November 22, 2019

Select Committee on the Climate Crisis
U.S. House of Representatives
H2-359 Ford House Office Building
Washington, DC 20024

Dear Members of the Select Committee on the Climate Crisis:

The American Institute of Biological Sciences (AIBS) appreciates the opportunity to provide input to the Select Committee on the Climate Crisis. As described below, there is a need for increased federal investment in the biological sciences to improve our understanding of how living systems are being influenced by climate change, identify novel biotechnology and management practices that promote biological resilience to and mitigation of climate change, and develop innovative strategies for improving agricultural productivity while reducing the energy required to produce food and fiber.

The American Institute of Biological Sciences is a non-profit scientific society dedicated to increasing our understanding of all life. We work with our members and other partners to promote informed decision-making that advances the biological sciences for the benefit of science and society. Our more than 120 organizational members and individual members collectively represent more than 150,000 scientists.

Climate change is a global problem requiring international collaboration and interdisciplinary scientific research, development, and education. Disruptions to biological systems, such as farms and forests, coastal and inland fisheries, species extinctions and the spread of invasive and pathogenic species to new areas have real economic costs and threaten public health and security around the world. To reduce these risks, there is an urgent need for increased research into the biological and social responses to climate change - in the United States and globally. The federal government must lead and fully participate in international dialogues to develop, coordinate, and implement research and monitoring programs focused on increasing our understanding of the physical, biological, and social dimensions of climate change.

Significant new investments must be made in biological and ecological sciences research programs supported by the National Science Foundation, National Institutes of Health, U.S. Department of Agriculture, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, U.S. Geological Survey, Department of Energy Office of Science, Environmental Protection Agency Office of Research and Development, and the various research programs within the Department of Defense.

Climate change coupled with other significant environmental and land use changes is contributing to unprecedented species extinctions. There is an immediate need for increased research and monitoring campaigns that improve our understanding of biological diversity and its role in sustaining environmental conditions that support life on Earth. Some of these areas include:

  • What species are found in different ecosystems and how do they regulate key functions these systems perform, such as carbon capture, pollination and food production, nutrient cycling, or water quality regulation?
  • What genes from different species must be conserved because of their potential for innovation in agriculture or pharmaceuticals?
  • How do plant roots develop in response to variable water conditions?
  • How does climate change influence soil microbial diversity and how do microbes influence plant growth, carbon capture and nutrient cycling?
  • How does climate change influence the timing of plant flowering and the development and migratory patterns of pollinators?

Significant effort must be given to supporting the development of precision agriculture. As discussed in "Making Agriculture Part of the Climate Change Solution", a recent news article published in the AIBS journal BioScience, there is great need and opportunity for agricultural innovations that reduce agricultural energy requirements while increasing the resilience of important crops to climate variability. A copy of this article is attached and also available at https://doi.org/10.1093/biosci/biz097. Another report, "Can Modern Agriculture Be Sustainable", published in BioScience in 2017 (https://doi.org/10.1093/biosci/bix018) explores the promise of polyculture. There is a need to understand these agricultural systems and to implement policy that incentivizes practices that promote biodiversity conservation, ecosystem function, and agricultural productivity.

Ecosystem researchers have long drawn attention to the important roles that functioning ecosystems play in hazard mitigation. For example, barrier islands, marshes and mangrove forests help insulate coastal areas from severe storms. Our public policy should promote the conservation and restoration of ecosystems that mitigate risks from various natural hazards.

In October 2019, members of the Association of Ecosystem Research Centers provided a science briefing on "Coastal Ecosystems and People" for members of Congress. During this program, Mr. Peter Annin, Director of the Mary Griggs Burke Center for Freshwater Innovation at Northland College in Ashland, Wisconsin, discussed water level volatility in the Great Lakes Coastal Zone. Mr. Annin discussed how the region is experiencing more intense flooding conditions which have caused significant damage to regional infrastructure, such as culverts which are no longer capable of handing the volume of water associated with severe weather events. As Mr. Annin noted, following these extreme events, the Federal Emergency Management Agency requires that damaged infrastructure (e.g. culverts) be replaced with the same infrastructure that was damaged. These rules must be changed to allow for new infrastructure more capable of handling climate change related conditions being built.

Thank you for the opportunity to provide comments on these important matters. Please do not hesitate to contact me at (202) 628-1500 x 250 if AIBS can be of further assistance.

Sincerely,

Robert Gropp, Ph.D.
Executive Director

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