Scientific American has a slideshow on their website calling our attention to eleven ‘natural wonders of the world’ that will soon disappear or be forever changed by climate change.
Or does it? Let’s ask the Fynbos.
The first ‘natural wonder’ is the Ross Ice Shelf in Antarctica. It is indeed threatened–it has been predicted to break off and sail into the Antarctic sunset since 1922, if not before. As that predates most of our contributions of greenhouse gases, I’m not sure it’s fair to blame human contributions to climate change (although I’m sure they don’t help).
The second example is the Doñana wetlands. Okay, but what’s the threat? Oh. Pollution and loss of ground water due to farming.
The WWF says, “Considered one of the most valuable wetlands in Europe, Spain’s Coto Doñana, located where the Guadalquivir River reaches the Atlantic Ocean, is a sanctuary for millions of migratory birds and endangered species like the imperial eagle and Iberian lynx. However, mining, farming, tourism and infrastructure development all pose a serious threat to the area.”
Up third on Scientific American’s list is the glacier atop Mount Kilmanjaro. One would think they would have learned from Al Gore’s experience with that snow-topped peak. “Kilimanjaro is a grossly overused mis-example of the effects of climate change,” said University of Washington climate scientist Philip Mote, co-author of an article in the July/August issue of American Scientist magazine. …Kilimanjaro has seen its glaciers decline steadily for well over a century — since long before humans began pumping large amounts of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, Mote points out.”
Next is the Great Barrier Reef. And again… after the obligatory tip of the hat to global warming they say, “It is also the acidification of the surrounding oceans. In addition, human pollution is exacerbating disease in the reef ecosystem, and dredging and sewage are burying sections of the reef in sediment and sludge.”
The Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority lists climate change as a threat to the treasure, along with extreme weather. But they also list declining water quality, coastal development, illegal fishing and outbreaks of starfish. A recent “assessment found the Great Barrier Reef World Heritage Area’s outstanding universal value remains largely intact and the Reef is one of the world’s most resilient tropical marine ecosystems.” The assessment does mention rising sea temperatures as a factor, but spends far more time talking about changes to the land supporting the Reef, disease, introduces species, pests and identify four ‘drivers of change’ impacting the condition of the GBR: economic growth, population growth, technological development and societal values.
We then come to the Arctic, one natural wonder indeed impacted by climate change to date. Scientific American writes, “Mysterious craters in Siberia, drunken trees in Alaska, gas plumes burning above Canadian lakes—all speak to the same thaw of the Arctic. This rapid warm-up in the Earth’s northerly air conditioner will mean even faster global warming as more of the greenhouse gas methane enters the atmosphere and darker earth or open waters replace reflective white snow and ice. Summertime sea ice may become a memory, and even the iconic white polar bear may brown as it interbreeds with the bears moving north into warming climes.”
I have absolutely no argument with Scientific American when it comes to climate change and the Arctic. But I guess an article with just one example (two, if you count the next one) would be… a bit short.
Then S.A. moves to another true natural wonder that truly does seem to be changing in reaction to a changing climate: Costa Rica’s Monteverde rain forest. “This tropical rainforest some 1,700 meters above sea level in the volcanic mountains of central Costa Rica gets its name from living among permanent clouds. The humidity is often 100 percent. But as the warming climate drives those clouds further up and even off the mountainsides, their ascent is exposing the lower reaches of the cloud forest to higher temperatures and drier conditions.”
But then they return again to less fruitful material, writing about the Amazon, “Logging and fire have returned to threaten the Amazon Rainforest, which sprawls over 5.5 million square kilometers in Brazil, Peru, Colombia, Bolivia, Ecuador, French Guiana, Guyana, Suriname and Venezuela, currently. After years of reduced human impacts, agribusiness, farmers and loggers have begun to eat away at the forest anew, according to the most recent statistics and satellite images. Less forest means less rain, a problem that may be exacerbated as the climate changes and dries out the world’s largest remaining rainforest.”
National Geographic lists the main threats to the Amazon:
- Logging interests cut down rain forest trees for timber used in flooring, furniture, and other items.
