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Posts Tagged ‘climate change’

Proponents of sustainable living, recycling, ethical consumption and carbon offsets may be dismayed to hear that an environmental hero, James Lovelock — he of the original ‘Gaia’ hypothesis — thinks that all those ideas are pointless.

We have about twenty years left to enjoy life as we know it and then we’re essentially doomed to global disaster, Lovelock tells the Guardian’s Decca Aitkenhead in a profile that’s well worth a look.

“More alarming even than his apocalyptic climate predictions,” Aitkenhead reports, “is his utter certainty that almost everything we’re trying to do about it is wrong.”

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“Australia already has the worst record in the world for conserving its beautiful and unusual wildlife,” says the UK’s Independent in what’s already become a gloomy week for the world’s fauna and flora — and it’s still only Tuesday here in California.

Some 40% of all the mammal species that have become extinct over the past 200 years, says writer Kathy Marks, were Australian.  Now, it appears, climate change threatens a whole bunch more antipodean mammals — as well as frogs, turtles, finches and more.

Elsewhere, we learn that bats are suffering a terrible die-off in the Eastern USA, for a reason yet to be identified.

Frogs, meanwhile, have long been known to be under tremendous environmental pressure.  Some are now disputing the idea that Global Warming is the trigger, the NY Times reports today.  But even if that’s so, it does seem that the virus that causing much of the distress to frogs is spread by humans.

Finally, lovers of common Britain’s wildflowers — often otherwise known as weeds — are lamenting their diminishing presence in the nation’s fields and woods.  Intensive (i.e. in-organic) farming practices get the blame here.

Dynamic change is a part of nature.  Even large die-offs and population surges are common (think locusts, gypsy moths, squid).  But that’s not to defend our fooling with a system we hardly understand — a point likely to be brought painfully home to anyone on America’s East Coast bitten by a bug that a now-dead bat ought to have been snacking on this summer.

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. . . and on the front page of the Wall Street Journal, no less.

Commodities and basic resources (like water and good arable land) are in increasingly short supply worldwide, notes the Journal. And while we’ve managed to avoid the wholesale disasters Malthusians have regularly warned against in the two centuries since Thomas Malthus wrote, this time, say authors Justin Lahart, Patrick Barta and Andrew Batson, things could be different.

One issue, they say, is that we already appear to have pushed the earth past a tipping point on climate change. Quoting Dennis Meadows, co-author of the 1970’s classic, “The Limits to Growth,” the article suggests that “environmental catastrophe may be inevitable even ‘if you quit damaging the environment.'”

The threats we currently face may, as in the past, spur technological innovations that enable both human populations and their living standards to keep growing. But unless and until that happens, competition for scarce resources will mean that “violent conflicts could ensue,” the article notes.

It’s interesting to see carbon-tax proponent Joesph Stiglitz quoted so much in the article as an authority and to see that the Journal takes human-caused global warming as, essentially, a fact.

All in all, it’s a clear-eyed look at the global-scale economic and political challenges we face when it comes to the distribution of our most fundamental resources. Although hardly revelatory, its conclusion is still welcome:

Indeed, the true lesson of Thomas Malthus, an English economist who died in 1834, isn’t that the world is doomed, but that preservation of human life requires analysis and then tough action.

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Europeans now feel that climate change is the world’s biggest security threat, reports the Christian Science Monitor this week.

Correspondent Nicole Itano writes from Italy that the EU sees it as a “threat multiplier” that “intensifies existing trends, tensions, and instability.”

The report — written by Javier Solana, EU foreign-policy chief, and Benita Ferrero-Waldner, Commissioner for External Relations — warns of ‘environmental migrants’ flooding the EU and of instability and collapse in both energy-producing and weakly-established states.

It’s a striking contrast with the American national perspective.  In the USA, where so much money is spent and so many lives expended in the name of national security, climate change appears to make only the faintest blip on the Federal government’s national security radar.

Not all Americans agree with that, of course.  Even many high-ranking former US officials have publicly stated that they think this is a mistake.  Another recent Monitor story references John Podesta and Peter Ogden’s article on the threats posed by climate change in the Winter 2007-’08 issue of The Wilson Quarterly.

And last year a group of retired US military officers warned of the security dangers that can attend rapid climate change.  The impact of such efforts on US national security policy seem to be meager so, far, however.

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Today is the first official day of Spring.

It finds Verlyn Klinkenborg, the New York Times ‘Rural Life’ columnist, in rhapsodies. He writes:

“What cheers me, though, is the thought that spring isn’t a human season, not like the seasons we create for ourselves.”

Elsewhere, however, writers fear that even if it’s not of our own creation, Spring is being radically altered by humans.

“Spring, which officially starts today, is starting to dissolve as a distinct season as climate change takes hold,” worries the UK Independent.

This isn’t ‘quaint or charming,’ the paper’s Environmental Editor, Michael McCarthy, insists. It’s another sign that climate change is with us; a confirmation, he writes, that “a profound alteration in the environment, the consequences of which are likely to prove catastrophic, is already under way.”

Over at the AP, Seth Borenstein, remarks on similar changes in the USA. Like McCarthy, he notes the renewed importance of that Victorian passion par excellence, phenology — the human recording of the timing of seasonal biological events.

Borenstein is helpfully specific about why these phenological changes are significant.

“The changes could push some species to extinction,” he says. “That’s because certain plants and animals are dependent on each other for food and shelter. If the plants bloom or bear fruit before animals return or surface from hibernation, the critters could starve. Also, plants that bud too early can still be whacked by a late freeze.”

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There’s nothing like a passion for gardening to sharpen your awareness of environmental change.

Gardeners need to know when the last frosts end; the number of ‘cooling days’ available to fix their apples; when the soil will be warm enough to plant the summer vegetables – and plenty more – if they’re to garden in any kind of traditional sense.

Here at EarthQuaker we admit to such a passion, although not without a little discomfort. To garden, after all, is to deliberately alter nature.

Gardeners help save plant species and heirloom varieties and offer wildlife sanctuary, to be sure, but they’re also a major conduit for invasive plants, bugs and pathogens. And the desire to grow varieties that your local climate wouldn’t support without added water and fertilizer is all-too hard for the serious gardener to resist.

That’s one reason why we admire radical ungardeners, who appreciate nature but do very little to alter it.

It’s also a reason why some gardeners seem to be looking forward to global warming with what could only be described as relish.

Take the January issue of the Royal Horticultural Society’s magazine, the Garden. Its theme is ‘Gardening in a Changing Climate.’ While the issue devotes much space to the negative impact of climate change on native British plants and animals, its editors are also clearly interested in exploring the ‘upside’ of Global Warming. Along with ‘possible losers of a changing climate,’ the magazine lists possible winners that it knows its readers are itching to grow — beautiful bougainvillea, striking agave, tasty figs.

So here’s another reminder that while climate change is destabilizing, it will also benefit some people in some concrete ways.

And with that comes the realization that any efforts to seriously slow that change must convince those ‘winners’ of the need for change as much as those of us it devastates.

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