Some say that trying to reverse climate change is like trying to turn around an ocean tanker. And it's true -- the carbon pollution we emit today will have an impact on our climate system for years to come. Or, as one climatologist put it, we can't just "hit the stop button" and expect nothing more to change. Tomorrow, if we stopped emitting carbon pollution entirely, we'd still expect our planet to warm significantly.
That's why it's important that we address climate change in two complementary ways:
- Prepare for the changes that we know are in store (because of the carbon pollution we've already emitted); and
- Reduce carbon pollution from now on (to prevent things from getting even worse in the future).
Experts in the field call these two main responses to climate change "adaptation," and "mitigation," respectively.
Many of our strategies for dealing with climate change can be neatly classified under one of these two labels. Riding a bike and investing in renewable energy projects, for instance, are good examples of mitigation actions, since they curtail carbon emissions. Building a higher sea wall for protection from rising seas would count as an adaptation action.
But not all strategies are as easy to categorize. Some blur the line between adaptation and mitigation by achieving reductions in carbon pollution and building our resiliency to the effects of climate change. Green (or vegetated) roofs are a case in point.
Green roofs work in two ways to reduce carbon pollution. First, because they're made from plants, green roofs take carbon directly from the air. Additionally, they serve as a layer of insulation on top of buildings and thereby reduce the amount of energy (and associated carbon pollution) needed to heat and cool indoor spaces.
But that's not all! Because green roofs don't absorb as much heat as ordinary black roofs, they help keep cities cool. Plus, they soak up rainwater and prevent sewer systems from being overwhelmed . As heat waves and intense rain events become more common with climate change, green roofs could help us adapt.
In its recently released Climate Change Adaptation Report the state of Massachusetts announced it's ready to embrace strategies like green roofs that both reduce carbon pollution and reduce vulnerability to climate change's impacts. The state names integrating mitigation and adaptation measures as a "principal strategy" for addressing climate change.
Keeping large blocks of forest intact through conservation efforts "is one such strategy," the report highlights, "that would minimize stressors, and provide ecosystem resilience, while also serving as a carbon sink." Protecting wetlands, which are excellent natural storm buffers and can be a large source of greenhouse gases if drained, is another.
Can you think of other strategies or technologies that both minimize carbon pollution and reduce our vulnerabilities to climate change's impacts? If so, list them below!
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