Preserving Biological Diversity Despite Losses Due to Abrupt Climate Change.

By Joseph Vincent Siry, Ph.D., Rollins College, Winter Park, Florida, USA.

 

Introduction | Worrisome biotic responses | Solutions | Clashing visions | Lessons | Glossary | Sources

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"We are now in a planetary emergency."

James Hansen, 2012.   

     

"there is so much carbon buried  in the world's coal seams [alone] that, should it find its way back to the surface, it would make the planet hostile to life as we know it."[1]

Tim Flannery, 2005.               

 

 “. . . that which is common to the greatest number, has the least care bestowed upon it.”

                        Aristotle.[2]                     

          

Abrupt climate change challenges us to reduce or mitigate pollution and take adaptive action to manage a pervasive, persistent and pernicious problem currently confounding the world by diminishing our commons of air, oceans and biodiversity. A fragment of specialists disputes the seriousness of global warming and even fewer argue that such warning of abrupt climate change[3] is a hoax.[4] Presently evidence exists for decreasing regional biological­ diversity–or the species richness, habitat variety and genetic variability of plants and animals–due to climate change leading some authorities to refer to this situation as climate chaos because of the unpredictably complex character of changes in vegetation, fisheries, wildlife and pollution. Polluting the air enough to change the earth's thermal stability has been called "global heating" which is the greatest market failure ever endured by a modern economy[5]. More significantly human health risks rise with a disproportionate cost falling on those people unprepared to mitigate or adapt to the problems associated with climate change.

Global warming's extent and the degree of damage remains difficult to know with precise certainty for three related reasons. First, levels of heat trapping gases are rising more precipitously than they have in 10,000 years. Next, this shift since 1950 has occurred with a profound suddenness. And finally, the accumulated level of carbon dioxide in the air is unprecedented in the past 800,000 years.[6] Currently, remedies like preserving common land and water resources are far more important, since evidence indicates a rapid physical shift triggering unexpected biological responses such as dislocation of both wildlife and subsistence populations. Along arid borders in Africa, in mountain areas, and within polar wildlife zones, declines have accompanied changes in prey populations and shifts in migratory habits.[7] 

A necessary new priority for protecting people and common wild lands is emerging. By beginning to realize wild animals are societies' guide dogs with respect to best adapting to the unpredictable character of future weather patterns–making wildlife partners with humans–more people may appreciate that wild things can assist us in creating optimal ways to cope with the loss of life and diversity in the coming century. In scope, depth, and persistence of adverse impacts over time, climate chaos (that is to say uncertainty) due to global warming (human induced thermal perturbation) leaves us few effective means to correct pernicious mistakes without restoring the earth's native regenerative capacity. A diverse natural world is best understood in this context as an effective buffer protecting people and creatures that inhabit common, open areas that we have so extensively and carelessly polluted due to widely acceptable consumerism. The initial step is to treat climate change as a set of related human problems that are being solved with five lessons for saving people and wildlife. 

Evident in wildlife and botanical studies in the Arctic, Antarctic, along the Central American isthmus, among mountain terrains in the Great Basin, and in southern Africa patterns of decline in flora and fauna are observed indicating widely existing disruptions. No simple, predictive pattern emerges aside from repercussions on mammals', amphibians', butterflies' or flowering plants' behavioral reactions to unparalleled temperature, wind, and rainfall deviations. IPCC scientists in 2006 advised that given a three degree Celsius rise in temperatures over the next century up to twenty percent of the species may face extinction and minimally twenty million people may become climate refugees.[8] However, since the recent flooding along the Pakistan's Indus River in September 2010,[9] the number of refugees is estimated in 2011 to be fifty million displaced people. Global climate disruption is such a pressing environmental matter that even the corporate CEO for Pacific Gas and Electric, California’s second largest private utility, testified before Congress that “climate change is an urgent issue.”[10] His language reveals a need for more precise descriptive vocabulary to pinpoint the root cause of so many apparently different scenes. Inuit village destruction in the arctic, Haitian flooding, Somalian drought, record Indus river floods, and rising ocean levels among the Maldive or more distant Tuvalu islands are difficult to envision and tie to underlying causes traceable to abrupt climate change.[11] Abrupt climate change has occurred in previous warming transitions and consequently existing evidence reveals deforestation and soil moisture decline are adversely affecting farm, orchard and timber production. Some argue that we cannot insure such losses and thus we need to put in place some means to recover inherent regenerative capacities of natural areas.[12]

People, wildlife, fisheries and their dependent, related communities face a common, underlying problem of unpredictable weather patterns indicating shifts in prevailing climatic conditions. A decline in the pH or increasing acidity of the oceans is apparent and will continue to impair fisheries, coral reefs and shellfish production for decades to come. The spread of “dead zones” in the oceans–where oxygen levels are too low to nourish fisheries–and the prospect for “large scale declines in oceanic oxygen,” due to climate change are apparent now in Oregon, Peru, and South Africa. These are planetary warnings that indicate large-scale, long-term, unpredictable swings are now distressing wild areas, local communities, and world food supplies.[13] Academic observers comment that the rhetoric concerning environmental argumentation moves from a rhapsodic identification with an enduring grandeur of nature to a jeremiad as reformers warn that the widespread destructive extent of global warming. Land-use change, or water quality and air pollution impacts are irreversible with progressively more potential to damage cities, undermining any means to prompt adaptive responses to abrupt climate change.[14]

