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The Ethics of Adapting to Climate Change

 
pollinator
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Location: Toronto, Ontario
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Greetings fellow Permies!

I wanted to get some other perspectives on adapting the environment to climate change.

As a background, I was having a conversation with a forester friend of mine regarding natural succession in the boreal forest. This was after the Fort MacMurray fire, and we were going over how, as food plants such as raspberries, blackberries, and blueberries were among the first on the scene after disturbance (in Northern Ontario, anyways), which migrating birds will eat, and then defecate further along their route, migratory birds were a vehicle of climate adaptation, and that we may see species spread due to this.

This led into a conversation later where I was positing to a resident of Northern Ontario (in the New Liskeard area) a number of scenarios in which I as a private landowner would transform the barren Boreal desert into the lush diversity more reminiscent of the boreal/temperate hardwood transitional zones further south.

She was horrified that I could possibly think that it was a good idea to replace the boreal with anything else, in light of the fact that so much was changing already, and why did feel the need to push it further? Where would all the moose live?

When I brought up that the forester friend (family of hers) mentioned that the genetics they source for the replanting of trees were coming from hundreds of kilometers south because they didn't think that native genetics would be able to survive and adapt to changing conditions, there was an acceptance, but clearly an entrenched aversion to change.

I get it. I drive past the old family cottage we got rid of nearly twenty years ago, and the way they changed the property, and the changes to the area sometimes get me down, but they're due, for the most part, to the growth of the area and its residents.

Is there an ethical issue here? How do we adapt things without alienating those for whom changing these ecosystems, potentially doomed though they be, is contrary to their views of conservation? Am I wrong to think that we should be helping nature to adapt, as forestry professionals are already doing by sourcing warmer-climate genetics of the same species for planting projects into the future?

-CK
 
pollinator
Posts: 149
Location: Missouri Ozarks
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The concept of "assisted Migration" seems to be slowly catching on, personally I'm all for it, taking climate change into consideration is very sensible for both cultivated and wild species plantings, particularly for long-term perennial/tree plantings. I just make sure not to take it too far, I experiment with plants from further south, some make it and some don't, some make it for the first few years and then a colder winter comes along and damages/kills them, so it's good not to put all our eggs in one basket. While I'm convinced climate change is real and happening, there's still plenty of uncertainty regarding how exactly the climate in any of our particular locations will change, and how fast.

Rabbiteye blueberries have turned out to be the best variety for me, some going through six winters (one down to -6 degrees F) with no problems and liking our growing season weather better than the northern types that are most commonly planted around here. I planted my first yaupon holly last year, it made it through the winter fine so I planted more, but it's still to be seen how they handle a colder winter.

A few times when traveling northward, I've collected a bunch of seed from various wild plants that were at the right stage and just scattered them in what has a chance of being suitable habitats. I don't know if any actually took, it's a rough road from seed to mature plant in any wild setting.

As far as wild species go, given how fragmented the habitat has become I really think it's now our responsibilty to help species move to habitats that will work for them in the future, especially species that can't move as fast on their own such as plants with larger seeds. Plants spread by birds will probably be able to find their own way just fine. Here's the website of an organization dedicated to assisted migration.

Torreya Guardians

 
pollinator
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Location: Gulf Islands, Canada
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I think a lot of people have this mental model about ecosystems like they've been a "pure" and unchanged thing for XYZ-ity years and any deviation from that is only because of human interference, which is always bad. I've heard a lot of people make some pretty wild and unsubstantiated claims about why "native" plants should always be preferred to "non-native" ones, e.g. that native plants are always non-aggressive and that native pollinators universally prefer them. But it seems that what's defined as "native" to a certain area is what was in a given place when the white people showed up and started writing down what plants grew where, which discounts a whole lot of plant cultivation done by people, not to mention migratory animals.

I see a similar contradiction with desert conservation. Many of the deserts we have around the world today exist because of human mismanagement, as far back as prehistory and up until the modern day. But for the deserts that were made a longer time ago, like the Sahara, many people who care about conservation consider their "natural state" to be desert. Their idea of conservation is to continue to keep it as a desert, because the species that now exist in those unique desert niches wouldn't survive if it were greened back into a forest/swamp/grassland. If civilization is still kicking in another 2k years, there could be a conservation effort that aims to protect the unique desert species of what is currently Beijing.

