being led by UMass extension staff and faculty to benefit both people and the natural world. Examples of resources include:

  •     MassWoods, which includes resources that can help landowners and others manage and conserve their land in light of a changing climate;
  •     River Smart Communities, an outreach effort to help New England’s communities manage rivers and riverside landscapes so that people and communities can (1)   become more resilient to river floods , and (2) the environmental integrity of rivers is restored; and
  •     Mass Wildlife Climate Action Tool, a tool designed to inform and inspire local action to protect the Commonwealth’s natural resources in a changing climate.

Many other resources can be found here.

Lisa McKeag, UMass Vegetable Program, addresses the role of agriculture in climate change in the northeast in a recent UMass Vegetable Notes newsletter. As she says in the article, “Agriculture, broadly, has been recognized as both a driver of greenhouse gas emissions and as having the potential to help reduce greenhouse gases in the atmosphere through practices that, for instance, sequester carbon in the soil. Nationally, the agricultural sector accounts for 10% of all greenhouse gas emissions, primarily through soil and livestock management practices.  In the Northeastern U.S., the trend is toward increased and more intense precipitation, sea level rise, and warmer temperatures with a longer growing season and decreased winter snow and freezing.”  McKeag is one of many educators, researchers and others who are knee deep in climate change education for residents of Massachusetts and beyond.

New Series: Responding to Climate Change, UMass Amherst Meets the Moment

In the months ahead, we will share the specific work focused on climate issues by our extension faculty and staff in a new series on the CAFE website. The series will inform readers about how UMass Extension offers practical solutions to climate change, and adaptation strategies that readers can explore in the fields of environmental conservation, drought tolerance, invasive species, forests, coastlines, agriculture, energy, and flooding.

Climate Change Projections for Massachusetts
It’s clear that we must act now to incorporate mitigation and adaptation strategies if we hope to hand over a healthier planet to future generations. UMass Amherst and its committed professionals are helping to lead the way.

Melissa Ocana is the climate adaptation coordinator at the University of Massachusetts Extension and founder of the American Society of Adaptation Professionals (ASAP)-affiliated Network of Networks Group.