Damage assertions are based on studies revealing that declining soil moisture, average land and ocean temperature increases, changes in the frequency and abundance of precipitation, advances in the onset of spring in the northern hemisphere, and ocean acidification. All are persistent physical patterns with predictable power to further wreck biodiversity and undermine the functional value of ecosystem services. Ecological systems provide a series of services, even when damaged, such as flood control, nutrient absorption, pollution moderation and scenic variety as part of a regenerative capacity to recover from harm and sustain life.  Abrupt climate change impacts refer to current chaotic conditions where declining numbers or varieties of prey impede predator populations. While such situations have existed in the distant past, current conditions do not reveal–in their pronounced abruptness or accelerating rate–any natural cause. These globally evident patterns are not due to orbital variations of the earth about the sun, or a periodic wobbling of the planet about its axis of rotation. Instead the observed temperature and precipitation shifts today arise from prolonged air and water pollution or appreciable losses of vegetation, grasslands, or forest cover. The accumulation of carbon dioxide or heat trapping vapor in the air has accelerated from an average of over 1 ppm annually in the 1960s to over 2 ppm in the past decade. By 2007, the rate of increase had reached 2.2 ppm per year and last year the increase from April to April 2012 reached 2.9 ppm. These measured amounts sound minuscule but have a disproportionate influence on the thermal capacity of the air to retain heat. When absorbed by the seas, increased carbon dioxide levels make oceans more acidic.

The biotic responses associated with observed changes in the range of butterflies, declines in once numerous amphibian species, and prey populations for puffins, penguins and polar bears indicate that rapid temperature shifts in higher latitudes and upper elevations have been underway for more than a decade. Most people poorly understand the risk they now face by relying on ice as a source for water in the Andes or Himalayas. But there are problems for populations depending on long-lived plants such as forests in Siberia where the earth's vegetation is adapting to unprecedented thaw, a new pressure from rapidly accumulating heat-trapping gases. [15] The indirect problem of thawing that accompanies global warming leads to the melting of permafrost–once frozen ground–that as taiga forests defrost the swampy ground releases methane; a short-lived but powerful heat-trapping gas. This particular problem is exacerbated by warmer ground releasing more methane that in turn traps additional radiant energy and warms the overheating ground. Frozen ground has so thawed in coastal Alaska that the Department of Interior has moved entire native villages out of harms way. "We are seeing the erosion, flooding and sinking of our village right now," Stanley Tom, a Yup'ik Eskimo explained as tribal administrator for the Newtok Traditional Council, in western Alaska.[16] Past damage done by thawing is spreading.

Prejudices predominate in the present debate over identifying precise causes of abrupt climate change, because fragmented approaches to understanding sufficient information to both mitigate and adapt to excessive swings in drought and rainfall patterns due to global warming are either poorly expressed or imprecisely predictable. A few critics charge that the facts are wrong and that we are in a natural interglacial warming period. While that is true in a general sense the assertion ignores the sudden surge in heavy isotopes of carbon and nitrogen that are signs of human fingerprints on air pollution due to industrial combustion. Other critics insist that if not in error, alarms about abrupt climate change are irrelevant because there exists a prior need to face more pressing problems such as confronting economic inequalities. Many others sincerely insist we must address a global spiritual plight in the face of rising consumer-based materialism.

Internationally two approaches mitigation and adaptation have been advised as reasonable social means to cope with abrupt climate change. Many politically astute people rationalize that these two approaches are too expensive. Recent revelations of the UK policy approaches revealed in the Manchester Guardian suggest powerful interests are at work to assure that carbon based fuels remain profitable, despite their long-term damaging influences on people's health, air and water quality. In opposition to these recommendations to reduce emissions (mitigation) and diversify fuel sources, opponents to climate change driven, distributive energy-based, policy reforms have countered by advocating practices that encourage people to consume. More consumption is viewed as a viable means to revive economic prosperity at a very time when scarcity and uncertainty have placed oil supplies in peril and gas resources are being over-produced. Since fossil fuels underwrite current consumption levels, two declining sectors are food and fishery production. Such habits of consumption that prevailed in the past fifty years require ample sources of fuel. Yet the cost of our acquiring further materials is sensitive to prices of oil and electricity. A twenty year old study from Cornell University suggested then that ten calories of fuel are needed to bring every single calorie of food to American tables. The more ample extent of arable land in the United States when compared to most other nations possessing far less orchard, farm and pasture lands makes this uneven ratio of expenditure to recovery even more perplexing.[17]

