Climate change due to anthropogenic causes is an urgent and accelerating challenge facing our world, with adverse consequences for the most vulnerable among us. Climate resilience depends on our ability to mitigate the magnitude of climate change – by removing more carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and emitting less – and adapt to its inevitability. The land that sustains us all today is threatened by a warming, less stable climate, and yet natural lands are remarkably resilient and provide some of the most effective mitigation and adaptation solutions. For these reasons, Highstead is firmly committed to land conservation as a natural climate solution and its values to both nature and society.
David Foster, Highstead Board member
Better mitigation reduces our need for adaptation. Protecting land and stewarding it responsibly enables us to do both.
Human impact & adaptation
As temperatures rise and weather fluctuations become more extreme, the risks to our health and overall security increase greatly. Flooding, wildfires, and droughts affect our basic survival needs, threatening the essentials to life like available food supply, clean air, safe drinking water, and livable environments. At highest risk are communities in locations most susceptible to these extremes, especially populations who already face disproportionate health vulnerabilities, such as poorer communities, some communities of color, and older populations. Conserved land helps to lessen these threats and improve climate resilience to adapt to new realities.
Land supports us and helps us to adapt to changing climate conditions. When you conserve land, you also protect:
- Watersheds that supply clean drinking water
- The air we breathe from harmful pollutants
- Local farms that produce healthy food
- Trees that provide cooling shade to offset rising temperatures
- Places for physical exercise and mental relief
- Native wildlife habitats and biodiversity
A natural climate solution
Natural land offers a double benefit for the climate, helping to both absorb greenhouse gases and prevent further emissions that would otherwise come from its development or conversion to a less carbon-rich vegetation type. Land ecosystems (forests, wetlands, and natural grasslands) are the most effective natural solution available for the uptake (“sequestration”) and storage of carbon from the atmosphere, whereas man-made carbon capture technologies are still in their infancy. (Natural climate solutions for the United States, Joseph E. Fargione et al., Science Advances 14 Nov 2018: Vol. 4, no. 11)
Further, the way land is used when it is developed or managed can significantly affect greenhouse gas emissions. Agriculture, forestry, manufacturing, and the energy and transportation required to support them, can have negative impacts on the climate if not carefully considered and planned.
There are four critical ways land conservation addresses climate change:
- Protecting existing forests from conversion to developed or open land helps to prevent increasing land-based carbon emissions, and sequester more carbon than these alternative land uses.
- Sustainably managing forests – where the growth of the forest is greater than what is removed by harvest – yield long-lived wood products that can displace carbon-intensive building materials (i.e., steel and concrete).
- Allowing some forest areas to grow indefinitely into old age, protected from timber harvesting, development, and human intervention maintains the long-term accumulated carbon stored in the trees and soil, supports natural biodiversity and provides innumerable other benefits to society.
- Allowing some land that is currently open, but previously forested, to naturally grow back into forest by not mowing. The resulting woody vegetation accumulates much more carbon than the existing grassy vegetation and provides important young forest habitat.
We can apply these powerful yet simple principles not only to our individual backyards but across entire landscapes. No one is immune to our changing climate which is why we must focus on climate resilience, working across disciplines to mitigate its causes and adapt to its effects.