by Mechas Zambrano
A week of unusually warm weather for November in Boston, MA, and an online presentation on the perils of climate change have triggered my inner alarm in anticipation of troubles to come. We are well within the epoch recognized by some as the "Anthropocene," in which humans have become the major force behind global change. Global warming itself may not be new, but the imminent threat to life on our planet is, especially if we fail to meet the goal of no more than a 1.5°C rise in temperature above pre-industrial levels in the coming decades. Besides the menace of extreme weather conditions, such as wildfires, droughts, and floods, rising temperatures will also cause loss of biodiversity. All together these changes will lead to increased ecosystem vulnerability that may tip the balance towards irreversible adverse impacts on health and sustainability.
The serious risks resulting from increasing global temperatures, as reported by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, require urgent actions on the part of policymakers. Which is why world leaders once again met this month to discuss climate change at COP 27.
But other than mulling over what seems an inevitable outcome of our success as a species, and despairing about the slow pace of change despite the urgency, what can we do, especially as microbiologists? In line with these concerns, and given the central role of microorganisms in climate change, the American Academy of Microbiology organized a colloquium with experts who made recommendations for academics, society, and policymakers "to promote innovation for microbe-driven climate change solutions that support human well-being." The full report is online, but below are some ideas:
Research should aim to understand microbial alterations due to global climate change, follow experimental designs that promote comparisons, incorporate data into models, and outline criteria to evaluate innovations and societal impacts. Scientists should communicate their work and address potential microbial risks, while policymakers can increase financing and surveillance of potential microbial risks, enhance collaboration, and incentivize innovations based on microbial processes.
It is therefore reassuring that much can still be done. We can work with microbes and, more importantly, engage in both individual and collective actions (much like microbes themselves) to learn, adapt and implement strategies to mitigate the adverse effects of climate change. I invite you all to become more involved, in small- or large-scale initiatives, and take part in this truly global challenge.
Mechas (María Mercedes) Zambrano is a microbiologist and the Scientific Director of Corpogen Institute in Bogotá, Colombia.