Locally I'm seeing the same debate right now over an artificial dam that the government wants to have decommissioned. The pond created by the dam has created a lot of habitat for plants and animals, some of which are endangered species. But the creation of the dam also destroyed habitat of other plants and animals. The government has promised to restore the ecosystem that was there prior to the construction of the dam, but a lot of people have questioned whether it's actually possible to "turn back the clock" and restore an ecosystem that's been destroyed. You could create a similar ecosystem, but it's never going to be the same as if the dam was never built at all.

In the very long run I don't think "conservation" is possible. Even if you can somehow figure out which moment in time is the one that "should" be preserved in amber, it seems like it would be impossible to maintain over the long term because ecosystems are always evolving and changing. I think we should be more focused on having robust and diverse ecosystems. A lot of "threats to conservation" are also threats to ecosystem health, for e.g. pollution, topsoil loss, habitat loss and introduction of aggressive plant/animal species that dominate and choke out the existing species. Because of that I think the efforts of conservationists are generally really well-directed and positive. OTOH I'm still not going to let the oregon grape take over my yard and I don't feel super guilty about letting calendula naturalize back there, because the calendula plays nice and the oregon grape doesn't.
 
Posts: 80
Location: Haida Gwaii, British Columbia (7b)
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I like the concept of “assisted migration”. It makes sense, and I think if it’s managed properly, it could help to maintain the “natural” environment in many places.

I think in many cases, the landscape has already been drastically altered by humans, and people just aren’t aware. The whole “the plants that were here by this year” line-in-the-sand native designation feeds into this notion.

I’ve been very enthusiastic about learning the history of plants and animals on the island I currently live on, as it was substantially managed and unchanged by humans for hundreds of thousands of years. It’s an incredibly unique ecosystem which resulted in unique variations and subspecies of many plants and animals. In the past couple hundred years, humans introduced a variety of new animals for various reasons; mule deer, raccoons, squirrels and beavers and of course, rats.

The mule deer replaced 2 other species of deer (dawson caribou, and red deer which were hunted to extinction by colonizers), and have put so much pressure on the island’s ecosystems, since they have no natural predators. They’ve been keeping the young trees from maturing in many parts of the island, essentially creating hemlock/spruce deserts, where the undergrowth is nonexistent under 150+ year old trees.

Early colonizers assumed they could just replace the caribou and red deer with a similar counterpart, but now the deer are out of control.

Another notable mistake is how the forestry industry has been replanting logged forest lands with only high-value timber, going so far as to spray glyphosate to repress deciduous trees, effectively causing a funky monoculture which can be eaten by the pine beetles which are now surviving winters due to climate change, leaving the dry dead forests susceptible to the growing threat of massive forest fires - Aaaaahhh!!! 🙀

Alright, I got carried away, but the moral of the story is that as long as the assisted migration is well managed and ethical (as yours is), I’m OK with it, but there are cases where human intervention and unintended side-effects can make things much worse (see rats, parasitic holly). On that note, I think most people on permies have better intentions and more sense  than a capitalist forestry lobby, and colonists.
 
pollinator
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But are they planting for warmer or colder weather? If they decide it will get warmer and the solar minimum is dominant then it will all die. and vice versa. Historically the world manages just fine with changes in climate and I'm 100% sure it will manage just fine this time too. One could even say that mass extinction events are necessary to open up niches for new species to develop. Is it not possible that by moving a species from one area to another where it can thrive one deprives a potential new species from developing?
 
pollinator
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Skandi Rogers wrote: Is it not possible that by moving a species from one area to another where it can thrive one deprives a potential new species from developing?



Unlikely, in my opinion, unless we're talking about wiping out all the extant vegetation and replacing it with the new.  Adding a number of differently-adapted species from warmer and/or colder regions is unlikely to dramatically affect the local flora and fauna.  Critters will adapt to the new plants while the existing plants either adapt to or die from changing conditions.

In our permaculture endeavors it may be wise to do what my husband refers to as "bracketing" - planting for changes to warmer and colder by planting from zones just to the south and just to the north of us.  The changing climate will likely subject most areas to extremes of all kinds, not simply warmer temperatures.
 
