Year 4, Month 12, Day 29: Stately, Plump, Buck Mulligan…

The Port Huron Times-Herald reports on Michigan’s farmers, who are getting smacked upside the head by climate change:

Tim Boring knew it wasn’t a normal drought when the fields on his Stockbridge farm started to dry up during the summer of 2012.

Nobody escaped the magnitude of heat and dryness that year. Certainly not farmers.

“That drought impacted everyone,” said Boring, who produces corn, soybeans and wheat at his family-owned O’Brien Farms when he isn’t working his job as Michigan Soybean Promotion Committee research director. “It was certainly one of our biggest cases of severe weather lately.”

The drought wiped out a variety of crops, from corn to soybeans, and sent crop prices surging. Pictures of dried up, fractured grounds, stained corn leaves and livestock agonizing under the extreme heat were inescapable.

The dry conditions finally faded away, but not before earning the mark of the worst drought in a nearly a quarter-century, according to the Michigan State University Extension.

Severe weather events such as these, some experts and farmers worry, are on the rise.

I’ve used this letter many times in many different guises: epistodiversity! December 15:

Michigan’s farmers aren’t the only ones coming face to face with climate change’s troublesome realities. Extreme and unpredictable weather is disrupting planting schedules, making for increasingly uncertain harvests everywhere on Earth.

Coping with the accelerating climate crisis will require growers to change many of their ways. The era of massive monocropping is coming to an end; the potential for catastrophic crop failures from environmental disruptions or invasive pests is all too real, and highlights the importance of diversity in our agricultural system. A world-wide re-enactment of the Irish potato famine is a nightmarish thing to to contemplate.

There are countless viewpoints about the best strategies to prepare for a climatically-transformed future, but one thing’s absolutely certain: we’ll never successfully address the problem if we cannot admit its existence. Just like farmers in Michigan, our media figures and elected representatives must realize that the time for climate-change denial is long past.

Warren Senders

Year 4, Month 12, Day 7: Two Game Wardens, Seven Hunters, And A Cow

The Bellingham Herald (WA) notes a new report on big game’s unfortunate lot under a climate-change regime:

One example in the report is the elk population. The original elk population was estimated at 10 million, plummeting to about 50,000 or fewer by the early 20th century. But efforts led by sportsmen, the report said, have help the nationwide population rebound to about 1 million.

“But today, a changing climate threatens to rewrite that success story,” the report reads. “Severe drought, rising temperatures and greater weather extremes are affecting the health, habitat, and food and water supply of every big game species.”

Doug Inkley, a senior scientist for the federation, was one of the lead writers of the report.

“This is very real, it is happening right now. The success of the past is being challenged by climate change,” he said during a news conference.

Citing moose as an example, Inkley talked about the impact heat is having on populations nationwide.

“Moose become heat-stressed in warm weather, they stop eating, seeking out shelter instead,” he said. “That leads to lower weights, lower pregnancy rates, higher death rates.”

The report is careful not to solely blame climate change for population declines. It also cites habitat loss and predation. But climate change, the report emphasizes, impacts animals in so many ways.

Extreme weather threatens survivability. Animals weakened by declining food sources are more susceptible to disease.

The paper’s website says they’ll take letters only from people who live in their circulation area. But nothing ventured, nothing gained, right? November 25:

Genuine hunters operate from a position of deep respect for the natural world. So it’s hardly surprising that they recognize a shifting climate’s impacts on local and regional ecosystems all over the planet. As global heating intensifies, animal habitats become less hospitable, and migratory patterns are disrupted. Similarly, forest and plant populations are affected by changes in seasonal freeze and thaw patterns, resulting in disrupted pollination and increased vulnerability to pests. No wonder hunters are worried; their way of life is facing destruction in the wake of an accelerating greenhouse effect that promises only to become more extreme in the decades to come.

Conservative politicians and pundits are all too ready to stigmatize discussion of climate change as mere “politics,” Such a stance is deeply irresponsible. Hunters and environmentalists alike must cooperate to avert a humanitarian and environmental tragedy, not play rhetorical games while the planet burns.

Warren Senders

Year 4, Month 11, Day 10: A Dilemma For The Horns

The Albuquerque Journal (NM) runs an AP article on moose gradually going extinct…

Moose in the northern United States are dying in what scientists say may be the start of climate shock to the world’s boreal forests.

The die-off is most dire in Minnesota, where ecologists say moose could be gone within a decade. But it extends across the southern edge of the animal’s global range: Populations are falling as far away as Sweden.

No single cause seems to be responsible. In Minnesota, many moose seem to be dying of parasitic worms called liver flukes; in Wyoming, some researchers are pointing to a worm that blocks the moose’s carotid arteries; in New Hampshire, massive tick infections seem to be the culprit. This diversity of reasons makes some experts think they need to dig deeper.

