Butterflies and Hurricanes
Shared by: kristinatodd
Kristina Johnson Rough Pr Matt Schultz Eng 190 8/4/08 Butterflies and Hurricanes: The Devastating Consequences of Global Warming Weather patterns change from year to year and decade to decade as part of a normal climate cycle, so even six years of drought is not something unnatural. These patterns themselves don’t really tell us much about climate change. We can say that long-term climate change has begun when particular patterns are repeated consistently over many decades. The earth’s natural climate cycle is being speeded up by human interference (Newton). Since the Industrial Revolution, humans have caused a dramatic increase in carbon and pollutants in the air, water and soil. The increase in carbon, nitrogen and pollutants has had caustic effects on the environment. An excess of carbon in the earth’s natural carbon cycle has led to the atmosphere holding in more of the sun’s radiation than it would naturally with the greenhouse effect. The greenhouse effect isn’t bad; in fact, it allows the Earth to stay warm enough constantly to allow liquid water and life (Newton). Humans have added so much carbon to the atmosphere through the burning of fossil fuels that the greenhouse effect has become significantly more powerful. This means that over the last century, record temperatures have consistently broken. While a longer summer or a milder winter may not sound too bad, the raise in temperature has a negative effect on the environment, and species are only able to adapt so much in a given period of time. As a result to human pollution of the biosphere, we have seen a dramatic species die-off in the last century with no end in sight (Vitousek). In fact, even more species are predicted to die-off as their breeding and feeding grounds are lost because plants are no longer able to withstand the climate changes in those regions. Climate change affects not 2 only the amount of heat a region receives; it affects the amount of water it receives and changes the length of the seasons (Vitousek). This paper intends to explain why global warming is not a natural part of the climate cycle and the biological consequences of this change. It will outline problems existing in the environment due to human action and attempt to show the truly destructive influence we have had on the biosphere. The raised temperatures caused by global warming have caused polar icecaps to melt at an increasing rate, and they continue to do so. This is causing a huge loss of habitat for glacial, Antarctic and Arctic terrestrial and aquatic species. These species have specialized to survive in the freezing temperatures and their food sources depend on upon these specifications also (Mendolsohn). Forests have actually been moving northward between one and four meters per year in areas across the globe. Many species already endangered will eventually reach a population level due to loss of habitat that will not allow them to replenish, and those species will go extinct in a matter of years or decades (Newton). Global warming also has another unprecedented effect on the ocean; raised surface temperatures mean less phytoplankton, as has been discovered in recent years. The phytoplankton supply has depleted by 30% on some coastlines. This may not seem drastic, but phytoplankton is the rock of the oceanic food chain. The entire food chain literally depends upon the phytoplankton supply (Mendolsohn). Raised temperatures have resulted in a decrease in the cold upwellings from deeper ocean water that brings nourishment to the phytoplankton. They are literally starving because the warmer surface temperature does not allow nutrients to circulate to the top of the water. Phytoplankton only requires sunlight and nutrients to survive; they are the ocean’s version of lichens. The rise in ocean temperatures is causing marine life to move closer to the poles in search of the environment they are acclimated to. Sharks have been seen in Alaskan waters, far from their 3 normal range; coral reefs are dying off because the warming is above their tolerance level and cold water fish have become scarce in the regions they are normally found, with tropical fish now being sighted in the same areas they once lived (Johansen, 443-463). The change in surface temperature also means a change in the ocean’s thermohaline circulation (Newton). This circulation allows the ocean to “turn over” and brings oxygen to deep water. Essentially, the ocean is becoming like a stagnant pond. If global warming continues at its current rate, some parts of the world, particularly Western Europe, will also see a marked cooling effect because the ocean’s currents will change. The mild winters brought by the Gulf