- Power plants and other industries cut and burn trees to generate electricity.
- The paper industry turns huge tracts of rain forest trees into pulp.
- The cattle industry uses slash-and-burn techniques to clear ranch land.
- Agricultural interests, particularly the soy industry, clear forests for cropland.
- Subsistence farmers slash-and-burn rain forest for firewood and to make room for crops and grazing lands.
- Mining operations clear forest to build roads and dig mines.
- Governments and industry clear-cut forests to make way for service and transit roads.
- Hydroelectric projects flood acres of rain forest.
Next on their list is the Boreal Forest: “his vast global forest, dominated by conifer trees, covers much of Canada, Russia and Scandinavia. But as the northern regions continue to warm, the southern edge of the boreal forest will give way to grasslands, and the forest as a whole could shrink by half. Meanwhile, wildfires and new insect threats—like the pine beetle eating enormous swaths of forest land to death today—will plague the remnant.” They neglect to mention that “Model simulations performed by the scientists of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) indicate that alpine tundra will lose ground to boreal forest spreading northward. According to their estimates, between one- and two-thirds of the current tundra will likely be replaced by boreal migrants.”
Nor do they mention: “Major industrial developments in the boreal ecoregion include logging, mining, and hydroelectric development. These activities have had severe impacts on many areas and these will face increasing pressure for resource exploitation in the coming years. Approximately 90% of all logging that occurs in this region is by clear cutting, using heavy, capital-intensive machinery. The “high mineral potential” in this region is also very problematic. Specific concerns include the disposal of acidic effluent from tailings, containment of radioactivity and the effects of emissions from processing plants. Some of the problems that the Boreal regions face are:
- air pollution from smelters and power plants
- radioactivity from atomic power and weapons testing
- water pollution & disruption of habitats if commercialization of a northern shipping routes become a reality
- adverse impact of new mineral and oil/gas extraction
- new threats to endangered species”
Scientific American then looks at mangrove forests: “One of the largest of the remaining mangrove forests may drown. Mangroves once covered much of the coastlines of Africa and Asia, but these places where rivers meet sea under the shelter of swampy trees are under threat from a variety of human activities, including coastal development—despite providing valuable shelter from tropical cyclones and even tsunamis. In Madagascar, rising sea levels and temperatures may overwhelm the Mahajamba Bay mangroves even before humanity has a chance to replace them with shrimp farms.”
Apparently they didn’t read the 2013 article in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Science that said, “Fewer deep freezes, attributable to Earth’s warming climate, have caused mangrove forests to expand northward in Florida over the past three decades, new research suggests.”
Or the report from the Center for International Forestry Research that says, “Where tropical forests meet the sea, you’ll often find mangroves, which harbor unique wildlife and store large amounts of carbon. A project conducted by the Center for International Forestry Research (CIFOR) seeks to show how they could also be protecting our coastlines against rising sea levels. As climate change leads to global sea-level rise, mangroves’ adaptability could be hugely beneficial. Yet, despite playing a key ecological role in climate change adaptation, mangroves are being lost at a loss rate equivalent to more than 45,000 football pitches each year.” Once again, humans are doing what is attributed to climate.
We turn then to the atolls that are scattered across the Pacific and Indian oceans. “The small atolls that litter the Pacific face stronger storms like Typhoon Pam, which justdevastated Vanuatu. Sitting barely above sea level, these islands also face saltwater incursions into freshwater supplies—as seen in Kiribati, Tonga and Ontong Java Atoll in the Solomon Islands—among other ill effects of swelling oceans as a result of global warming. It is not just Pacific isles that are under threat: low-lying islands like the Maldives in the Indian Ocean face similar challenges.”