“The fact that you’ve got different proximate causes killing off the moose suggests there’s an underlying ultimate cause,” says Dennis Murray, a population ecologist at Trent University in Canada.

Not surprising, but (as always) terribly saddening. October 31:

The decline in moose populations across North America is only one of many indications that climate change is already devastating the world’s biodiversity. While there are many local causes for the plummeting numbers of moose — tick infestations, habitat loss, etc. — each of these ultimately stems from the same basic problem: regional environments are changing too fast for animal and plant species to adapt.

While some life-forms are highly adaptable and will undoubtedly survive into a climatically-transformed future (we should probably start being kinder to cockroaches), our descendants may well remember moose and other such iconic animals as we think of the dodo and the passenger pigeon.

We are entering a period of mass extinctions as climate change intensifies; charismatic megafauna like moose and polar bears are only the tip of a (rapidly melting) iceberg. Scientists recently measured a forty percent drop in populations of oceanic phytoplankton, a major source of oxygen in Earth’s atmosphere.

Perhaps it’s time to stop denying the existence of climate change, and time to start working actively to stop it before it stops us.

Warren Senders

Year 4, Month 8, Day 28: It’s A Rock! It Doesn’t Have Any Vulnerable Spots!

The Laramie Boomerang (WY) notes that the state’s farmers are looking trouble in the face, and not liking what they see:

Just like the weather, Gregor Goertz said, his Wheatland farm is changing.

“What I have seen personally is changes in weather: less predictable rains and snows,” the United States Department of Agriculture Wyoming Farm Service Agency executive director said. “That has really affected our farming operations.”

Goertz was one of several speakers at the “I Will Act on Climate Change” event Wednesday at the University of Wyoming ACRES Student Farm.

Speakers discussed the effects of climate change on Wyoming agriculture.

Goertz said the Farm Service Agency serves 11,000 production operations, which farm about 30 million acres throughout the state. Many of those operations are strained because of climate change, he said. But he began his conversation with a discussion of observations he’s made on his own farm.

“Out on the farm, we’re seeing more frequent hails,” Goertz said. “It used to be, when I was growing up, if we had a hailstorm once every ten years, we thought that was about normal. Now I’m experiencing that about every other year. So, we’ve had to change our operation to try to deal with that.”

Ranchers across Wyoming are dealing with droughts, Goertz said.

Here we go. August 2:

Wyoming isn’t alone in confronting the troublesome facts of planetary climate change. All over the globe, agriculturists — from factory farmers in the American corn belt to subsistence farmers in the world’s poorest nations — are looking towards a future in which extreme and unpredictable weather disrupts planting schedules, hinders plant growth, and makes for increasingly uncertain harvests.

The climate crisis underlines the crucial importance of diversity in our food systems. Monocropping leaves cultivators far more vulnerable to pests and disease (the Irish potato famine is a compelling demonstration of the dangers of relying too heavily on a single vulnerable staple food), creating the potential for catastrophic failures from environmental disruptions.

There are many differences of opinion about how to prepare for the greenhouse effect’s onrushing consequences — but can be no doubt that the problem will never be successfully addressed by those who refuse to admit its existence. The time for climate-change denial is past; just like Wyoming’s farmers, our politicians and media figures must adapt to these new environmental realities.

Warren Senders

Year 4, Month 8, Day 21: Bow To Your Arthropod Overlords, Apeling!

Looks like the Clever Apes should start tuning up to join the Great Hum. The Arizona Star:

Vertebrates would have to evolve 10,000 times faster than they ever have to keep up with the pace of change predicted for their climatic niches in the next century, says a University of Arizona researcher.

“If where they live now is going to be outside their climatic niche, they either have to move or acclimate to it,” said John Wiens, UA professor of ecology and evolutionary biology.

Acclimating can be a tricky thing, Wiens said.

Some lizard and tortoise species in warming climates have been known to limit their outdoor exposure when their particular niche warms up, he said. That lessens the physiological impact of heat, but also deprives them of time for food gathering and reproducing, he said.

Wiens and co-author Ignacio Quintero, an ecologist at Yale University, examined and compared the evolutionary paths of more than 500 species, from weasels to frogs to crocodiles, to arrive at their conclusions about what would be needed to survive a predicted rise of 4 degrees Centigrade in average temperatures by the end of the century.

They found that evolution can’t keep pace with the rapid change in climate predicted by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change – not by a long shot.

Short but bitter. July 29:

Much of Earthly life will indeed be left behind in the process of evolutionary adaptation to climate change. When environmental transformations unfold over long stretches of time, evolution has a chance to do its work through the slow processes of natural selection — essential for big animals with reproductive cycles covering many years.

