To mitigate climate change at local, regional, and global scales, we must begin to think beyond greenhouse gases.
By focusing only on greenhouse gases and warming, we diminish our ability to respond to the diversity of human influences on climate and to the effects of natural variability and long-term change. In a 2005 article on NASA’s Earth Observatory website, Gordon Bonan of the National Center for Atmospheric Research framed the issue in no uncertain terms: “Nobody experiences the effect of a half a degree increase in global mean temperature…. Land cover change is as big an influence on regional and local climate and weather as doubled atmospheric carbon dioxide—perhaps even bigger.”3
In this article we argue that the impacts of modification and management of the land and other human effects on climate merit the same level of research and policy attention given to greenhouse gas effects. The inherent complexity of accounting for all those factors will require redefining the way we think about the risks of climate change.