Thursday, August 6, 2015

Climate change nightmares are here and now ...

... and they will not be kind to us.

This report at RollingStone.com describes the scenario unfolding literally as we speak. Climate change is happening even faster than climate scientists have predicted. As the report says, climate scientists have "tickets to the front row of a global environmental catastrophe". There are many examples in the Rolling Stone report but let me illustrate how close all this is to us all with these snippets about one of our standard dietary items - salmon.

No species may be as uniquely endangered as the one most associated with the Pacific Northwest, the salmon. Every two weeks, Bill Peterson, an oceanographer and senior scientist at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's Northwest Fisheries Science Center in Oregon, takes to the sea to collect data he uses to forecast the return of salmon. What he's been seeing this year is deeply troubling.

Salmon are crucial to their coastal ecosystem like perhaps few other species on the planet. A significant portion of the nitrogen in West Coast forests has been traced back to salmon, which can travel hundreds of miles upstream to lay their eggs. The largest trees on Earth simply wouldn't exist without salmon.

But their situation is precarious. This year, officials in California are bringing salmon downstream in convoys of trucks, because river levels are too low and the temperatures too warm for them to have a reasonable chance of surviving. One species, the winter-run Chinook salmon, is at a particularly increased risk of decline in the next few years, should the warm water persist offshore.

"You talk to fishermen, and they all say: 'We've never seen anything like this before,' " says Peterson. "So when you have no experience with something like this, it gets like, 'What the hell's going on?' "

What is going on is the beginning of a mass extinction, triggered by human activities, that will among other things disrupt our food chain.

Jacquelyn Gill is a paleoecologist at the University of Maine. She knows a lot about extinction, and her work is more relevant than ever. Essentially, she's trying to save the species that are alive right now by learning more about what killed off the ones that aren't. The ancient data she studies shows "really compelling evidence that there can be events of abrupt climate change that can happen well within human life spans. We're talking less than a decade."

Not just climate scientists, but now all of us, have tickets to the greatest show on earth - a transformation of a whole planet that will make it unfit for the survival of many species - including our own.

h/t Jeff Rogers via Facebook.

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