Current will cease and the region will become notably colder (Newton). The raised surface temperature also exacerbates the frequency of El Nino weather patterns in the Pacific Equatorial; these patterns are more destructive, frequent and long lasting than in the past. El Nino brings excessive rainfall to regions that are usually very dry and drought to the regions that normally receive and require that rainfall (Newton). “El Nino events have become more intense and frequent since the 1976, about the same time that some scientists have documented a slowing in thermohaline circulation. Before 1976, El Nino events averaged once every seven years; since then, they are occurring roughly every four years” (Johansen, 458). El Nino dramatically warms the waters on the equatorial coast of South America, which is usually cooler than its surrounding waters. This changes air circulation patterns across North and South America which in effect changes rainfall amount and placement (Mendolsohn). The change brings torrential rains to the desert western coast of South America, dries the normally wet Amazon Valley and restricts the supply of moisture to Asia which drastically damages the normal monsoon pattern. The increased El Nino affects billions of people in all continents, from 4 the Americas to India to Australia (Johansen, 459). Hurricanes derive the majority of their power from warm ocean surface temperatures; as the ocean’s surface temperature continues to increase, we can expect larger, longer-lasting and more destructive hurricanes (EDF.org). The ocean’s pH has actually risen in acidity since humans began introducing excess carbon into the atmosphere. “By the turn of the millennium, with carbon dioxide levels in the oceans higher than they have been at any time since the days of the dinosaurs, scientists were discovering just how human alterations of the atmosphere’s composition also could fundamentally change the makeup of the oceans and the life they harbor” (Johansen, 463). The ocean has absorbed so much carbon dioxide that many marine species, particularly those with shells. Excess carbon humans put into the atmosphere rejoins the ocean as carbonic acid; carbonic acid dissolves calcium carbonate easily. Marine animals make their shells and skeletons out of calcium carbonate; this is easily dissolved under slightly acidic conditions and many of these shelled species are dying off or have noticeably thinner shells. Eventually they will be unable to survive because the ocean’s acidity; coral reefs are already dying out. They are made entirely of calcium carbonate. Marine species aren’t the only ones in peril. Global warming also endangers terrestrial plants and animals. According to a World Wildlife Report from 2001, if atmospheric carbon dioxide doubles as expected with the current rate of human output into the atmosphere, one-fifth of the world’s most vulnerable natural areas will face a “catastrophic” loss of species. “The areas most vulnerable to devastation from global warming include the Canadian low Arctic tundra, the central Andean dry puna of Chile, Argentina and Bolivia, the Ural Mountains, the Daurian Steppe of Mongolia and Russia, the Terai-Duar savannah of northeastern India, southwestern Australia and the fynbos of South Africa. Among the 5 U.S. ecosystems at risk, areas in California, the Pacific Northwest, and the northern prairie will be the hardest hit. The changes could devastate the shrub and woodland areas that stretch from southern California to San Francisco, prairies in the northern heart of the United States, the Sierra Nevada, the Klamath-Siskiyou forest near the California-Oregon border, and the Sonoran-Baja deserts across the southwest United States” (Johansen, 536). Many people think of saving the tropical rain forest when they talk about global warming, and while this is something that needs to be done, it is not commonly understood that this change will affect the entire globe and every ecosystem within the biosphere. That includes every person. Mass die-offs in wildlife will completely change natural ecosystems (EDF.org.). Agriculture will be forced to change locations and change operations dramatically if the same food crops are to be grown. Supplies of drinking water will have to change. Global warming affects all animals, including humans. We will have to change our whole way of life if global warming continues at its current rate (Climate Change). The way we live now needs to change so that we do not lose millions of species and possibly cause a huge death toll in the human population. Flying insects are also affected by global warming. They follow flowering plants and are necessary for pollination. This is a job that humans can not replace with