The biodiversity of life on earth is reflective of the varying habitats that exist. A stable climate establishes what creatures will best adapt and survive; a process that has evolved over a very long period of time. Had the evolution of the human species stopped at a point where the brain could not discern complex issues and the opposable thumb had never developed, they too would have a limited habitat range and held hostage to dramatic shifts in climate. The fact that we did evolve as a species who could build shelters that we can cool and heat and design clothes to protect us against the elements, eventually allowed us to adapt to any environment that exists on earth.
But the fate of all the other species on earth relies solely on stable climate conditions. Once these conditions start to change their survival is at risk. The rate of change is the variable that will determine how many survive and how quickly their extinction occurs. The climate science today has gathered significant data from a variety of sources to conclude that global warming is increasing at a faster rate than recorded measures have shown over time and there is a distinct correlation between this rise in temperature and the advent of fossil fuel use by humans as an energy source. More and more people are becoming aware that as the CO2 emissions from spent fossil fuels enters earth’s atmosphere the ability of solar radiation to reflect back out into space is blocked, making the earth warmer as a result.
Long before the term “global warming” was popularized by Dr. James Hansen and others back in the late 1980’s, biological scientist have been concerned about plant and animal extinction of many species as a result of the climate change occurring over time. A study done by the Center for Biological Diversity and published in the peer reviewed science journal Conservation Biology, shows that less than 5% of the recovery plans for threatened species formulated by scientists and governments prior to 2005 did not address global warming as a legitimate threat. But with more advanced climate studies and a consensus of climatologists about the data, nearly 60% of recovery plans now view global warming as a primary threat and the focus on specie recovery is aimed at reducing CO2 and other green house gas (GHG) emissions.
GHGs outside what nature has established and tolerates are manufactured my humans as they drive solo each day back and forth to work, surrounded by thousands of others solo commuters. CO2 is added each time we destroy a mountain top to retrieve the coal lying underneath or bring in heavy duty equipment to clear forests for commercial crop growth and new housing developments and shopping malls. This destruction of millions of trees in such human endeavors also reduce earth’s capabilities to absorb much of the man-made CO2 that exchanges it for oxygen, an absolute essential for sustaining life on earth.
As the planet heats up at a more rapid rate from increased levels of CO2, ice from polar caps and mountain glaciers flow into the oceans. Sea levels rise and as a result the habitats of coastal species are dramatically altered, killing off many forms of life unable to adapt to the changing conditions. Coinciding with this is an increased rate of CO2 absorption in ocean surface waters which creates larger amounts of carbonic acid than nature tolerates and this rise in acid makes for a toxic environment for marine life. The acidity rate in our oceans has increased by 30% since 1751; a rate that scientist say is “100 times faster than any change in acidity experienced in the marine environment over the last 20 million years, giving little time for evolutionary adaptation within biological systems.” (One World.net, Ocean Acidification Guide)
We know what the damaging effects to species are from rapid changes in climate temperatures due to increased CO2 from recorded data that illustrates what happened in a similar fashion 55 million years ago. During the Paleocene-Eocene Thermal Maximum (PETM) era there “was a rapid greenhouse warming event triggered by the addition of a massive amount of carbon dioxide to the atmosphere, most likely derived from the catastrophic dissociation of methane hydrates in deep-sea sediments. Tropical sea-surface temperatures warmed by 5°C and high latitudes by double that. In the deep sea, warm bottom water, with consequently lower dissolved oxygen, combined with an increase in acidity [there occurred] one of the most severe extinctions in benthic foraminifera (sea floor dwelling protozoans) in the last 100 million years.”(Effects of ocean warming and acidification during the Paleocene-Eocene Thermal Maximum on deep and shallow marine communities, EPOCA blog, 8/13/10)
As global temperatures have steadily increased since the beginning of the Industrial Revolution – faster than any other recorded period – we have been witness to a transformation in behavior by the plant and animal kingdoms that reflect what the climate science is telling us. Richard Alley of Penn State University points out, “where critters and plants live and when they do things in the year are moving towards colder places and towards colder seasons as they respond to the warmth. Most of the indicators are saying the same thing: it’s getting warmer.” The animals and other life forms on earth are able to sense the signals that our planet is sending to its inhabitants. A body of evidence shows that physical and biological systems are changing as a result of man-made GHGs.
The non-human life response here however is not an indication that all will survive. If rates of climate change occur faster than adaptation can occur, many will perish. Humans will not be exempt from the effects of rapid climate change either, despite our adaptable capabilities. The adverse affects of an over-active hydrologic cycle will impose hardships on our living conditions and stress our food and water resources. As this occurs civil violence will increase as humans vie for the limited resources that have been reduced by drought and destructive rain and wind forces.
The slightest alteration of our ecosystem we call Earth can tip the scales of climate change so dramatically that once it begins our ability to abort it will have little if any impact. Climate scientists have estimated that as we exceed 350 ppm of C02 in the atmosphere “we risk reaching tipping points and irreversible impacts such as the melting of the Greenland ice sheet and major methane releases from increased permafrost melt.” (350.org) We are currently at 390 ppm and growing at 2 ppm per year. And just this last week we witnessed a chunk of ice 4 times the size of Manhattan break away from northern Greenland. “Scientists say the 100 square mile ice island, 600ft thick, is ‘very unusual’ and the biggest formation of its kind since 1962”. (Biggest ice island for 48 years breaks off Greenland glacier, by Damien Pierce, guardian.co.uk, 8/7/10)
In their report about identifying global warming as a threat to many species, scientists Kierán Suckling and Dr. Tony Povilitis, note that increased global warming poses serious risks and high threats to species like the Atlantic salmon in the Gulf of Maine, the resting and pupping habitat for the Hawaiian monk seal and the Quino checkerspot butterfly as well as “every other native species in Southern California.” The melting northern polar ice has already proved to be a survival challenge for the polar bear. “Unless major actions to reduce global warming are taken, two-thirds of the world’s polar bears are likely to be gone by 2050.” (Polar Bear: This icon of the north is losing ground as global warming melts its sea ice habitat, World Wildlife Fund)
We are all irretrievably connected on this blue island we call earth. Each and every species, including Homo sapiens is here because the ecosystem that has evolved over millions of years has a created a fragile balance that has allowed habitats to form that sustain us. Once that delicate balance is tipped our life support systems diminish or end completely, making survival less likely for most of us. During the gradual hot and cold glacier/interglacial periods where earth over the millennia would either be mostly covered in ice are buried under sea water, it occurred at a rate that allowed some species to adapt and re-generate the earth through each transition. But the changes that are occurring now have very little to do with acts of nature.
Man-induced global warming will have the same adverse affects that natural global warming does but the overall consequences are less certain because our actions affecting the rate of warming are quicker than we and most other species can adapt to. It is uncertain if this will foster an event that is unlike any other in earth’s history but it is certain that we have pushed our planet to the brink quicker than any recorded natural event in human history. We also know that we can alter the path that has been chosen that effects climate change but it is not clear yet that enough people in the right positions will acknowledge this reality before we have passed the point of no return, if in fact we haven’t already.
Addressing Climate Change Threats to Endangered Species in U.S. Recovery Plans
One World.net, Ocean Acidification Guide
European Project on Ocean Acidification (EPOCA)