Human civilization’s last century introduced millions of years’ worth of previously fossilized carbon into the atmosphere in a geological eyeblink, triggering potentially catastrophic transformations that are going to happen far faster than the capacity of many species to adapt. Creatures like elephants, gorillas, moose, camels, bears, and human beings can’t reproduce rapidly enough to keep up with a climate gone mad.

Of course, Earth has many lifeforms with very rapid generational cycles, and they’ll be doing just fine in the years to come. We should probably start treating flies and cockroaches with a little more respect.

Warren Senders

Year 4, Month 8, Day 17: A Flip Of The Tail

The Vernon County Broadcaster (WI) writes about the likely end of trout fishing:

If you were to ask neighbors over 50 years of age what the weather was like in the summer of 1993, most would not remember the great flood of the Mississippi and Missouri rivers, which happened from April to October. However, ask about the weather in 2012 and most would tell you it was hot and dry.

We remember the extremes, providing they are recent. Most of us think of changes locally on a year to year basis, instead of globally for a decade, therefore it’s difficult to believe global warming has become a serious worldwide problem.

Scientists are now telling us the earth is warming at a faster rate then they had previously forecast. For example, 13 of the warmest years ever recorded on earth happened in the last 15 years. World Meteorological Organization Secretary General Michel Jarroud said in November 2011, “Our science is solid and it proves unequivocally that the world is warming and that this warming is due to human activity.”

This one was pretty easy, leading up to the last line. July 25:

For hundreds of years, anglers have extolled the virtues of fishing. It teaches patience, brings us closer to the natural world, provides an excellent opportunity to drink beer, and even provides a tasty meal once in a while. That climate change may put an end to this venerable pastime is an unpleasant piece of news, but not an unsurprising one.

The painful fact is that the accelerating greenhouse effect has been affecting ecosystems all over the planet. Whether it’s farmers discovering that their crops aren’t producing because of drought, native species finding their habitats no longer welcome due to increasing temperatures, or wildfires simply wiping regional ecologies off the map completely, there is no shortage of devastation in the natural world. Sadly, this trend seems likely to continue and accelerate.

While fishermen have long been stereotyped as serial exaggerators, it’s not stretching the truth to say that in another century, the beautiful and beneficent natural world in which all of us grew up may well be the greatest and most tragic example of “the one that got away.”

Warren Senders

Year 4, Month 8, Day 16: Seven New People Born

NPR’s All Things Considered recently broadcast this story:

A in a mountain range just west of Las Vegas has put at risk the Mount Charleston blue butterfly, a rare species found in the U.S.

The fire is dying down, but it may be weeks before experts can get to the remarkable area where this butterfly lives to see if it made it through.

There are few examples of fires wiping a species off the planet. In fact, fires sometimes help rare animals and plants by clearing overgrown habitat. But experts fear that such extinctions could become a consequence of two factors that are making some endangered species increasingly vulnerable: the loss of habitat and climate change.

I tried to keep this short in the hope that they’ll ask me to read it on-air. Not holding my breath, though. July 24:

A recently circulating photograph taken by the Cassini spacecraft shows Earth as a tiny dot, dwarfed by the rings of Saturn. This beautiful image highlights the fact that we live in an isolated and insignificant ecosystem, cosmologically speaking in the middle of nowhere.

In this context, the plight of the Mount Charleston blue butterfly is a microcosm of humanity’s predicament. As climate change exacerbates droughts and wildfires, a beautiful blue insect in an obscure ecosystem may vanish forever — and the beautiful blue speck which holds all the DNA in the universe is likewise teetering on the brink of catastrophic climatic transformations.

But unlike the blissfully ignorant butterfly, we humans know what is threatening us: our own waste CO2, pumped into the atmosphere — and we have the capacity to change our behavior in times of crisis. Will we?

Warren Senders

Year 4, Month 8, Day 5: No One There To Tell Us What To Do

The Charleston City Paper notes a group of educators who are doing their jobs admirably:

There couldn’t have been a hotter July morning to talk about global warming. Charleston’s temperatures hit right around 90 degrees, but that didn’t stop the national “I Will Act On Climate” tour bus from stopping at the Battery to spread awareness about this global issue.

The S.C. Small Business Chamber of Commerce teamed up with the national campaign Tuesday morning to present information and speakers on the issue of rising sea levels. This event also acted as the debut of SCBARS, a.k.a. SC Businesses Against Rising Seas, a local movement designed to inform local businesses, residents, and tourists of the impact that global warming will have on the Lowcountry.

Lead speaker Scott Wolfrey first stepped up to the podium, surrounded by charts estimating the increase in water levels for the Charleston peninsula and Folly Beach by 2100. The prediction: 6 feet. That means that Folly Beach would lose around 95% of its landmass, and the edge of the Battery where everyone was standing would be underwater.
Wolfrey said the organization had approached more 100 local businesses with the information, and more than 50 percent gave positive feedback and were receptive to the group’s mission.

