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Agriculture Arctic climate change

Published on April 5th, 2017 | by Steve Hanley

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“Reasonable To Suggest That Most Species On Earth Have Been Impacted By Climate Change” — Researcher

April 5th, 2017 by  


Three recent studies provide a chilling insight into the impact global warming is already having on multiple species around the world. Global warming is “only” equivalent to about 1° Celsius but could go as high as 5° Celsius in the foreseeable future. Seeing the changes that 1° have already produced, one researcher says his assessment of the future has gone from catastrophic to apocalyptic.

The First Study

Arctic climate change

“It is reasonable to suggest that most species on Earth have been impacted by climate change in some way or another,” says Bret Scheffers of the University of Florida. “Some species are negatively impacted and some species positively impacted.” He is the lead author of a study published by Science late last year. His research shows that global warming has already had a discernible impact on 77 of 94 different ecological processes, including genetics, seasonal responses, overall distribution, and even morphology — the physical traits including body size and shape.

Woodland salamanders are shrinking in the Appalachian Mountains. The the long-billed red knot that lives in the Arctic is producing smaller young with less impressive bills, which may lead to survival difficulties. Marmot and martens in the Americas are getting bigger because longer growing seasons are producing more food. Alpine chipmunks in Yellowstone National Park have actually seen the shape of their skulls change due to stress created by changes in their environment.

Genetic changes are also being documented. Pink salmon are evolving for earlier migrations because of changing ocean temperatures. Other salmon species are not adapting, however. The southern flying squirrel has begun hybridizing with the genetics of the northern flying squirrel as it moves northward. The water flea has seen its genetics change over just a few decades in response to higher water temperatures. Genetic changes don’t necessarily mean increased survivability. Scheffers says, “It is important to not confuse species responses and adaptation as an indicator that everything will be okay.”

The Second Study

Another study published in Nature Climate Change this February found 47% of land mammals and 23% of birds have already suffered negative impacts as the result of climate change. In all, nearly 700 species in those two groups are burdened by climate change, the study says. “There has been a massive under-reporting of these impacts,” co-author James Watson of the University of Queensland points out. He says even The Red List, compiled by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature, only considers 7% of mammals and 4% of birds to be threatened by climate change and severe weather. He adds that many species wait decades for an update while most species on Earth have never been evaluated.

The Third Study

A third study published by the Public Library of Science in its Biology section a year ago, found that more than 450 plants and animals have undergone local extinctions due to climate change. Local extinction, as its name implies, doesn’t mean the species are gone for good, only that they have vanish from a portion of their usual habitat. “If global warming continues, species that cannot change or move quickly enough may go globally extinct,” says John Wiens of the University of Arizona, lead author of the study.

Such global extinctions have already happened. Last year, scientists discovered that the Bramble Cay melomys — an Australian rat-like rodent — went extinct recently (it was last seen in 2007) due to rising seas inundating its tiny coral island. It’s the first mammal confirmed to be pushed to extinction entirely due to climate change — or one could say our fossil fuel addiction.

Wiens’ study also found that local extinctions were happening more in the tropics than in temperate areas. This worries scientists because much of the world’s biodiversity is located in the tropics. Many tropical species are still unstudied. More have not even been discovered yet.

Entire Ecosystems Are Disappearing

More than local extinctions is at stake, says Scheffers. “We now have evidence that entire ecosystems, some the size of entire states within the USA, are changing in response to climate change. For instance, kelp forests are dying and being replaced by rocky, less productive ecosystems.” Who cares about kelp. It’s just nasty stuff that ruins our summer holidays at the beach, right? Kelp can grow as tall as trees (hence the name kelp forest) and provides essential nurseries for fish. It also protects coastlines from the storm surges that are becoming increasingly severe due to climate change.

And here’s a news flash. Kelp can store enormous amounts of carbon. So climate change due to increased carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere is damaging one of nature’s tools for controlling the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. Warmer water and increased acidification are wreaking havoc on the amount of kelp in the ocean. Should that cause us concern? Not if we are Trumpanistas or the CEO of a large oil company. “Nothing to see here. Move along,” they would say.

More Bad News Ahead

Scheffers expects more “ecosystem shifts” in the future. Cloud forests are at risk of becoming high altitude grasslands, coral reefs of becoming algae-dominated ecosystems, and Arctic sea ice becoming open ocean. Anyone with more than a second grade education knows that ice reflects some of the sun’s rays back into the atmosphere, which help keep the oceans cool. No ice means higher global temperatures.

“Given what we are seeing now, just imagine what will happen to all these species when temperatures increase by four of five times that amount,” said Wiens. “One thing that is certain is that this global response to climate change points to an increasingly unpredictable future for humans,” Scheffers said.

Hiding In Cities Won’t Save Us

More than half of the human population lives in cities today, and that number is expected to rise to 70% or more in coming decades. But that won’t make them immune to the changes going on in nature. According to Scheffers’ research, the earth will soon experience a dramatic drop off in the size of crop harvests and the growth of trees, a collapse of marine fisheries, along with an increase in new diseases. “I was not surprised,” Scheffers says of his research. “But I was alarmed. The extent of impacts is vast and has impacted every ecosystem on the Earth.”

Can Anything Be Done?

Are we simply doomed, or can anything be done to protect mankind from a cascading climate disaster? Scheffers says there are options. “Governments and large organisations can invest and commit to reducing carbon emissions and protecting natural ecosystems that increase resilience to climate change not only for nature but for people as well. These include large areas of connected forests which cool local and regional climate, pristine coral and oyster reefs that not only provide food but reduce storm surges, and well managed watersheds that will maintain adequate fresh water.” Wiens agrees, but adds, “There also needs to be more, bolder, large-scale efforts to reduce the carbon that is already in the atmosphere.”

Some companies are already working on ways to remove carbon from the atmosphere, but they suffer from a lack of research funding — and a lack of urgency by political leaders. The best course of action is to move forward aggressively with the COP 21 climate change agreements signed by all the nations of the world in December of 2015 — something the alleged president of the United States says he has no intention of doing.

Not Electing Stupid Leaders Would Be A Good Start

In fact, our fake president would like to take a wrecking ball to the entire agreement so his fat cat friends in high places can continue to line their pockets with profits from the petroleum industry. Trump punctuated his campaign with bombastic calls to lock up Hillary Clinton. Why are people who knowingly profit from activities that damage the environment and threaten human existence not in jail? As Bob Dole so famously once said, “Where’s the outrage?” Good question, Bob.

“Wisdom comes from combining truth with beliefs. There is a global scientific consensus around climate change and its impacts on nature and humans. It is truth that climate change will have devastating impacts on human health and quality of life,” Scheffers says. He believes the administration’s policies — particularly reneging on America’s pledge to abide by the Paris climate accords — “is not only an unwise decision but a dangerous decision.” You will get no argument from me on that score, Bret.

Source: The Guardian


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About the Author

Steve writes about the interface between technology and sustainability from his home in Rhode Island and anywhere else the Singularity may take him. His muse is Charles Kuralt -- "I see the road ahead is turning. I wonder what's around the bend?" You can follow him on Google + and on Twitter.



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