This is a topic that I generally avoid talking about on this blog simply because of the hugely complicated causes, arguments and implications of it, which are far too big to discuss in any one post. Yet it has recently been on my mind (and no doubt the minds of the unfortunate flood victims in the north) and I have a few points and thoughts that I feel I need to write down and share.
Firstly my stance on the whole climate change issue is based largely on what I observe with my own eyes as well as articles I have read written by people whom I believe are unbiased and whose arguments are based firmly in fact not opinion. I accept completely that the global climate is changing and has been for some decades, this change is far more complex than a simple rise in temperature however. I am certain that the vast quantities of gases and other pollutants that humans are directly and indirectly pumping into the atmosphere has a large part to play in these climate changes. I am less certain on how these changes will affect life on Earth, I am aware that there are those of the opinion that it will become catastrophic for humans and those who think the changes will be more gradual. Considering that this scale of change in our atmosphere has never been experienced by any human alive and that similarly massive changes have occurred before in Earth’s history, I do not think we can accurately predict the consequences or how life on Earth will respond.
Now I want to talk about those people who accept the climate is changing but firmly disbelieve that human activities are the cause – specifically that CO2 usage is not to blame. This opinion perhaps stems from not accepting that we tiny humans can affect the vastness of the Earth, or from having an invested interest in the fossil fuel industry or simply not being confident in the accuracy of the facts and figures.
I can just about understand why you would disbelieve the link between CO2 and climate change, what I don’t understand is why these people use this argument to say that there is no problem at all with using fossil fuels. Even if all the CO2 we humans are releasing is having no impact on the climate whatsoever, there are still loads of reasons why we should immediately cease all fossil fuel emissions. Firstly there is the undeniable fact that the oceans absorb CO2, and that CO2 mixed with sea water makes an acid. Therefore any increase in atmospheric CO2 will cause an increase in the acidity of the oceans – this is a bad thing because a vast number of marine organisms (including coral and molluscs) build their skeletons or shells from calcium extracted from the water. Calcium is eroded by acid – the problem is fairly obvious.
Then there is acid rain which kills forests and pollutes lakes, then there are the direct human health issues caused by inhalation of fumes from cars and factories or anything else that burns fossil fuels. Then there is the fact that fossil fuels are a finite resource that WILL run out. That just by using an unsustainable non-renewable power source we are not only endangering our civilisation but corrupting the minds of the populace to create a wasteful, throw-away society. So regardless of what is causing climate change, we need to stop emitting CO2.
Then there are some (increasingly few) people who refuse to believe that climate change is happening at all. These people should become birders (or take an interest in entomology), because if they did then they would quickly release that climate change is not only very real but has already had significant impacts on the organisms that share this planet with us. In Europe average yearly temperatures have been increasing, winters have become milder (and wetter) and the seasons are gradually shifting out of sync. These are not facts from a scientific paper but from observation, I have seen with my own eyes the ecological impacts of the warming climate in my country.
Chiffchaffs are small warblers that migrate in the spring from the Mediterranean basin to northern Europe to breed, they are fairly common in Britain in the warmer months – but in the last decade or so this has changed. What has changed is that Chiffchaffs that breed in eastern Europe have begun to migrate not to Morocco but to Britain in the winter. It is now quite easy to see a Chiffchaff in winter in the UK, along with Blackcaps, Whitethroats and even the odd Swallow – these small migratory birds can do this because the mild winters bring out invertebrates for them to eat.
The warmer weather has also encouraged birds that were formerly restricted to southern Europe to spread their range northwards and establish breeding populations in this country. Little Egrets are the most famous and successful but others such as Black-winged Stilts, Cattle Egrets, Great Egrets and Mediterranean gulls have also spread northwards. There are also many other species who have been increasingly occurring in the UK and are predicted to colonise in the future. It isn’t just birds though – invertebrates such as the Tree Bumblebee, Wasp spider, long-tailed blue butterfly, southern migrant hawker and small red-eyed damselfly have all been creeping north year by year.
Wildlife is much more sensitive to changes in the ecosystem than we are (obviously because we have removed ourselves from it as much as possible) and the species I have mentioned aren’t moving north by coincidence or because they heard about our benefits system. These range shifts are the canaries in the mine, they are the first reactions of nature to what is going on in our atmosphere. Nature is already adapting whilst we stand around moaning about dredging rivers rather than adapting our own lifestyles to reduce our impact or prepare for the worst.