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And as to "climate change"... there is no "normal" in nature. There is only what is.
 
Chris Kott
pollinator
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Greg Mamishian wrote:And as to "climate change"... there is no "normal" in nature. There is only what is.



We're in a cabin at the foot of a mountain. Every year for thousands of years, rocks, pebbles, and sand have fallen down the side of the mountain, building a scree slope that slowly solidifies as it settles.

Suddenly, people start to remove material from the base of the mountain because they need it to build their walls.

Now every year, many tonnes of rock slide down the slope, surrounding the house and burying the land it's on in scree.

Is everything normal?

The only normal thing about the way in which the climate is changing is that we haven't invented the feedback loops and systems that keep things "normal" here on Earth, that moderate extremes and mitigate disaster. We're just feeding them more, and by all indications, past tolerance for conditions suitable for human life.

But that's very much not the question I originally posed. As the climate is changing in a way much more rapid and pronounced than has been previously seen or recorded, and as species find increased difficulty to adapt to rapidly changing conditions, should we be considering active selection of plant and animal species, breeds, or strains, already adapted to extremes in heat/cold/aridity? I am not a native plant fanatic, in the unreasoning, spray-every-non-native-with-glyphosate manner of some Monsanto-funded organisations, but how does that square with native ecosystems? I mean, I would ideally seek out similar or identical species from their southern range, so we're not talking necessarily about exclusively invasive foreign species. Hell, I'd get genetics from further north, too, just to ensure that if genes from the northern ones increased survivability in colder circumstances (late and early frosts and ice storms, mostly).

Anyone familiar with my general opinion on these matters probably knows where I stand on this, but where does that leave current native plant enthusiasts? Would they a barely populated native biome, or an artificial one made up of healthy, climate-adjusted foreigners? Oh, and keep in mind that the latter will likely produce food better and more reliably than the former.

-CK
 
pollinator
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Location: Thunder Bay, Ontario, Canada
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It occurred to me that this is a conversation that needs to be prefixed first with a discussion about zones (permaculture zones not hardiness zones). Your friend is thinking about the activity you propose being conducted in zone 5 which is in large part supposed to be untouched and unmanaged.

It's an opportunity to introduce to them the concept of zones and that they inherently exist. Forestry is a human activity that goes on in zone 5 and the impact varies by region. For example in NorthWest Ontario they spray glysophate from aircraft in a bid to kill off everything but the pine trees they want to eventually cut down. It kills the berries bushes and seed producing broad leaf plants that the entire food chain relies on. Around here, the concept of the boreal forest is nothing like what a true boreal forest should be if left to its own devices because a lot of the diversity is just not there.
 
Tyler Ludens
pollinator
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Nick Kitchener wrote: Forestry is a human activity that goes on in zone 5 and the impact varies by region.



In Mollisonian Permaculture, Zone 5 is not used for any human activity besides enjoyment and some light foraging.

"Zone 5 We characterise this zone as the natural, unmanaged environment used for occasional foraging, recreation, or just let be. This is where we learn the rules that we try to apply elsewhere."  (emphasis mine)

Page 50, Permaculture a Designers Manual, Bill Mollison

Forestry is conducted in Zone 4.
 
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Location: NNSW Australia
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I think native plant enthusiasts will change their tune when industrial agriculture starts to trip up occasionally from intense weather and a changed climate.
The area of arable land will decrease and much land will be reverted from agricultural to abandonment as a form of carbon sequestration.

If the price of any staple soars and people are actually suffering economically or going hungry, then replacing a senescent native with a food tree or community garden suddenly doesn't seem so bad.
Same principle applies when endemic native plants go belly up, but a more widely-sourced generalist native garden survives and is the last bastion for wildlife under environmental pressures.


Some ecologists recognise that the global heatmap and wildlife migration routes have changed and that some plants that used to be considered international weeds and ornamental escapees are now a logical plant, naturally seeded by bird-migration, in new environments due to the changed conditions.

Native nurseries in Australia are keenly aware of the need for heat and drought tolerant natives to be grown outside their traditional ranges.
Even some local govt councils are future-proofing much of their tree planting by picking species for a changed and increasingly unstable climate.
gift
 
Diego Footer on Permaculture Based Homesteads - from the Eat Your Dirt Summit
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