Currently, we find ourselves in deeply divided public, political, and scientific spheres where clear communication of the obstacles and opportunities to adapt to or reduce risks is necessary to motivate precautionary actions to reduce, or adjust to growing climate uncertainty. There persists a wider commercial challenge since market remedies were adopted twenty years ago to decrease levels of air pollution from coal generated electricity that produces sulfur-laden acid rain.  The need is urgent now to replace reliable sources of guidance since financial markets collapsed in 2008, but central banks and their associated governments have lost the authority to promote existing, but costly, solutions. Since coal remains the cheapest source of electrical power, a viable organized agreement over reducing carbon dioxide emissions stays stalled. Hopes in copying market remedies that led to sulfur-dioxide decline have failed to materialize for carbon.  With heavy subsidies to coal, oil and nuclear energy fuel sources creating an uneven competitive advantage in today's expanding utility markets, entrenched opposition exists to any attempts to extend industrial means of reducing emissions. Although coping with fuel and food challenges must depend on maintaining a balance between human development and protecting natural areas, resistance to removing subsidies, or extending price supports to more labor intensive wind, solar, or geothermal electricity sources blocks the needed diversification of fuel supplies as one adaptive approach. But diversifying renewable fuel supplies requires financial incentives.

Caught in a vice of lagging development and damaged ecological systems the means today to mitigate or reduce heat trapping gas emissions–though promising–are neither affordable, nor distributed widely. As the emission's rate increases the duration of excess carbon in the atmosphere assures that today's problems are compounded, persisting for a century or more. Wildlife and fisheries remain vital indicators of any natural terrain's functional health–or regenerative capacity–even in this industrialized and highly interdependent state of affairs where we manage forestry, farming, and fishery resources. But the pace at which nations must preserve natural areas has lagged well behind the accelerating rate at which carbon emissions are increasing. In short, we cannot plant our way, or till our way to reducing carbon output. In overwhelming oceanic and vegetative capacities to absorb and store our sixty-year long, excessive carbon production, a divergence is evident among scientists concerning when continuing emissions will reach a level of carbon saturation; a grave concern largely lost on the wider public.

Correctly, German Chancellor, Angela Merkel judged it too late to stop global warming or climate chaos because the industrialized nations' increasing rate of heat trapping gas emissions is accelerating further. As Bill Mckibben commented nearly two decades ago that humans have developed the capacity to alter the atmosphere thereby affecting all natural weathering and reproductive processes on earth. McKibben notes that "it turned out that the carbon dioxide" capturing the irony of our situation "we were producing in our pursuit of a better life" he says "could change the patterns of moisture and dryness, breed storms in new places, breed deserts." His significant point is that past climate variations no longer provide reliable predictive patterns for our future because automated pollution has been so prolonged, pervasive and decisive in altering oceans, forests and climate that we are on unknown ground. He concludes "We have killed off nature—that world entirely independent of us which was here before we arrived & which encircled and supported our human society."[18] The warning these sentiments revealed is not motivating sufficient action to stabilize emissions.

Current poling shows mixed outcomes in US public understanding[19] of global warming just as the scientific consensus is becoming more certain; climate can nonetheless appear contentious. Princeton physicist Freeman Dyson warns, "Unfortunately, some members of the environmental movement have adopted as an article of faith the belief that global warming is the greatest threat to the ecology of our planet."[20] It is, he insists, for that reason, "the arguments about global warming have become bitter and passionate." Ross Gelbspan, a Pulitzer Prize winning journalist, instead insists that relentless corporate advertising, a deliberate misinformation campaign against climate science, and cheap–subsidized–fossil fuels feeding an aging infrastructure trap people and institutions into self-abusive behavior.[21] Stalled between the rhetoric of regret and the rhapsodic faith in the stability of nature as a balancing agent, public discourse requires greater clarity, precise examples, and effective, yet affordable, solutions on which to act with some assurance of reducing risks, promoting protection, or doing less harm.

Even among visionaries and advocates of holistic thinking such as Stewart Brand or James Lovelock, one discerns some depth of confusion in ways to overcome this present, unpleasant bind. Brand–seeing the seriousness of coal waste due in part to the longevity of excess carbon gas in the air lasting hundreds of years–has advocated nuclear power to meet urban electricity needs. Believing that electricity is the only reasonable means of lifting the world from poverty the bind as Brand defines it is producing sufficient electricity without carbon emissions at an affordable price. Brand envisions urbanization as powerful a force in driving future food and utility decisions. Lovelock suggests, "Before the twentieth century ended, we were unaware of how serious a threat global heating was, and we believed that civilization could only flourish if there was increasing economic growth."[22]  For example, past economic prosperity has been the source of crop insurance to cover losses during lean harvest years, but former remedies may now fail.

