05 November 2007

Animal adjustments

One sign of climate change is a change in the habitat and behaviour of different fauna, both on land and water. Earlier posts on planet doom? noted these sorts of changes in marine fauna. Over the past few months, several reports of unusual animal sightings on land and at sea have been reported. Some of these are summarized below.

It is not just animals appearing in new locales. Their behaviour can also change, a natural response to human-induced environmental stress.

  • Some bird species in Australia are responding climate change with a range of behaviours. Some spring migrants are now arriving many days earlier than previously documented. Others are demonstrating new breeding behaviours. These observations are not limited to Australia, but have been noted in North America and Europe previously. See here for a previous post on birds.

  • Snakes have stayed active through the winter in Tasmania. Warming temperatures as a result of climate change is probably to blame for the snakes shunning their normal dormant period.

  • Some good news (sorta...). Mosquito numbers along the Murray River in SE Australia are likely to be down this summer. This is due to low rainfall and decreasing river levels. This is a result of climate change to the degree that the drought is a result of climate change. Only those who live inland and in riverine areas are likely to notice a difference – coastal areas will have the same levels. Personally, I'd rather have the water and no drought...

Of course, climate change is just one way that humans affect the different ecosystems. Pollution and fertilizer runoff from farms and ranches has led to frog deformities, as well as affecting coral reefs and contributing to the creation of hypoxic dead zones in the oceans. General environmental mis-management also plays a role. For instance, over-fishing has resulted in 76% of fish stocks being fully- or over-exploited, placing marine biodiversity at extreme risk. Other examples abound.

Our neoliberal, consumer-based society has failed at providing adequate environmental stewardship. The race for profits, short-term gain and cheap consumer goods has blinded us to our duty to the future. The effects we are having on the non-human beings we share the world with are alarming. We are on the wrong path, both for them and us. There is no guarantee that these animal adjustments will work out satisfactorily.

There are steps we can take to reduce our impact, though. The sooner we act, the 'easier' it will be to correct our unsustainable ways. Unfortunately, a recent poll in the UK (which certainly seems consistent with the attitudes I have encountered in Australia and the US) indicate that majority are unwilling to make the changes required to adapt and/or mitigate to climate change. I fear it will take some sort of mega-catastrophe (the string of unprecedented disasters we've had the past few years hasn't been enough...) to wake people up to the reality of our predicament. We can only hope it won't be too late (if it isn't already...).

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