machines. Due to changes in climate, raised temperatures and the storms that follow, many pollinators are being lost. The ranges they once used for breeding and feeding are disappearing (Newton). A good example is the global butterfly population. Their feeding habitat, migrations and reproductive cycles all depend upon the climate. Therefore, they are excellent indicators of a drastic change to the environment. Butterflies are disappearing all over the globe. Initially it was thought that the rising temperatures would show an increase in the butterfly population; instead there has 6 been a severe decrease and large extinctions because warming has destroyed their habitats (Hughes). In the 1970’s Britain saw a lot of warm summers and mild winters which attracted butterfly population that do not usually go to the islands. Since then, 75% of the butterfly species that would have headed north due to global warming have severely declined in numbers. The species that are not escaping extinction by heading to cooler habitats like Britain do not colonize these areas because they cannot find suitable breeding sites or they simply cannot reach the area (Hughes). A study by British biologists concluded that at least 30 of the island’s butterfly species faced extinction because they cannot adapt to the effects of global warming. They will go extinct once their populations decline below replacement levels. Most of the familiar butterfly species face mass extinction. They are being seen earlier in the spring and survive longer in the autumn, but their numbers are not increasing. The ringlet and marbled white have been able to survive and flourish by moving farther north and uphill as summers become hotter, but most species are specialized to particular areas and face losing nearly all their available habitat because of the changes induced by global warming (Hughes). Exotic species have been moving northwards and beginning to colonize the southern shores. The same problem is being seen in other pollinator communities, such as the bees. If the pollinators are lost, there is no replacement and the flowering plants will not be able to reproduce and longer. Flowers and butterflies may seem facetious, but they should be taken more seriously; we require them to sustain our food source. Jeffrey Salmon, the executive director of the George C. Marshall Institute in Washington, D.C. argues that global warming is not a significant threat. The Institute specializes in conducting scientific research on issues affecting public policy. His stance is a common one throughout the nation, especially for those who feel that change would 7 either cost too much money or is simply a scam that is not based in fact (Roleff, 23). Salmon feels that environmentalists and politicians are using global warming to promote the idea of an environmental crisis in the public mind to reach their own ends, whether it is election to an office or some kind of wide-spread change. While he agrees that there are scientific findings that in fact show the earth is warming dramatically, he feels that they have been greatly exaggerated and are not something that can be used to predict future change (Roleff, 23). Salmon agrees that global warming is real and that human introduction of pollution has affected the natural greenhouse effect, but that these changes should not be taken so seriously because there are many things that we do not completely understand about the workings of the biosphere as a whole and that computer models cannot be trusted to give accurate representations of future climate changes because so many factors are involved. To Salmon, dramatic lifestyle changes are not necessary because it would raise the price of fuels dramatically and therefore negatively impact businesses (Roleff, 24-25). He feels that while we will eventually be forced to change our sources of energy, we can put off efforts to change fuel options and change our way of living to benefit the earth because there would only be a raise of a few degrees (Roleff, 27-30). What Salmon does not know is that this slight change will impact all systems associated with the economy because a change in even a single degree is detrimental to all plant and animal species. Nearly all plants and animals are only able to withstand a narrow range of temperature and pH. Introduction of excess carbon and raised temperatures changes the pH of fresh water, salt water and soil. Crops would not be able to be grown in certain areas and the raise in ocean temperatures will hurt food supplies while increasing storms’ destructive power and staying ability. The cost to 8 begin change will be far less than the cost to clean up the damage and the loss of food crops. There is also the