Guest post by Dr. Peter D. Carter, M.D..
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In May 2008, headlines read:
- CBC – Global alarm sounded over dramatic decline in bird, fish, animal population
- BBC – Wildlife populations ‘plummeting’
- Independent – An epidemic of extinctions: Decimation of life on earth
Released in the lead up to the UN Convention on Biological Diversity conference in Bonn and compiled by the World Wildlife Fund, the Zoological Society of London and the Global Footprint Network, a report found that the population of animals, birds and fish on Earth has dropped by 30% in the last 35 years.
IS IT POSSIBLE THAT, IF WE DON’T STOP BURNING FOSSIL FUELS, GLOBAL CLIMATE CHANGE WILL DOOM VIRTUALLY ALL LIFE ON EARTH TO EXTINCTION BY 2050?
Just consider that, right now, our fossil fuel industrial civilization is wiping out species at a rate equivilent to, or even higher than, the extinction of the dinosaurs and the destruction of the natural ecosystems and the extinction of species is not only on-going, but accelerating at an exponential rate of increase.
That means the extinction of the next 30% of wild populations will happen in half the time and this rate has only just begun to be impacted by global climate change, which has already caused some extinctions of its own.
The two issues of land clearing and greenhouse gas pollution together make for a deadly, world destroying, synergistic combination: global heating destroys forests, thereby increasing temperatures – a carbon feedback; clearing the land of forests and natural habitat increases heating by reducing the land’s ability to function as a carbon sink.
British Columbia, Canada is the site of the world’s first planetary terrestrial carbon feedback. Cold winters once kept the pine bark beetle population under control. Now, with warmed winters, the beetle has become a plague and, instead of removing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, the 35 million acres of forest area it has killed is emitting as much CO2 in a year as all the forest fires in Canada combined. The estimated carbon output over 20 years: a staggering 270,000 megatonnes!
An increase in forest fires is another carbon feedback that is already happening.
So one of the the very first things we should be attending to that we are not is our treatment of the land. We are clearing the forests of the world as fast as ever and burning fossil fuels even faster. Simply put, this is totally nuts.
In all seriousness, the depth to which our industrial consumer culture is truly insane, in denial and lacking of insight, is not at all appreciated.
The figure of 30% extinctions was also what the IPCC (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change) 2007 report stated would result from global climate change, but this figure is dead wrong because it was known by the IPCC back in 2002 that global climate change would devastate the natural world.
In the 2002 Assessment, a fifth, 70-page technical paper titled, Climate Change and Biodiversity, was published at the request of the UN Convention of Biodiversity Secretariat.
Here are some extracts:
— Many of the Earth’s species are already at risk of extinction due to pressures arising from natural processes and human activities. Climate change will add to these pressures especially for those with limited climatic ranges and/or restricted habitat requirements.
— At the global level, human activities have caused and will continue to cause a loss in biodiversity through land-use and land-cover change; soil and water pollution and degradation (including desertification), and air pollution; diversion of water to intensively managed ecosystems and urban systems; habitat fragmentation; selective exploitation of species; the introduction of non-native species; and stratospheric ozone depletion.
— Changes in climate exert additional pressure and have already begun to affect biodiversity.
— These changes, particularly the warmer regional temperatures, have affected the timing of reproduction in animals and plants and/or migration of animals, the length of the growing season, species distributions and population sizes, and the frequency of pest and disease outbreaks.
— Climate change is projected to affect all aspects of biodiversity; however, the projected changes have to take into account the impacts from other past, present, and future human activities, including increasing atmospheric concentrations of carbon dioxide (CO2).
— Climate change is projected to affect individual organisms, populations, species distributions, and ecosystem composition and function both directly (e.g., through increases in temperature and changes in precipitation and in the case of marine and coastal ecosystems also changes in sea level and storm surges) and indirectly (e.g., through climate changing the intensity and frequency of disturbances such as wildfires). Processes such as habitat loss, modification and fragmentation, and the introduction and spread of non-native species will affect the impacts of climate change. A realistic projection of the future state of the Earth’s ecosystems would need to take into account human land-and-water-use patterns, which will greatly affect the ability of organisms to respond to climate change via migration.
— There are situations where the factors controlling the physiological changes may not change in concert (e.g., a plant responds to signals from both temperature and day length) or the phenological response of one species may not match that of other food or predator species leading to mismatches in timing of critical life stages or behaviors.