That these two visionaries have failed to grasp the role of geothermal energy to meet developing nation's needs is both baffling and revealing. To his credit, Lovelock divulges insight based on his geographical oversight. "There is one exception among renewable energy resources that is almost free of disadvantage and that is geothermal energy."[23] He unfortunately goes on to undermine his argument after mentioning Iceland's development of geothermal power, Lovelock touts "Unfortunately there are few places where it is freely available." A recent MIT study differs sharply from Lovelock's less than enlightened conclusion reflecting his poor judgment about the availability of geothermal energy.[24] Clearly for volcanic islands, Japan, Indonesia, or in California, Italy, and Africa the uses of geothermal offers far more possibilities than either Brand or Lovelock suggest in their more expectant boosting of a nuclear fission option. An MIT study concluded "Geothermal resources span a wide range of heat sources from the Earth, including not only the more easily developed, currently economic hydrothermal resources; but also the Earth’s deeper, stored thermal energy, which is present anywhere," quite to the contrary of Lovelock's assertions. Arguably, Lovelock may have meant that geothermal power is limited in the UK[25]. Yet he divulged his bias here based on an assumption common to many who harbor a widespread misunderstanding of the varied capacities geothermal sources embody for heating, cooling and electrical supply.

The MIT engineering study pointed out that:

Although geothermal energy has provided commercial base-load electricity around the world for more than a century, it is often ignored in national projections of evolving U.S. energy supply. ... a result of the widespread perception that the total geothermal resource is often associated with identified high-grade, hydrothermal systems that are too few and too limited in their distribution in the United States to make a long-term, major impact at a national level. This perception has led to undervaluing the long-term potential of geothermal energy by missing an opportunity to develop technologies for sustainable heat mining from large volumes of accessible hot rock anywhere in the United States. In fact, many attributes of geothermal energy, namely its widespread distribution, base-load dispatchability without storage, small footprint, and low emissions, are desirable for reaching a sustainable energy future....

Without ample supplies of electrical power to maintain populations and renew natural systems that people depend upon for economic development, population and consumption will further diminish natural resilience and undermine human health by eroding nutrition. Three specialists each conclude in strikingly similar language when describing the many challenges posed by global warming. Their similar assumptions appear to fit declines seen in narwhals, butterflies, frogs, vegetation, and coral reefs in both tropical and polar zones. Temperate zones have equally disturbing challenges as revealed by loss of mountain glaciers and water they provide for agriculture. Though growing seasons lengthen, the loss of soil moisture and microbes can alter productivity, and host plants may bud to bloom too early for insects to adjust to new feeding opportunities, or reproductive cycles. These examples are common to places around the world. David Archer concludes "The chemistry of the atmosphere is a classic example of something called the the tragedy of the commons." And in solving the problem, he warns there is need for "a degree of global cooperation....that humankind has never before achieved." In keeping with the rhetorical analysis Mckibben the writer turned conservationist understands that "If we are to somehow ward off the coming catastrophes, we have to reclaim this atmospheric commons. We have to figure out how to cooperatively own and protect the single most important feature of the planet we inhabit—the thin envelope of atmosphere that makes our lives possible." As Gavin Schmidt and Joshua Wolfe also suggest "The tragedy of the commons clearly applies to the climate change problem–the benefit from using fossil fuels goes to the users, while the costs are paid by the entire world."[26] Archer, McKibben, and Schmidt all invoke Garrett Hardin's 1968 assessment of the "Tragedy of the Commons" for us to understand the many challenges mitigation, adaptation and conservation are facing.

These authors essentially agree with Jared Diamond’s characterization of the problem when he explains that "One particular form of clashes of interest has become well known under the name 'tragedy of the commons,' in turn closely related to the conflicts termed 'the prisoner's dilemma,' and 'the logic of collective action.' " The term is derived by Garrett Hardin's 1968 argument from William Forster Lloyd in the 19th century. Diamond does not cite but describes Hardin's argument accurately as: "Consider a situation in which many consumers are harvesting a communally owned resource [a water well], such as a fisherman catching fish in an area of the ocean, or herders grazing their sheep on a common pasture."[27] Diamond advises–as does Hardin–three ways exist to approach such interest-driven quarrels over essential common property resources such as air and water. Any commons can be first degraded, second privatized, or subjected to mutual coercion.

