Thursday, October 15, 2009

Personal Thoughts on Climate Change and Species Extinction

“ I like to move it, move. He likes to move it, move, we like to….MOVE IT!”
How sad would it be if the world lost the dancing lemurs of Madagascar?  All attempts at humor aside, today is Blog Action Day 09 and this years topic is Climate Change.  The hope of the project is to raise awareness of climate change and the impacts in can have on the Earth.

I am by no means an expert in climate change or the environmental impact changes can have, but I do try to read relevant articles when I find them.  I tend to pay close attention to articles that discuss species extinction.  This subject has become more important to me in recent years because Iain is so fond of animals.  His favorite shows to watch on TV are nature documentaries, and of all of the documentaries he watches, his favorites are the Walking with series.  He loves Walking with Dinosaurs and Walking with Monsters, but his number one is Walking with Prehistoric Beasts.  I can imagine how excited he would be if he could see a real living Mammoth or Smilodon.  His fascination is one of the primary reasons that I have an interest in this topic.  We have talked about extinction in relation to the animals he see in those shows, and one of his comments relating to mammoths has been "but there are elephants, which are like mammoths".

Besides making my kid happy that his favorite animals won’t go the way of the dinosaurs, why is extinction important?  Why does it matter if some tiny shrew from southeast Asia is wiped from the planet?  According to an April 2009 article in Time Magazine one reason is:
“we're animals too, dependent on this planet like every other form of life. The more species living in an ecosystem, the healthier and more productive it is”
Beyond that, the article goes on to mention the many medical/drug discoveries that have been made by studying the various species of the world.  There have been five previous mass extinctions on the planet which have caused various degrees of biodiversity chage.  These extinctions have led us to today, with less that 1% of the species that have ever lived on our planet are still alive.  Most people know about the extinction 65 million years ago that killed the dinosaurs and while this extinction means that humans will only walk with the dinosaurs in movies, it did clear the way for the evolution of mammals.  Extinctions in the past have generally led to new species growing to dominance, which does not generally seem to be considered a bad thing.

However, not all mass extinctions are created equal.  Some scientists believe that we are in the middle of the sixth mass extinction, but instead of being caused by gamma radiation bursts, volcanoes or asteroids this one is being caused by another species, us.

There is a lot of information about how climate change is affecting species.  Much of the research I have read shows that even small changes in climate can have drastic effects on a species in a region.  In Madagascar, even tiny changes in the amount of rainfall in a rain forest can have drastic effects on infant sifakas.  In the Greater Mekong region of Southeast Asia new species are being discovered all the time, and many of them have very close ties to other species in the region.  As climate changes, some of these species will not be able to adapt.  If a species declines or becomes extinct due to these climate changes it could negatively impact further species.

Recently, I have been reading articles that discuss how targets that were set to reduce loss of biodiversity may not be met.  The fear is that we are getting started so late, and not being forceful enough in our approaches to stem the tide of species extinction.  Is it possible that with all we have done, it might be to late?  Will we lose some of the species of Lemur found only in Madagascar to climate change?  My hope is that this simple post in support of Blog Action Day will encourage a few people to take an interest in global climate change, and look closely at it's potential impact on all the living things on our planet.  It is time to step up our efforts to make sure we have a livable world for all species living on earth, not just the 6+ billion humans.

A few resources that I follow that are related to the subject.

Extinction Section on Science Daily
Climate Change Section on AllTop
Recent Climate Change and Extinction articles on Google News

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