— …migration to suitable new habitats may also lag decades behind climate change, because dispersal from existing to new habitats may be slow and often the new habitats will have been occupied by weedy species that were able to disperse and establish quickly. Where climate-related stresses, including pests and diseases, cause increased mortality of long-lived species, recovery to a state similar to the previous stand may take decades to centuries, if it is achieved at all.
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The 2002 report described a future Earth in which only ‘weed’ species survive. Clearly a devastating impact on wild species known by the IPCC and, therefore, by all governments (IPCC policymakers), but it escaped official recognition as it was not included in the official IPCC assessment and there has been no such biodiversity global climate change report since.
One difference between the 2002 report and the 2007 report is, the 2007 assessment had some numbers on species impacted. However, rather than attempt to draw attention to the plight of wild species, the IPCC made the data misleading.
Though short, what little the 2007 IPCC assessment had to say about the impact of global climate change on species deserves careful reading as its significance was missed by the media.
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— The resilience of many ecosystems is likely to be exceeded this century by an unprecedented combination of climate change, associated disturbances (e.g., flooding, drought, wildfire, insects, ocean acidification), and other global change drivers (e.g., land use change, pollution, over- exploitation of resources). Over the course of this century, net carbon uptake by terrestrial ecosystems is likely to peak before mid-century and then weaken or even reverse thus amplifying climate change.
— Approximately 20-30% of plant and animal species assessed so far are likely to be at increased risk of extinction if increases in global average temperature exceed 1.5 – 2.5 C.
— For increases in global average temperature exceeding 1.5 – 2.5 C and in concomitant atmospheric carbon dioxide concentrations, there are projected to be major changes in ecosystem structure and function, species’ ecological interactions, and species’ geographical ranges, with predominantly negative consequences for biodiversity, and ecosystem goods and services e.g., water and food supply.
— The progressive acidification of oceans due to increasing atmospheric carbon dioxide is expected to have negative impacts on marine shell-forming organisms (e.g., corals) and their dependent species.
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Note that carbon feedbacks will be so high by 2050 that the terrestrial carbon sink will have reversed to net source by 2050, from which time carbon emissions will sky rocket. And so the media reported last year that, according to the IPCC’s assessment, global climate change is a threat to the survival of up to 30% of all species between now and 2050.
But hidden away in a section on ‘abrupt and irreversible climate impacts’ in the last IPCC (synthesis) report we find this:
“As global average temperature increase exceeds about 3.5 C, model projections suggest significant extinctions 40 to 70% of species assessed around the globe.”
The IPCC knew we were headed to +4 C by 2100, although that is not in the assessment either. What they should have said was: 40-70% additional species will be doomed to eventual extinction. The 30% figure never made a bit of sense because land changes alone (like deforestation) has more than 30% of species actually extinct by 2050.
What did the actual research say?
The key study on species (Extinction risk from climate change, C. Thomas et al, Jan. 8, 2004) found that the extinction risks from climate change are probably similar to those from habitat loss, and conceivably even greater in some regions. Based on a range of IPCC warming scenarios projected to 2050, it was estimated that between 5 and 50% of the species analyzed are at risk of extinction, with the central range of estimates falling between 15% and 37% (hence the 30% figure). The highest estimate was 58% committed extinction by 2050.
For scenarios of maximum expected climate change, 33% (with dispersal) and 58% (without dispersal) of species are expected to become extinct (2050).
At present, we are already over and above the maximum expected climate change scenario, so both values mentioned above will be higher. And the Thomas paper DID include species loss from habitat destruction, which the IPCC omitted.
Therefore, an estimated additional 34% of all original species will be committed to extinction due to habitat destruction between 2000 and 2050.
The paper also recognized that these results were likely to be underestimates in the real world.
Contrary to previous projections, global climate change is likely to be the greatest threat in many if not most regions. Furthermore, many of the most severe impacts of climate change are likely to stem from interactions between threats, factors not taken into account in our calculations, rather than from climate acting in isolation. The ability of species to reach new climatically suitable areas will be hampered by habitat loss and fragmentation, and their ability to persist in appropriate climates is likely to be affected by new, invasive species.
COULD WE BE LOOKING AT 34% OF SPECIES DOOMED TO EXTINCTION FROM HABITAT DISRUPTION AND 58% DOOMED FROM GLOBAL CLIMATE CHANGE BY 2050? CAN THIS BE POSSIBLE?
I’m afraid so, but the IPCC policymakers would not let it be known.
Our culture has never seen the evil or insanity of bringing about the worst mass extinction of species in at least 65 million years. Until we do, the extermination of life on Earth will continue, and continue increasing.
Dr. Peter D. Carter, M.D.
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