Again, there’s one thing they leave out: Sea levels around Vanuatu have been falling since 2008. What’s been rising is the rate of subsidence and vertical lift from earthquakes. Again, a paper from PNAS: “Our data show that the Torres GPS station subsided by 117 þ ∕ − 30 mm (9.4 þ ∕ − 2.5 mm∕yr) from 1997 to early 2009. This is one of the highest measured interseismic subsidence rates on Earth [along with northwest Malekula Island (1) and West Sumatra. …Island nations such as Vanuatu are concerned about natural hazards and ways to reduce or mitigate risks. In recent years, many of the risk mitigation plans have been carried under the general umbrella of “climate change adaptation.” However, in the case of the Torres Islands, interseismic and 1997 coseismic subsidence is much larger than the climate-induced sea-level rise. On a scale of thousands of years and more, the Torres Islands are less threatened by climate-induced sea-level rise than are many other islands.”
We then come to the 11th Natural Wonder of the World that may disappear due to climate change. the fynbos. Now, don’t pretend you don’t know what that is.
“This 90,000-square-kilometer strip of scrubland in the Western Cape of South Africa hosts a greater array of unique flowers than anywhere else on the continent. Its distinctive proteas, such as the king protea that is South Africa’s national flower, evolved in the cooler climate of the geologic past and are therefore especially susceptible to rising temperatures, which may also bring increased wildfires.”
Now that I do know what they are, they are fascinating. You should read more about them. I did. Here’s the WWF on fynbos: “Constantly under threat from invading plant species, particularly wattle and acacia trees from Australia, as well as from urban expansion and land conversion for agriculture, WWF is committed to protecting the biodiversity of the Cape floral kingdom through a number of conservation projects and by supporting the Cape Action for People and the Environment programme. ”
And you know, that’s enough. Scientific American should have thought this through a bit more thoroughly.
Biodiversity in general is threatened by humans. Our hunting, overgrazing (and overfishing) pollution and our nasty habit of introducing new species into territories has put many, many species and entire ecosystems under severe pressure. For some, climate change may prove to be the straw that broke the camel’s back.
But to focus all our attention on climate change when it comes to threatened species is madness. As I wrote on Bart Verheggen’s blog in 2011,”
“I think that recent efforts to mitigate the potential impacts of climate change are important, but more because potential global warming can serve as a ‘last straw’ for certain portions of a beleaguered environment if it happens too fast.
However, 99% of stress on environments has other causes, most man-made, and addressing global warming in a mad and expensive rush without ameliorating our other impacts is madness, like treating a woman with cancer using a facial cleanser.
The environment, as Jeff Id alluded to, has thrived at times in warmer climates, and if warming happens slowly enough it could do so again.
Just as the alarmists forget (functionally, when talking of impacts and mitigation) that the climate always changes, some participants in yesterday’s thread seemed determined to ignore that our biosphere constantly changes too. For some species, warming will be a blessing, especially if warming happens to come in at a lower sensitivity of the atmosphere to a doubling of CO2 concentrations. For some it will not. But that kind of lottery has been occurring for a couple of billion years.
My main concern is exemplified by warmists hijacking iconic examples of negative effects caused by human activity and attributing the stress felt by or threats to, for example, polar bear populations and saying the major problem is global warming or climate disruption.
Climate is disruptive. It always has been. But species either adapt to the changes or make way for others that can. Our contributions to the disruptive nature of climate will not be welcomed by some species. However global warming is the least of their worries now, and is likely to remain so for the next century.
So how we use this century is critical. And my policy preferences are, just as with the human element affected by global warming, to make communities more resilient and able to withstand climate changes that we cannot control, to get off their backs with thoughtless development, pollution and dramatic changes in land use without environmental consideration.”
And on the same thread, commenter Sidd pointed out, “Mr. Bernard J. kindly posted a link to Hoffman et al. In the paper.From the abstract:
“…main drivers of biodiversity loss in these groups: agricultural expansion, logging, overexploitation, and invasive alien species. ”
To check Mr. Fuller’s guess about 1% loss to climate change:
fig S7 allow one to estimate the fraction of deteriorating species (of the IUCN list of 25780 endangered species) due to climate change or extreme weather and fire regime changes, as well as several other factors:
For birds: total number of deteriorating species=433, those due to climate change or severe weather, 8, those due to fire regime change, 1
The corresponding numbers
For mammals:: 171,3,7
For amphibians: 456, 5,1
Slightly above 1%.”