Elinor Ostrom's recent and lifelong studies of cooperative behavior set a very high mark for managing the atmosphere, or its related oceans, as a commons.[28] By understanding how the ecological character of the oceans and air–due to physical, chemical and biological conditions–elude Ostrom's eight prescriptions for variably sharing common resources, it becomes evident that technological change and population pressure mix with ecological limitations to undermine air pollution reduction. By using Ostrom's eight suggested means for season after season sustaining a commons, the lessons from abrupt climate change suggest we place a premium on communicating accurately, negotiating frequently, and allowing substantial stakeholders some means of recompense without disrupting the capacity of any commons to simultaneously withstand and still repair damages while producing necessary natural goods or services. Ostrom's suggestions can be simplified to three: A) creating equity fairly in any market using a commons, B) access to knowledge about and employing a viable means of affecting regulations, such as adaptive management strategies, and C) renewable capacities of any commons can be sufficiently understood to shift cooperative behavior among locally mediated opportunities to harvest, yet simultaneously improve future yields. Her approaches allow for adaptive responses as climate shifts in restoring vegetation that protects water supplies. Ostrom argues that boundaries of any commons must be clearly recognizable, but with air pollution affecting the atmosphere's thermal capacity, forestry damage, and ocean acidification, these existing boundaries are so blurred that buffers are equally important to sustain a wildlife commons. Those are both spatial buffers as well as separating in time the frequency of harm done to resources. This is an approach taken when fishing or hunting seasons are set to avoid mating and nursing seasons for game animals or commercial fisheries. The air has two physical properties besides being open to all based on its inherent trans-boundary character of mixing internationally; they are persistently accelerating pollution and compounds with long resident times. The fuel driving the degradation of the atmospheric commons' capacity for self-renewal is ubiquitous and underwritten by national subsidies. Early this past June, Christine Legarde, a former right-wing French finance minister and now IMF head, insisted that: "Many countries continue to subsidise polluting energy systems. These subsidies are costly for the budget and costly for the planet." She insisted further,  "Countries should reduce them. But in doing so, they must protect vulnerable groups by tightly focusing subsidies on products used by poorer people, and by strengthening social safety nets."[29] As the vice tightens, greater flexibility in enforcing protection of these native commons is essential.  As we have seen, opinion is divided and even visionaries are obdurate when confronting widespread, yet uncertain impacts, of incessant warming.

Animals, fisheries, and vegetation are in an important sense the common repositories of essential climate information. Without the knowledge from natural populations about rapid changes, we are less aware and quite uncertain of how mitigation is having an impact on the air and thus less inclined to know in which adaptive measures we ought best to invest. Studies reveal that less diverse ecological systems are prone to accelerate, or weakly enhance the effects of thermal air pollution making the partnership with wildlife even more important to monitor. Entropy is a constant reminder that what we do carries a cost, and ecological tithe if you will, and the cost of protecting people and natural areas they depend upon has not been fully counted in the cost of our industrial growth, except to be accounted for as waste and pollution that undermines the common's capability of providing ecosystem services. Privatizing the air–as carbon taxes and trade systems entail–are what critics call recipes for continuing loss of animals, wildlife and arable land. So finding examples of small commons that not many people exploited compared to the capacity of that particular area to sustain relatively steady consumption patterns does little to assist us in understanding the collapse of ocean fisheries and the potential cessation of atmospheric thermal stability. Technology transforms a commons' capacity to renew and sustain further extractive behavior without further investment.

A once promising privatization notion proposed turning pollutants into a commodity. Industrial nations created a market in carbon emissions. Market solutions to carbon and pollution trading have social justice critics because corporations are paid to shoulder waste abatement costs. Alleged market success in mitigating some sulfur dioxide emissions-driven acid rain have led experts to suggest ways to curb rising carbon levels:

1. The U.S. government should institute a mandatory tax policy to control emissions. Taxes provide clear, long-term price signals so companies can invest intelligently to lower carbon emissions. In contrast, the volatility inherent in cap-and-trade systems hinders planning. Tax systems reduce opportunities for political favoritism and corruption. And taxes are easier to adjust when required."

2. If the U.S. sets up a cap-and-trade system, it should create a safety valve that will establish a price ceiling on carbon permits so that firms can reliably estimate compliance cost. All credits under a cap and trade system must be auctioned off to avoid political favoritism."

3. Industrialized nations must find ways to engage emerging countries in carbon emissions reduction. This process will require complex packages of policy reforms that are tailored to each country's specific circumstances." 

4. Real leverage on emissions will require a combination of market-based climate policies (such as carbon taxes and smarter trading schemes) and regulations that accelerate the adoption of new technologies."

5. Governments must formulate active strategies to invent and demonstrate new large-scale, low emissions energy systems."

Market advocates have argued "To succeed the world must make progress on all five of these fronts. Although we need to get the science and engineering right, the biggest danger lies in failing to craft human institutions and policies that encourage people to reduce their emissions of greenhouse gases."[30] Perceiving a remedy, not merely using widely available technology, is important to reducing risks. Yet, in the light of subsidies that even conservatives don't support, there are few institutional changes in place–at say the level of German support for solar energy–that fit Victor and Cullenward's dicta. While economics and ecology have common origins and mutual ends, today their means remain in opposition–one to another. As if stalled by financial collapse and commercial contraction the slow, relentless, and lasting pollution undermines the inherent regenerative capacity of natural systems to fund future consumption; the commons of air, oceans and ecosystems' services languishes. Weirdly, our will wanes for want of a way.

From the literature five emerging lessons are:

1          The scope, amount, suddenness, persistence, and pervasiveness of global warming make creatures and their co-dependent human’s essential partners to understand and protect as a commons because wildlife and fisheries are significant indicators of what we are doing to both reduce pollution and adapt to unpredictable and precipitous changes.

