The discussion on climate change within mainstream media is polarized. One side believes it’s the result of natural forces, the other says rising greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions caused by human factors are to blame. Does it really matter which side of the debate you’re on? The fact is weather events become more extreme each year and climate is changing.
Here in British Columbia, we’ve seen our share of climate change events impact our natural resources and environment. We’ve witnessed the devastation of our forests by invasive pests who thrive in warmer temperatures. Seasonal droughts have heightened the vulnerability of irrigation water supplies putting agriculture at risk, which could have significant consequences for food production and farmers. Rising water temperatures have compromised the diet for salmon, while decreased river flows have impacted their migration and spawning.
Scientists around the world have been calling for governments and industries to adopt evidence-based policies and take action to address climate change before it’s too late. Positive steps forward like the Paris Agreement are a good start, but is this enough? The leading minds on climate change tell us that we can expect the planet to continue experiencing climate change for decades. Is this our new reality or could genomics offer hope?
Survival will be found in our ability to adapt to an evolving climate, while finding ways to help slow the rapid progression of change. Locked away inside the cells of every living organism is the key to survival—the genome. We already know that some species are slow to adapt while others are more resilient. Genomics could unlock the answers we need and offer techniques to mitigate and adapt to the changes in climate. Genomics can help us understand, adapt and mitigate the effects of climate change.
Public and private decision makers will need evidence-based information to make informed decisions on both policy and long term investments that contribute, not only to the preservation of environment, but to the maintenance and protection of natural resources that fuel the goods and services we rely upon.
As a diagnostic tool we can use genomics to understand the specific genetic traits of living organisms to determine why certain animal or plant species can already survive the effects of change. We can also answer questions like how species adapt, survive, interact and thrive in various climate conditions. Moving beyond diagnostics, genomics can offer us ways to mitigate climate change before it happens. For example, genomics could be used to identify bacteria for use in the conversion of cellulosic biomass into biofuels, or lead to the discovery of new enzymes to produce less carbon-intensive fuels.
People, industries, and environment are already benefiting from BC’s global leadership in research and the application of genomic technologies to mitigate and adapt to climate change. Agriculture and forestry are directly affected by the ‘new normals’ we are experiencing in seasonal weather patterns. With genomics, we can rapidly determine which plants and trees will be better able to adapt to new environmental conditions. Genomic tools are not only helping prevent invasive pests from destroying economically-important forests, they are informing reforestation strategies by helping to predict tree populations at high risk from climate change.
While much progress has been made in genomic research, there is still urgent and important work to do. Genome BC is an organization committed to innovative research, entrepreneurship and commercialization to address societal challenges through life sciences. Equally important is our commitment to dialogue. Genomics is still a new science to people. Inclusive and transparent dialogue is needed to remove barriers and achieve general understanding of genomics as a viable part of the solution. Various stakeholders and the public need to be engaged in innovative projects from the start so their views and concerns can influence the science that is needed.
Genome BC’s commitment to dialogue was recently demonstrated through two comprehensive workshops aimed at uncovering ways genomics could be used to fight climate change. The first workshop with academics focused on success stories where BC scientists have used genomics to understand, mitigate and adapt to climate change. The second workshop was with industry users, policy makers and government to discuss how they can help advance the use and implementation of genomics to address climate change issues in BC.
Climate change affects us all. We’ll need science based evidence to make these decisions and take the actions required to preserve and maintain the natural resources we rely upon. We’ll do our part by continuing to help industry leaders and the public better understand the potential of genomics as an effective and affordable tool in adapting and mitigating climate change. Genome BC regularly hosts opportunities for the public to engage with leading researchers as part of our Bringing Genomics Home series. We encourage you to get involved in thought provoking discussions like the one we hosted last week about genomics and climate change at the SFU Segal Centre. The way forward is not without a unique set of challenges, but it is critical that we are all active participants in building a better future.
 Preparing for Climate Change: British Columbia’s Adaptation Strategy, 2010
 Climate Action Initiative, BC Agriculture and Food
 DFO: 2016 Environmental Conditions for Salmon