January 26, 2010

Climate change and mountain-top removal mining

Most of the publications or reports coming out with recommendations about climate change adaptation strategies for ecosystem management emphasize the need to reduce non-climate-related stresses (i.e. anthropogenic stresses such as habitat degradation or destruction, pollution, over-harvest, invasive introduction,etc). It makes perfect sense to think that ecosystems – just like our own bodies – will respond better to change when the overall stress level is low. Lara Hansen and her colleagues repeat this mantra in the latest guidance document to design climate-smart conservation ( Conservation Biology 24:63-69 ). They tell us to protect adequate and appropriate space, reduce non-climate stresses, adopt adaptive management and reduce the rate of climate change.

On January 8th, the magazine Science published an article by Palmer and colleagues that describes Mountaintop Mining Consequences . It is a concisely written, fact-laying description of the situation in the central Appalachians.One of highest biodiversity sites in North America,these mountains and their streams are being destroyed and mine-related toxic pollutants are affecting plants, animals as well as humans living in the area.More importantly, mitigation efforts have been recognized as ineffective.Despite the obvious failure of existing policy and its enforcement, mining permits continue to be issued despite well-published scientific evidence of irreversible deleterious impacts.

How can we talk about developing climate change strategies when we cannot even begin to address current threats to our environment and our people? How can we point the fingers at other countries when the United States continues to poison its landscape and its peoples? In the central Appalachians, climate refugia – such as deep valleys where regional warming will be less due to cold, pooling air – can be identified; corridors that allow species to move to more optimal conditions – a role the Appalachians played during past glaciations – can be delineated;forests that contribute strongly to local climatic conditions and are essentialfor the Atlantic Flyway should be protected; the most biologically diverse freshwater systems in North America (example here ) could be monitored to deliver important clues on shifts in species assemblages as the climate changes around these mountains; a whole suite of rare, endemic and threatened cave species from Appalachian karst geology also need protection (see“ NotableKarst Areas of the United States ”).

So our choice of place is obvious but how effective are we at reducing anthropogenic stresses such as mountain-top mining with valley fills? The impacts of future climate will be moot when the mountains exist no more.

About the author:
Dominique Bachelet, Ph.D.
Senior Climate Change Scientist, Team Lead- Global Change
Dominique is a Senior Climate Change Scientist at CBI. She works extensively with a variety of climate scenarios to explore climate change impacts.
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