idea that this is a natural part of the global climate cycle and nothing can be done. While there have been temperature spikes before, they usually took tens of thousands of years to happen, whereas this spike has taken only a century. If carbon introduction by humans continues at the current rate, mass species extinctions will begin by 2050 and in another century the rest will be lost. Over a period of 200 years, humans have effectively caused a monumental climate change that should have taken millennia (Gates). Some species will survive, but the earth is only able to support about a million people sustainably. If we lose the environment and continue to poison the biosphere, storms and famine will take a huge toll on humans as they already have in the other populations of the world (Gates). Even if scientific data was inaccurate, that does not explain the huge species die-offs and climate changes already and irrefutably occurring. Changing the way we live and get our energy will be far simpler than trying to continue the way we do today. Fossil fuel reserves are predicted to run out within the next 30-50 years anyway, so why don’t we start the change now? It will cost money no matter what, but saving lives and the earth’s biosphere seems far more important than money at this point. There are significant biological effects due to global warming caused by human introduction of greenhouse gases, excessive carbon dioxide and pollutants to the atmosphere and oceans (Climate Change). Warming has been increasing at an exponential rate since the beginning of the Industrial period, when more and more carbon was introduced into the earth’s natural carbon cycle through the combustion of fossil 9 fuels. As a result of the excess carbon, pH levels are raising in the air and water. Most species can only survive at very narrow pH range, carbon dioxide level and temperature range (Gates). Most of the species on the planet are specialized to particular habitats and are dying off because global warming is changing their habitat completely. Rising temperatures are raising sea levels and increase storms’ destructive capacity and frequency (EDF.org). Therefore, we must take some action to prevent any further damage and correct the existing damage or temperatures will continue to rise resulting in huge, destructive changes in weather patterns, ocean currents, etc. We have lost a significant number of species since the beginning of the Industrial Revolution, and if we continue to pollute and feed the carbon cycle excessive amounts of carbon, a mass extinction is viable. It is important for individuals, corporations and governments to each do their part to heal the environment. Humans need to find ways to create energy in ecologically beneficial ways. Lifestyle choices need to shift from consumerism to a less selfish, global agenda that will allow us to heal the damage to the biosphere while we still can. We will not be able to stop certain changes from happening because it is already too late, but if we continue to exacerbate these conditions we will destroy the planet we depend upon. 10 Works Cited Climate Change. Climate Change Divison. 11 July 2008. US Environmental Protection Agency. 15 July 2008. <http://www.epa.gov/climatechange/>. EDF.org. 2008. Environmental Defense Fund. August 4, 2008. <http://www.edf.org/page.cfm?tagid=1368&source=ggad0802gw1368&gclid=CLPvvaG O_JQCFRILIgod8j93rA>. Gates, David. "Climate Change and Its Biological Consequences." The Quarterly Review of Biology Vol. 69, No. 2June 1994 293-294. 15 Jul 2008 <http://www.jstor.org/sici?sici=00335770(199406)69%3A2%3C293%3ACCAIBC%3E2.0.CO%3B2-K>. Hughes , Lesley. "Biological Consequences of Global Warming: Is the Signal Already Apparent?". Trends in Ecology and Evolution Vol. 15, No. 201 February 2000 56-61. 15 Jul 2008 <http://www.sciencedirect.com/science?_ob=ArticleURL&_udi=B6VJ140D626R8&_user=2503449&_rdoc=1&_fmt=&_orig=search&_sort=d&view=c&_acct=C000057 643&_version=1&_urlVersion=0&_userid=2503449&md5=a7a37bd25132a44f50784388 c1fbcbd7>. Johansen, Bruce. Global Warming in the 21st Century. Westport, CT: Praeger Publishers, 2006. Mendelsohn, Robert. Global Warming and the American Economy: A Regional Assessment of Climate Change Impacts. Northampton, MA: Edward Elgar Publishing, Inc, 2001. Newton, David. Global Warming: A Reference Handbook. Santa Barbara: Instructional Horizons, Inc, 1993. Roleff, Tamara. Global Warming : Opposing Viewpoints . San Diego: Greenhaven Press, 1997. 11 Vitousek, Peter. "Beyond Global Warming: Ecology and Global Change." Ecological Society of America Vol. 75, No. 7October 1994 1862-1876. 15 Jul 2008 <http://www.jstor.org/sici?sici=00129658(199410)75%3A7%3C1861%3ABGWEAG%3E2.0.CO%3B2-Q&cookieSet=1>.