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Suggested Citation:"4 Final Thoughts." National Research Council. 2010. Monitoring Climate Change Impacts: Metrics at the Intersection of the Human and Earth Systems. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/12965.
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4
Final Thoughts

Climate change is a complex and increasingly important environmental stressor, with implications for Earth and human systems. There are many observing systems currently available that capture elements of how climate is changing, for example, direct measurements of atmosphere and ocean temperature. The purpose of this report is to look beyond the existing observing approaches that focus primarily on physical attributes (even as these remain important) to provide more information about the human dimensions and impacts of climate change.

This report is not an exhaustive analysis of all the human-environment interactions that will be stressed by a changing climate, but instead it attempts to provide representative lists of metrics that appear likely to be affected by foreseeable disruptions over the next 20-25 years. The committee’s challenge was to sort through the many possible metrics and identify some subset within key sectors where observations over time could help project climate-related changes in the human-environment system and their impacts.

As the committee deliberated and examined potentially useful metrics, it became apparent that key indicators of environmental sustainability, in a climate change context, are found at the intersection of how the climate is changing and how those changes will affect the five domains of human vulnerability: food, water, energy, shelter, and health. It will be a challenge to advance the understanding and ability to observe and analyze these points of intersection. It is understood that the Earth is a complex system. As public policy in response to climate change evolves, it will be increasingly important to think with a systems perspective in order to understand the components and their interconnections.

The committee finds that observations of global-scale processes are especially valuable from an indicators perspective. They reflect both the impacts of climate change as well as the feedbacks and forcings that change the directions, scale, or timeframe of impacts. An emphasis on global-scale processes provides insights on linkages within the Earth system because these linkages extend from the cryosphere to the hydrosphere, from the atmosphere to the oceans, and include the land-surface and natural disasters.

Several metrics appear in multiple tables, such as sea level rise, seasonal snow cover, and air quality. In part, this is simply a result of the fundamental linkages across the components of the Earth system. Sea level rise is a function of oceanic, land ice, and hydrological processes, but it also acts as an “amplifier” for natural disasters such as tropical cyclones by increasing the risk of harm. For example, subsidence in the Gulf Coast increased the damage from Hurricane Katrina, which serves as an example of the intersection of Earth and human systems in the context of climate change. Thus the metrics of climate change presented in this report cross many disciplines.

Suggested Citation:"4 Final Thoughts." National Research Council. 2010. Monitoring Climate Change Impacts: Metrics at the Intersection of the Human and Earth Systems. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/12965.
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Identifying metrics of climate change that intersect with human systems is a difficult but important task. Clearly, there is a sense of urgency behind this task. The climate is changing simultaneously with an increase in the global human population, which in turn makes humans more vulnerable to environmental stresses and disasters. More than ever before, it is critical to think about metrics of climate change through an environmental sustainability lens, and identify those indicators that will provide human society sufficient time to act.

Suggested Citation:"4 Final Thoughts." National Research Council. 2010. Monitoring Climate Change Impacts: Metrics at the Intersection of the Human and Earth Systems. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/12965.
×
Page 77
Suggested Citation:"4 Final Thoughts." National Research Council. 2010. Monitoring Climate Change Impacts: Metrics at the Intersection of the Human and Earth Systems. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/12965.
×
Page 78
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The stresses associated with climate change are expected to be felt keenly as human population grows to a projected 9 billion by the middle of this century, increasing the demand for resources and supporting infrastructure. Therefore, information to assess vulnerabilities to climate change is needed to support policies and investments designed to increase resilience in human and Earth systems.

There are currently many observing systems that capture elements of how climate is changing, for example, direct measurements of atmospheric and ocean temperature. Although those measurements are essential for understanding the scale and nature of climate change, they do not necessarily provide information about the impacts of climate change on humans that are especially relevant for political and economic planning and decision making.

Monitoring Climate Change Impacts tackles the challenge of developing an illustrative suite of indicators, measurements (and the locations around the globe where the measurements can be applied), and metrics that are important for understanding global climate change and providing insight into environmental sustainability. Eight panels provided input on: cryosphere, land-surface and terrestrial ecosystems, hydrology and water resources, atmosphere, human health and other dimensions, oceans (both physical and biological/chemical), and natural disasters. The book also provides an illustrative set of metrics that are likely to be affected by climate change over the next 20-25 years and, when taken together, can potentially give advance warning of climate-related changes to the human and environment systems.

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