Climate Change

The University of Georgia has been more or less shut down this week by a snow/ice storm. That isn’t so out of place in February. However, anybody reading this will recognize that weather patterns have been more erratic, more extreme, more remarkable, in recent years. Some areas have drought. Some areas have flooding. Some areas are colder than usual; the Arctic is 20° warmer than usual for this time of year. This is climate change - many observations about the weather, each one of them insignificant, but overall adding up to a horrifying understanding that we humans are experiencing a change of this planet with no historical precedent, and it is - here is where people tend to start disagreeing - our fault.

The same sort of issue comes up when discussing evolution. Scientists like the ones in my lab, my department, my university have identified millions of individual facts about genetic and taxonomic and trait diversity on our planet, in the species we know and love, and individually these facts mean next to nothing. Who cares if the nucleotide diversity of crayfish in Town Spring, Athens, Georgia, is 0.0? Who cares if it is nearly 1% in yellowfin shiners in Hunnicutt Creek? But if you compile all of these facts, they support evolutionary theory as the most straightforward way to describe diversity and its distribution on our planet.

This is why our current hire at UGA, in the Department of Genetics and the Odum School of Ecology, is going to be a scientist who focuses on the interplay of these two disciplines. How do organisms, how
will organisms, respond as the environment changes more rapidly than it has in the past? What predictions can we make that will influence policy, and perhaps give people the opportunity to focus on more sustainable approaches to work and life? These are big questions, but engaging ones.