2          Damage assertions causing biodiversity loss can instruct civilization that natural systems sustain, not obstruct population's growing needs, revealing how institutions must carefully balance mitigation with adaptation since we are intensely altering the planet.

3          Poorly understood, energy-use causes pollution but is necessary for water, development, and conservation. Yet badly informed, recent debates increase social divisiveness driving broken policies to reinforce damaging habits to our global commons that is comprised of wildlife and fisheries, the atmosphere, ocean and arable lands.

4          Caught in a vice between entrenched privilege and emerging needs, a distributive and flexible, diversely fueled energy system should: A) transfer wealth to sustain productive rather than damaging uses, and B) encourage an assortment of means to achieve similar ends such as: increasing efficiency, mixed tillage, blended uses, cogeneration, or chiefly implementing geothermal power that need not harm biodiversity

5          Limited perceptions, poor communications, and unequal access to remedies for existing damages caused by air pollution all obscure widespread solutions that are viewed as too costly in an unequally competitive energy market. Current debates confuse judgment while delaying extensive adoption of already existing means to reduce pollution, minimize harm, and promote adaptive response to the uncertainties inherent in climate chaos stemming from the enduring and reverberating shocks of global warming.

Hesitantly we at a crossroads await an appropriate means to motivate healthy responses to growing challenges. Locked in debilitating uncertainty over how little reduction of emissions or how much adaptation to unprecedented ecological changes we must make, animals and their codependent commons offer us a limited but needed vision in our blind pursuit of conservation and development. Unaware that we are stumbling beyond the edges of our past experiences, widespread means to adjust require that we must take unprecedented risks. Without our partners, the planet's wild creatures, we cannot prosper; with them we may yet thrive, since they keep secure the sage knowledge of that world we so desperately altered.

5673 words.

Introduction | Worrisome biotic responses | Solutions | Clashing visions | Lessons | Glossary | Notes | Sources

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Glossary

 

Abrupt climate change: within as little as a decade or century shifts in temperature and rainfall/snow patterns

Atmospheric composition: mostly nitrogen with an oxygen control knob & trace carbon thermometer

biodiversity: the variety of creatures, vegetation, ranges and genetic variability of plants, animals, fungus, bacteria and viruses.

carbon footprint: a measure of impact that uses have on emission of carbon

climate change: the situation over several decades that throughout geological and historical times have generated the anticipated weather patterns we see daily.

feedback loops: the effects of natural and created conditions on reflectivity and absorption of heat, trace elements, or runoff and percolation of water; two kinds are:

       positive (+) where the initial stimulus is reinforced. A black roof when temperature is rising

       negative (–) where the initial stimulus is countered. Shading areas when temperature is rising

global heating: the measurable change in the average temperatures of land and water

global warming: a debated term here referring to human induced (pollution) capacity to produce more carbon than the ocean and vegetation systems are able to absorb leading to a short-term and longer lag time for heat in the seas and air.

greenhouse effect: the natural variability of the earth's temperatures due to trace gas compounds to store sufficient heat (infrared radiation) to keep the planet above freezing.

heat-trapping gases: name given by focus groups to understand the capacity of nitrous oxide, carbon dioxide, water vapor, methane and CFCs to retain & re-radiate infrared.

pH: the measure of the acidity or alkalinity of an environment; life thrives at an optimal range on this logarithmic scale; litmus test meaning a small shift has a large consequence.

threshold: the level or step beyond which a different set of conditions exists, such as carbon saturation, or acidic situations that stifle life.

tipping points: a variety of signals that suggest the existing conditions have reached a level of instability and will not persist; can cause a cascade effect where one signal, such as the drying out of the Amazon rain forest, or an frequent El-nino pattern triggers another dependent condition such as melting mountain glaciers, or failure of the East Indian monsoon. Twelve to fourteen signals being monitored such as Greenland and Antarctic ice shelves, deep ocean currents and temperatures, coral reef mortality and methane release from once permanently frozen wetlands.

trace elements: attest to the reality that small amounts have big impacts. Carbon, phosphorus, potassium and sodium are examples of elements needed in compounds by living organisms that in small quantities also have a huge effect. Technically trace elements are 100 parts per million in solutions, and CO2 in the air is now four times that level. While not a trace element in the atmosphere carbon dioxide traps infrared radiation, indicating the atmosphere's thermal stability.

Introduction | Worrisome biotic responses | Solutions | Clashing visions | Glossary | Notes | Sources

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Index


Sources cited

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Brit Liggett, "Stewart Brand Says Nuclear Power Could Save the World." Inhabitat. 05/10/11, VIDEO INTERVIEW: http://inhabitat.com/video-interview-stewart-brand-says-nuclear-power-could-save-the-world/. 6/26/12 10:59 AM. "Stewart Brand: Nuclear Power Could Save The World." Huffington Post

First Posted: 02/18/11 10:27 AM ET Updated: 05/25/11 07:35 PM ET

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/02/18/stewart-brand-nuclear-power_n_824764.html

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McKibben, Bill. The End of Nature, New York: 1989.  p. 48, p. 96. pp. xv-xxv, 58-59, 96-116.

