Q & A With The Nature Conservancy

Solutions like these greatly help protect forests, biodiversity and also help mitigate climate change.

1. What ways can an individual help decrease the carbon footprint besides recycling?

Answered by Jon Fisher, Senior Conservation Scientist. Jon is currently focused on sustainable agriculture research and other sustainability challenges.

The good news is that there are a lot of things you can do—from everyday choices you make to bigger investments. The most important thing you can do to reduce your carbon footprint is to fly as little as possible. Beyond flying as little as possible, food is the likely next best target for the typical American, specifically reducing beef consumption and seeking to eliminate food waste. Consider planning your meals and only buying groceries you will use before they go bad; this will really help to shrink your water footprint as well.

There are many more things you can do, but a few others that are in the sweet spot of high impact but low cost/effort are: insulating your home (even caulking around windows makes a big difference), telecommute when possible, and turn off power hogs like your wifi/router and stereo when you’re not home. (I use an infrared remote that turns off outlets and leave it by the front door.) Walking, biking, public transportation and carpooling are also good transportation alternatives.

If you’re able to make a bigger investment, consider a low-emissions vehicle. There is an increasing number of hybrids, hybrid-electric and electric models available, and the federal government and many states offer tax incentives. Or invest in solar panels, geothermal energy and/or opting for renewable energy electricity delivery. Choosing renewables at home and beyond not only lowers your individual carbon footprint, but also strengthens the renewable industry overall, lowering costs and encouraging broader involvement.

2. Have you seen any evidence of plants or animals beginning to evolve to cope with the change in climate? The individual who ask this question worried that they will become extinct rather than change.

Answered by Nick Wolff, Climate Scientist. Nick focuses on finding solutions to the major environmental and social challenges our changing climate poses.

We share your concern. Unfortunately, current rates of extinction, due to climate change, habitat loss and other human activities, are estimated to be tens to hundreds of times higher than natural background rates.

When healthy, most animal and plant populations have the genetic diversity to help them adapt to environmental variability and change. But present-day climate change is changing the environment at unprecedented speed. The rate (amount per year) of carbon emissions are the highest they have been in 66 million years, and consequently the rates of ocean acidification and warming are also higher than they have been in millions of years. Obviously, adjusting to this rapid change is, and will continue to be, extremely challenging for the planet’s animals and plants (and for us humans too).

Nature is resilient, though, and we do see some species adapting to climate change. Some recent examples include tawny owls from Finland becoming browner to better blend into environments with less snow, salmon migrating to streams earlier to avoid warmer water and lower flow, and ocean fish becoming smaller in response to metabolic demands of warmer water and less oxygen (warm water holds less oxygen than cold water).

It’s critical that we help slow the rate of extinctions by curbing our emissions and by protecting habitats so species have healthy enough populations to adapt.

3. Is deforestation no longer a threat to our world's forests? What is driving deforestation today and what is being done to control it?

Answered by Trisha Gopalakrishna, Geospatial Analyst. Trisha focuses on forest ecosystems and other climate change mitigation strategies.

Deforestation continues to be a one of the biggest threats that forests face today. There are a variety of drivers of deforestation that vary from place to place.

For example, in Indonesia, the main driver of large-scale deforestation is the conversion of rich tropical forests to single-species (monoculture) plantations such as oil palm. Oil palm is an ingredient in almost everything you buy—from chips to chocolates to shampoos. As the ever-increasing demand for oil palm grows, it’s also affecting the forests in the Congo basin, as countries like Gabon are beginning to get into this market.

Fortunately, we’re building momentum with more and more countries and big companies to commit to policies like zero deforestation supply chains to keep deforestation in check. The Conservancy is working around the world with country governments and companies to advance policies like the Forest Carbon Partnership Facility within REDD+—Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation +. REDD+ provides developing countries with financial incentives for sustainable forest management and reducing the conversion amount of forest land to other uses like plantations, mining and agriculture.

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