Lund, David C. 2000. "Regional Abrupt Climate Change Assessment in the U.S.: Comparing the Colorado and Columbia River Basins." Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs (BCSIA) Discussion Paper 2000-18. Cambridge, MA: Environment and Natural Resources Program, Kennedy School of Government, Harvard University.
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Paleoclimatic evidence and historical experience indicate the earth’s climate system is capable of switching rapidly from one quasi-stable state to another. Current global assessments of anthropogenic climate change, however, do not fully account for such abrupt shifts, and instead generally assume the earth’s climate will gradually warm over the next several centuries. Integrated assessments of abrupt climate change exist, but on a regional level. Here I examine two examples where knowledge of abrupt climate change is applied to the management of natural resources, including water in the Colorado Basin and salmon in the Columbia Basin. The effectiveness of the Severe-Sustained Drought study (SSD), an assessment of the socioeconomic impacts of long-term term drought in the Colorado Basin, is analyzed in the context of three inter-related characteristics – saliency, legitimacy, and credibility. Based on semi-structured, open-ended interviews with assessment participants and regional stakeholders, the SSD clarified positions of competing water interests and expanded awareness of potential drought impacts, but did not modify Colorado River water management or policies. Design characteristics had limited influence on assessment effectiveness (or lack of); the timing of publication and political and legal factors constraining alternative policy options for water distribution were more influential determinants. Absent a crisis, there appear to be few incentives for water managers to implement SSD policy recommendations. In the Columbia River Basin, the crisis of declining salmon stocks appears to motivate the consideration of alternative policies which recognize the role of decadal shifts in oceanic productivity. Although actual management strategies remain unchanged, the framing of the debate over salmon restoration has shifted from one focused solely on freshwater habitat to one that more fully recognizes the oceanic influence on salmon mortality.
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