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How Restoration Can or Cannot Control the Effects of Climate Change

Things are heating up--literally.

Climate change, or the gradually increasing temperature on earth's surface and oceans, is a fact observed and agreed upon by most scientists worldwide. Less clear is whether humans are part of the cause.

Many organizations, including the United States Environmental Protection Agency, NASA, and the Tyndall Centre for Climate Change believe that global warming has been accelerating in recent years due to human activity.

Another theory, advocated by high profile figures like the United Kingdom's Environmental Secretary Owen Paterson, suggest that climate change is merely due to natural weather fluctuation. Others believe that an increased supply of CO2 is necessary to feed plants and restore global equilibrium.

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Though scientific opinion is far from unanimous, climate change continues throughout the world.

Whether through man-made or natural causes, the destruction of ecosystems releases more carbon into the air, which some groups identify as a contributing factor to climate change. Luckily, efforts to both stop destroying natural habitats and restore affected habitats have had positive effects.

For example, one method of restoration involves moving plants from southern climates to northern climates. As the native plants in the northern climates migrate or die as a result of the higher temperatures, the new plants can maintain the the ecosystem.

Another restoration technique is to safeguard existing biodiversity. Since destroying plants releases more carbon into the air, protecting them diminishes the amount of greenhouse gases released. Additionally, plants store carbon permanently in the ground.

Unfortunately, as the climate changes, native plant species are forced to migrate or face extinction. Thus, protecting existing habitats can only help to a certain extent. While it helps to prevent further climate change, if the climate change is not slowed down enough the plants will suffer and eventually die.

As the plants disappear, so do the animals which depend on them to live. Gradually, the entire ecosystem crumbles. More active methods of restoration -- such as intentionally reintroducing native and warmer-climate plants to an ecosystem -- are most effective.

To strengthen ecosystems at risk for extinction, residents can plant more native trees and reduce the introduction of invasive species. Adding more plants will help to reduce the amount of carbon present. Preventing invasive species allows the ecosystem to continue to function effectively.

Though restoring ecosystems can be an effective method of combating climate change, it is not an easy process. Many factors affect the feasibility of restoration. Not only must the science of the project be considered -- such as how an ecosystem functions, relationships between species, and the amount of time restoration will require -- but public opinion as well. Each community has to weigh the economic and environmental costs against the potential outcomes.

Additionally, restoration is not guaranteed to work. Each ecosystem must be evaluated on a case-by-case basis, which costs time and money and requires expert analysis. Some communities opt for abandonment, in which an ecosystem is left alone to recover naturally.

Restoration could be a viable solution to controlling the effects of climate change if the scientific community deems it necessary. Ultimately, humans are left to weigh the costs and benefits of intervening with nature.   k

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