Morton, Oliver. Eating the Sun: How Plants Power the Planet. New York: Harper Collins, 2008.

Musil, Robert. Hope for a Heated Planet. New Brunswick, N.J.: Rutgers University Press, 2009.

Nelson, Erik , Guillermo Mendoza, James Regetz, Stephen Polasky, Heather Tallis, D. Richard Cameron, Kai M A Chan, Gretchen C Daily, Joshua Goldstein, Peter M Kareiva, Eric Lonsdorf, Robin Naidoo, Taylor H Ricketts, and M Rebecca Shaw. "Modeling multiple ecosystem services, biodiversity conservation, commodity production, and tradeoffs at landscape scales," Frontiers in Ecology and Environment. Volume 7, Issue 1 (February 2009), pp.

Parmesan, Camille. ‘”Ecological and Evolutionary Responses to Recent Climate Change,’’ The Annual Review of Ecology, Evolution, and Systematics, August 24, 2006, p. 637.

"Little Change in Opinions about Global Warming," Increasing Partisan Divide on Energy Policies October 27, 2010. Pew Research Center for People and the Press, http://www.people-press.org/2010/10/27/little-change-in-opinions-about-global-warming/, 6/13/12 4:34 PM. Modest Rise in Number Saying There Is "'Solid Evidence' of Global Warming." More Moderate Republicans See Evidence of Warming, December 1, 2011. Pew Research Center for People and the Press. 6/13/12 4:53 PM

David Pimentel & Marcia Pimentel, "Sustainability of meat-based and plant-based diets and the environment," American Journal for Clinical Nutrition. September, 2003 vol. 78 no. 3 660S-663S. http://www.ajcn.org/content/78/3/660S.full. 13-Jun-12; 11:52 AM.

Rosteck & Frentz, "Myth and Multiple Readings in Environmental Rhetoric: the Case of an inconvenient Truth." Quarterly Journal of Speech. Vol 95:1, February 2009, pp., 1-19.

Schmidt, Gavin & Wolfe, Joshua. Climate Change: Picturing the Science. New York: W.W. Norton, 2009.

Stern, Sir Nicholas. "a colossal market failure." quoted in Schmidt & Wolfe, Climate Change: Picturing the Science, p. 252.

U. S. Senate, Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation, May 7, 2003. http://www7.nationalacademies.org/ocga/testimony/Abrupt_Climate_Change.asp. 5/25/12 6:39 PM

Victor David G. and Cullenward, Danny.  "Making Carbon Markets Work," Scientific American, Vol. 296: #6. February, 2007. pp. 70-77.

Volk, Tyler. CO2 Rising: The World's Greatest Environmental Challenge. Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press, 2008.

Weart, Spencer R. The Discovery of Global Warming. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard U. Press, 2003.

UK based internet site for teachers:  http://www.ourplanet.org.uk/floods-climate-change.asp

Introduction | Worrisome biotic responses | Solutions | Clashing visions | Glossary | Sources

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Footnotes

[1] Tim Flannery, 'Monstrous Carbuncle', London Review of Books. 27:1, 6 January 2005.

[2] Aristotle, Politics, Book Two, Part 3. " For that which is common to the greatest number has the least care bestowed upon it. Every one thinks chiefly of his own, hardly at all of the common interest; and only when he is himself concerned as an individual."

[3] U. S. Senate, Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation, May 7, 2003. http://www7.nationalacademies.org/ocga/testimony/Abrupt_Climate_Change.asp. 5/25/12 6:39 PM

[4] Spencer R. Weart, The Discovery of Global Warming, (Cambridge: Harvard U. Press, 2003).

[5] James Lovelock, The Revenge of Gaia, New York: Perseus Books, 2006. pp.4-8. Sir Nicholas Stern: "a colossal market failure." quoted in Gavin Schmidt and Joshua Wolfe, Climate Change: Picturing the Science, p. 252.

[6] Australian Broadcasting Corporation.  "Atmospheric CO2 levels hit 800,000-year high: CSIRO, " AM By environment reporter Conor Duffy and staff, Updated March 14, 2012 14:17:48. Internet: http://www.abc.net.au/news/2012-03-14/temperatures-may-rise-5-degrees-by-2070/3887672, 5/25/12 4:20 PM, EST. US.

[7] "Conservation for the People" by Kareiva and Marvier, Scientific American, 297:4, October 2007, pp. 50-57. p. 51.

[8] Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, “Climate Change 2007: The Physical Science Basis,

Summary for Policymakers, Contribution of Working Group I to the Fourth Assessment Report,” pp. 8, 14-18.

