|A United Nations panel on climate change recently predicted that the world could warm up between 1.5 and 5.8 degrees by the end of the century - with clear proof that people are to blame. Scientists have predicted that above 2 degrees, the warming will push the planet into the unknown as ice caps melt, sea levels rise, and weather patterns change at accelerating rates.|
Carbon dioxide is the primary culprit behind the trend. This gas traps heat in the lower atmosphere, resulting in a planet that is at its warmest in 1,000 years. With just 5 percent of the global population, America produces 25 percent of the CO2.
This warming poses a profound threat to human and beast alike with marine life and seabirds being especially vulnerable.
Global warming may be driving 12 percent of the world's bird species to extinction. Baitfish for catching commercially important fish species are at risk. And the shoreline habitat of coastal-dependent wildlife is rapidly eroding, sinking or otherwise washing away. Cape Code loses 25 acres a year due to sea level rise caused primarily by melting glaciers.
As would be expected, a warmer climate produces warmer oceans. In turn, warmer oceans wreak havoc with the food chain beginning with krill at the bottom. Krill are free-floating, one-to-two inch shrimp-like crustaceans. They anchor this sea chain and are a key food source for marine life from seabirds to cod to whales. Heat the water, and cold water-dependent krill disappear.
When this happens the food chain starts its upward unraveling.
Last year a record number of dead seabirds washed up along British and northwestern United States shorelines alarming biologists that rising ocean temperatures are to blame. Seabirds are the canary-in-the-coal mine indicating the health of the planet's oceans.
Shorebirds are threatened not only by a loss of small baitfish but by rising seas that submerge feeding, foraging, and breeding grounds.
A global warming-induced increase in the ferocity and frequency of hurricanes and heavy rains, flood, displace, and otherwise destroy areas upon which migrating waterfowl and fish nurseries depend.
Especially vulnerable are shallow wetlands that provide wintering habitat for diving ducks such as canvasbacks, redheads, ruddy ducks, and scaup. The loss of
prime breeding grounds and coastal winter habitat for sea ducks as well as many goose species results in substantial population declines and disruptions in migration patterns.
Rapid climate change is also playing havoc with the timing of the seasons and is altering the breeding and migration patterns of birds. In addition to warmer summer temperatures, there is an earlier arrival of spring and earlier snowmelts that confuse avian migrants searching for familiar nesting sites.
A warmer fall and winter reduces seasonal northern ice covers, making it unnecessary for ducks and geese to fly as far south to find ice-free water and food as their habitat shifts. Ducks and geese have responded to the creeping heat by breeding earlier and expanding their ranges farther north.
But many populations may not be able to make the shift.
Draining the wetlands, pollution, and coastal development already narrow options for birds to live elsewhere. Many migratory corridors have been closed off by urban sprawl, cities, and agriculture.
We need to accomplish the following:
Cut energy use through conservation.
Initiate a CO2 tax on energy sources.
Reduce CO2 emissions at the international, national, and state/regional levels by signing the Kyoto Protocol to cut emissions to 1990 levels or below.
Sign the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative within Governor Deval Patrick's first 100 days. Eight other states have already signed this "mini-Kyoto" to cut CO2 emissions 10 percent by 2020.
*And finally, transform Massachusetts into a center for research, development, manufacturing, and use of renewable energy.
Nature has always had to adapt to changing climate conditions - indeed, it is one of the driving forces behind the process of evolution and the diversity of life. However, the changes we see now are far too rapid for species to evolve new survival strategies. What is most surprising to those of us at Mass Audubon is that the heating and changes are happening so fast.
When we mess with nature like this, we face the likelihood that the world of wildlife, as we know it, along with the places we've invested over a century of work in conserving as wildlife sanctuaries, will be forever destroyed.
Director of Public Policy
and Government Relat-
ions for Mass Audubon