Climate Change Occurring Too Quickly For Wildlife To Adapt

Species have been adapting to climate change – manmade or otherwise – since the beginning of their existence. However, a new study suggests that changes to Earth’s climate and the resulting effects on wildlife habitat are occurring too quickly for species to respond.

Although climate change is not a new phenomenon, its magnitude and rate are occurring much faster than over the past 300 millennia – a period that includes three ice ages. In fact, between now and 2100, climate change will be dramatic enough to require species to evolve at a rate 100 times faster than has been proven possible.

The study, conducted by Indiana University researchers and published in the scientific journal PLoS Onefocused on North American rattlesnakes.

The researchers determined that the rattlesnakes migrated an average of just 2.3 meters annually over the past 320,000 years and that their tolerance to climate has evolved about 100 to 1,000 times more slowly. These findings, the researchers said, show that migration has been the only way rattlesnakes have adapted to climate changes, at least in the recent past.

“We find that, over the next 90 years, at best these species’  ranges will change more than 100 times faster than they have during the past 320,000 years,” said Michelle Lawing, lead author of the paper. “This rate of change is unlike anything these species have experienced, probably since their formation.”

Using climate-prediction models for the next 90 years, the researchers found that the rattlesnakes’ ranges would be displaced by 430 meters to 2,400 meters per year, thus indicating that the snakes would be unable to move fast enough to keep up with the changes to its habitat.

Although this particular study focused on only one species, the researchers say that because rattlesnakes depend on the environment to regulate their body temperatures, the species is representative of how climate change affects many forms of life on the planet. A warming – or drastically altered – climate, therefore, has the potential to be disastrous to not only rattlesnakes, but other species as well.

DOI Report Paints Scary Climate-Change Picture For Western U.S.

(Photo credit: Vincent Laforet via Pixdaus)

As fewer and fewer Americans and Europeans view climate change as an immediate threat, evidence continues to confirm what scientists have been cautioning for decades: The effects of climate change are real, and they are imminent.

According to a new report released by the U.S. Department of the Interior (DOI), climate-change risks have the serious potential to threaten water supplies in the western U.S. The study used projections of temperature and precipitation based on multiple Global Circulation Models, as well as projections of greenhouse-gas emissions, technological advancements and global population estimates to estimate future water supplies across eight major river basins, including the Colorado, Rio Grande and Missouri river basins.

The report found that changes in temperature and precipitation are likely to impact the timing and quantity of stream flows in all western basins, which could limit the water supplies to farms and cities, as well as impact hydropower generation and fish and wildlife.

Specifically, the forecasts predict a staggering temperature increase of five to seven degrees Fahrenheit. Moreover, the report projects a precipitation increase in the northwestern and north central portions of the western U.S. and a decrease over the southwestern and south central areas of the country, as well as a decrease for almost all of the April 1 snowpack, which is a measurement used to project river-basin runoff. Major river basins are also forecasted to experience an 8% to 20% decrease in average annual stream flow.

What’s being done about it

The DOI’s Bureau of Reclamation (BOR) has launched several initiatives in response to the water-supply projections. Some of these efforts will be carried out through the bureau’s WaterSMART Basin Studies Program, which was first established in February 2010 to foster the cooperation among the DOI, states, tribes, local governments and nongovernmental organizations to support water conservation and the sustainable use of natural resources. Through the WaterSMART program, the BOR will research the options for meeting future water demands in river basins where water supply and demand imbalances exist or are projected. 

The DOI also says it is taking actions to “mitigate and adapt to the changing climate,” such as constructing head range turbines at the Hoover Dam that will allow more efficient power generation over a wider range of lake levels. 

While these efforts are commendable, they are reactive — rather than proactive — measures. To prevent issues such as water scarcity, we must attack the root cause — which  is, of course, climate change. “Adapting” to climate change is the admission of failure — in effect, accepting and approving of destructive behavior. While we cannot undo the mistakes of the past, we can focus more of our efforts on curing the disease, rather than treating its symptoms. 

Admittedly, preventing further climate change is a tall task. But by taking a proactive approach, rather than a reactive one, at least we — as a country, as a generation, as a species — will know we did the best we could. 

Save The Polar Bears?

Move over, hockey moms. Oil-bathing Alaskans must now swallow the fact that 120 million acres (187,000 square miles) off the north coast of their state have been designated as “critical habitat” for the polar bear. The new ruling, issued Wednesday by the U.S. Department of the Interior (DOI), comes amid a lawsuit brought by the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), Greenpeace and the Center for Biological Diversity (CBD) concerning the Endangered Species Act (ESA).

In 2008, the DOI classified the polar bear as “threatened” rather than “endangered” — a designation that would have afforded polar bears increased protections under the ESA. Instead, the DOI issued a ruling allowing the continuation of unregulated greenhouse gas emissions in polar bear habitat — in other words, “Drill, baby, drill.”

In response to the ongoing lawsuit brought by the NRDC, Greenpeace and CBD, the DOI is currently reassessing the classification and must decide by Dec. 23 whether or not to designate polar bears as endangered, as well as whether to allow offshore oil drilling in the designated habitat.

The habitat designation is a good start. But the DOI seems to be ignoring the underlying problem here — in effect, treating the symptoms, not the causes. This could be a clever attempt at a “Save the Polar Bears” PR campaign from the government while it does zilch to treat the real disease here: an obsession with oil.

Climate-change legislation has sat dormant in Congress, and the “clean energy” bills that have been proposed have contained increasingly less “clean” and more and more coal and nuclear. Hopes for a renewable electricity standard — which would require the U.S. to procure a certain percentage of its energy from renewable energy resources — have all but diminished.

Unless swift action is taken to combat global warming and reduce greenhouse gas emissions, the polar bear could be extinct by 2050, according to estimates from the NRDC. Simply designating territory in Alaska as “critical habitat” for the polar bear will not single-handedly save the species. But it is a satisfying slap in the face to anyone who’s ever chanted “Drill, baby, drill!”

To urge Secretary Salazar to protect the polar bears, click here.