[9] British Broadcasting Company, "Pakistan Indus flood diary - day seven," September 20, 2010, http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-south-asia-11370476. 5/25/12 4:40 PM.

[10] Darbee, Peter A.  Testimony of Peter A. Darbee. Chairman, CEO and President PG&E Corporation, Committee on Environment and Public Works, United States Senate Hearing on the U.S. Climate Action Partnership Report  (February 13, 2007), page 1.

[11] Faris, Stephen. Forecast: The consequences of Climate Change, pp. 14-20, 193-211.

[12] Lohmann, Larry. Carbon Trading: A Critical conversation on climate change, privitisation and power. Uppsala, Sweden: Development Dialogues, 2006. pp. 4-19.

[13] Barbara Juncosa, “Suffocating Seas”, Scientific American, 299:4, (October, 2008), pp. 20-22.

[14] Rosteck & Frentz, "Myth and Multiple Readings in Environmental Rhetoric: the Case of an inconvenient Truth. Quarterly Journal of Speech. Vol 95:1, February 2009, pp., 1-19.

[15] Camille Parmesan, ‘”Ecological and Evolutionary Responses to Recent Climate Change,’’ The Annual Review of Ecology, Evolution, and Systematics, on August 24, 2006 , p. 637.

[16] Azadeh Ansari, "'Climate change' forces Eskimos to abandon village." CNN, updated 11:35 a.m. EDT, Tuesday April 28, 2009, http://www.cnn.com/2009/TECH/science/04/24/climate.change.eskimos/index.html

[17] Ross Gelbspan, The Heat is On, pp. 155-157.  David Pimentel & Marcia Pimentel, "Sustainability of meat-based and plant-based diets and the environment," American Journal for Clinical Nutrition. September, 2003 vol. 78 no. 3 660S-663S. http://www.ajcn.org/content/78/3/660S.full. 13-Jun-12; 11:52 AM.

[18] Bill McKibben, The End of Nature, New York: 1989.  p. 48, p. 96. pp. xv-xxv, 58-59, 96-116.

[19]  "Little Change in Opinions about Global Warming," Increasing Partisan Divide on Energy Policies October 27, 2010. Pew Center for People and the Press, http://www.people-press.org/2010/10/27/little-change-in-opinions-about-global-warming/, 6/13/12 4:34 PM. Modest Rise in Number Saying There Is "'Solid Evidence' of Global Warming." More Moderate Republicans See Evidence of Warming, December 1, 2011. Pew Research Center for People and the Press. 6/13/12 4:53 PM

[20] 6-12-08, New York Review of Books, p. 45.

[21] Ross Gelbspan, Heat is On, pp. 33-63, 184-194.

[22] James Lovelock, The Revenge of Gaia, Earth's Climate Crisis and the Fate of Humanity. New York: Perseus Books, 2006. p. 78. Brit Liggett, "Stewart Brand Says Nuclear Power Could Save the World." Inhabitat. 05/10/11, VIDEO INTERVIEW: http://inhabitat.com/video-interview-stewart-brand-says-nuclear-power-could-save-the-world/. 6/26/12 10:59 AM. "Stewart Brand: Nuclear Power Could Save The World." Huffington Post. First Posted: 02/18/11 10:27 AM ET Updated: 05/25/11 07:35 PM ET http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/02/18/stewart-brand-nuclear-power_n_824764.html

[23] Ibid., p. 68.

[24] The Future of Geothermal Energy. © 2006 Massachusetts Institute of Technology. pp. 1-26 & 1-27.

[25] "Deep Geothermal can Provide 20 percent of UK electricity," A report published on May 30, 2012 suggests just the opposite: http://www.celsias.com/article/deep-geothermal-can-provide-20-uk-electricity/. 6/7/12 11:19:15 AM

[26] David Archer, The Great Thaw, p.159. Gavin Schmidt, Climate Change, p. 252. Bill McKibben, Rewriting the “Tragedy of the Commons:” What cooperation and sharing have to do with saving the world. Yes! Magazine: Jan 10, 2011. http://www.yesmagazine.org/people-power/rewriting-the-tragedy-of-the-commons, 6/14/12 10:43 AM.

[27] Jared Diamond, Collapse How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed. New York: Penguin Group, 2005. p. 248.

[28] Elinor Ostrom, Governing the Commons: The Evolution of Institutions for Collective Action. Cambridge,U.K.: Cambridge University Press 1990. pp. 1-25.

[29] Phillip Inman, "IMF chief Christine Lagarde warns world risks triple crisis: Lagarde says world risks falling incomes, environmental damage and social unrest without more sustainable approach to growth," The Guardian: guardian.co.uk, Tuesday 12 June 2012 10.51 EDT "The idea that different economic, environmental and social objectives can be seen as distinct aspects of a single vision, essential parts of a connected whole."

[30] p. 77. David G. Victor and Danny Cullenward, "Making Carbon Markets Work," Scientific American, Vol. 296: #6. February, 2007. pp. 70-77.

image

Chronos devouring his children.

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