Hocking, P. (2001) Global Warming – the end of wildlife as we know it? Magpie 50, pp.4-5
95% of world scientists are convinced – global warming is a fast unfolding fact. Sea levels are rising, glaciers are melting back, the Arctic ice is full of holes, the Antarctic is losing big chunks of itself and the costs of world weather catastrophes crash through record upon record upon record.
Incredible, but yes, there are sceptics. President Bush is pally with a good few. They’re well researched because rich oil companies don’t seem to mind backing their studies and are optimistic, even excited by the results. “The future will be more fertile thanks to global warming”, smiles the Climate Coalition and encourages environmental inaction.
But most intergovernmental scientific bodies paint a grimmer picture, each new set of predictions out-shocking the last. On January the 22nd, 2001, the UN reported that, in the worst case, sea levels could rise by 88 cm (341/2 in) by 2100 making tens of millions of people homeless in China, Bangladesh, the Nile delta and other low lying regions. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change predicts the Arctic could soon be completely ice-free in summer. It also reports that, if the West Antarctic ice sheets melted, the sea levels would rise to such an extent that, in this area, only the pinnacle of Manchester’s CIS building would be above water.
Of course, there’s the theory that global warming could actually turn off the ocean current which feeds the Gulf Stream, leading to a possible ice-age. This is used by the sceptics as justification for inaction, yet, whichever climatic direction we’re eventually heading in, change will be of a like that civilisation has never lived through and that intricate ecosystems are already not withstanding.
What will be the implications for wildlife? Scientists have already documented links between climate change and impacts in over 420 habitats. Alpine plants, in Europe, are moving between three and 12 feet higher each decade. These examples have to be just the tip of a titanic iceberg?
I remember the first time I suggested to someone that global warming would provoke massive species loss. The person felt that the impact would be minimal, if not negligible, and that chemical farming, invasion of habitats, human warfare, amongst others, were much greater threats. I agree we have all these but contend that global warming will be, and is, the biggest threat of all; the proverbial straw that will break the last integral thin threads holding our ecosystems together.
Just take ocean ice, which is gradually changing in form. All species which depend on it, to access feeding grounds, are thrown into confusion. We currently witness thousands of seal cubs stranded off the northern coast of Russia. Polar Bears are savaging bins in Northern Canadian towns, despite their fear of humans, because they are desperate.
Hundreds of thousands of species, including humans, are affected by the higher than usual ice thaws, and heavy rain, lifting the waters of the River Yem (Siberia) two metres above its norm.
Let us also consider that oceans need to warm, only slightly, for certain species of fish to be unable to breed (e.g. North Sea Cod), thus throwing the whole food web, that depends on those fish, into decline. Coral goes brown, brittle and dies with warmer temperatures and, therefore, all coral reefs must be seen as currently under threat.
Many of those who study climate change, and its effects on life, do so in a linear rather than a complex fashion. The aforementioned Climate Coalition isolate a crop and use computer models to project how it will fare in CO2, rich climate and shout, “hurrah”, when it demonstrates greater leaf growth. Yet an exploration, using simple logical thought, reveals the more complex effects and knock on effects of global warming, on life’s wondrous web, is enough to indicate the all pervasive nature of the damage and the need to ring alarm bells and state unequivocally that something has to change.
The situation cannot be overstated. Emissions today are dictating the climatic conditions eighteen years hence, such is the time lag, and they are at a record high. The oceans have so far offset about half of the temperature rise of the last century but have almost reached absorption capacity and negative feedback, such as extra methane released by the extra heat from geological strata, obliterates any positive feedback at a rate of 3 to 1.
A new age of even more powerful “greenhouse” chemicals are being thrown on the market every day, with no checks or controls from a global warming point of view, such as HCFCs – the gasses used, as propellants, to replace the ozone gobbling CFCs. Business, life and humanity’s general view of the future carries on almost as before. The “market” increasingly determines our lives, and all “higher” decision making, and therefore a halt on the exploitation of the earth’s resources, because of global warming, is not possible since it conflicts with economic (financial – Ed) interests.
This is a world emergency, and emergency measures ought to be the order of the day of the type which would halt the stranglehold of the market influence on human activity. Indeed, I believe that the market can no longer be the determining factor and all material, economic resources, modern technology and human thought should be concentrated into the development of new sustainable trading systems, or lack of them, that might support quality of life with minimal, or no, environmental impact. A call to democratise the big corporations – we cannot control what we do not own – is one that some anti-globalisation protesters believe could be a massive leap in the direction of sanity, in our global affairs and the hope that, though global warming can now not be avoided. its severity can be minimalised.