A 300-word limit means I didn’t have to work too hard, which is good, because it’s too damn hot right now. July 17:

A six-foot high water mark makes an excellent symbol for one of the most vivid and unforgettable effects of global climate change. Over the coming century, rising sea levels are going to alter the world’s coastlines drastically, forcing millions of people away from their homes, their lands, and their lives. Our nation’s infrastructure, already in major disrepair, can hardly be expected to withstand such inexorable forces; it is an act of civic responsibility to ensure that businesses and homeowners have enough time to plan.

But we should not forget that the accelerating greenhouse effect will have other consequences that are equally profound but less obvious. Extreme weather can be expected to reduce agricultural productivity significantly: there’ll be fewer things to eat, and they’ll be more expensive and harder to obtain. Many plant and animal species will be unable to adapt to climatic transformations happening a hundred or a thousand times faster than evolutionary speed, which means a devastating loss of Earthly biodiversity for our children and our children’s children in the coming centuries.

The climate crisis is here, it’s real, and it’s dangerous to our civilization and to our species. Despite the best efforts of a complaisant media to downplay the severity of the emergency, there is no longer any valid excuse for ignorance or denial.

Warren Senders

Year 4, Month 8, Day 15: This Is Mine. This Is Mine. All This Is Mine.

The LA Times, on another big attractive animal:

The world’s most endangered feline species may become extinct in the wild within 50 years, researchers say, a victim of climate change.

A new report projects that Iberian lynx could become the first cat species in at least 2,000 years to become extinct, researchers found, largely because of the decline of the European rabbit, which makes up 80% of the cat’s diet.

The report, published Sunday in the journal Nature Climate Change, warns that current efforts to boost population of the distinctive tufted-eared cat will only “buy a few decades” for the animal that was once abundant in parts of Spain, Portugal and France.

Rabbit populations have drastically fallen because of overhunting, disease and habitat reduction, researchers said, with climate change a major driver.

Bla, bla, bla. July 23:

If it were only “charismatic megafauna” like the Iberian lynx that face extinction due to the onrush of climatic change, we’d have far less to worry about — although news reporters oriented towards such splashy stories might not notice the difference. Far more troubling than the fate of a single wild cat species is the ongoing decimation of Earth’s most valuable natural resource: the biodiversity which has filled every available ecological niche on the planet with life.

The fewer life-forms present in a large ecosystem, the less resilient the ecosystem. For example, monocropped agriculture is terribly vulnerable; while factory farms may be able to generate huge quantities of food, a single invasive virus or insect pest can destroy their productivity completely. Earth is currently undergoing a mass extinction event thanks to human-caused climate change; the Iberian lynx and the polar bears are just the tip of a (rapidly melting) iceberg.

Warren Senders

Year 4, Month 7, Day 7: Looking Pale And Interesting

Well, that certainly sucks. WaPo:

At the Maine Coastal Islands National Wildlife Refuge, the tiny bodies of Arctic tern chicks have piled up. Over the past few years, biologists have counted thousands that starved to death because the herring their parents feed them have vanished.

Puffins are also having trouble feeding their chicks, which weigh less than previous broods. When the parents leave the chicks to fend for themselves, the young birds are failing to find food, and hundreds are washing up dead on the Atlantic coast.

Biologists worry that birds such as Arctic terns are starving, as climate change is leading to food shortages.

What’s happening to migratory seabirds? Biologists are worried about a twofold problem: Commercial fishing is reducing their food source, and climate change is causing fish to seek colder waters, according to a bulletin released Tuesday by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

“We’ve seen a 40 percent decline of Arctic terns in the last 10 years,” said Linda Welch, a Fish and Wildlife Service biologist at the refuge. Arctic tern pairs in Maine have fallen from 4,224 pairs in 2008 to 2,467 pairs last year, the Fish and Wildlife Service said.

Biologists at the Maine refuge are not sure whether herring sought colder waters elsewhere or went deeper, but they are no longer on the surface, from which Arctic terns pluck them. While other birds can dive deep for food, Arctic terns cannot.

Fuck it. I’m going out to weed the garden. June 20:

As the Anthropocene Epoch lurches into full view, we humans won’t be able to avert our eyes from the consequences of our actions. While it’s hardly intuitive that industrial CO2 emissions may be at the head of a causal sequence resulting in the deaths of countless thousands of migratory birds, it’s no less improbable than the notion that we power our cars, heat our houses, and propel our civilization with the liquid fossilized remains of dinosaurs and prehistoric plant life.

The grim fact is that our consumerist culture is working exactly as advertised: we modern humans devour everything, heedless of the consequences. Ultimately, there is one true economy — the natural resources upon which all Earthly life depends — and we’re overdrawing our environmental bank account several times over. Through no fault of their own, those Arctic Terns are paying a hard price for our profligacy. Will we follow them?

Warren Senders