John Colson: Studies eying climate disaster are piling up
Hit & Run
OK, a show of hands here: Who had ever heard of the IPBES prior to last Monday?
That was when the United Nations-affiliated group released a summary of a 1,500-page biodiversity assessment report that basically states in clear terms that we are driving our home planet to the edge of ruin, and we are doing it quickly.
I may have read the acronym over the past half decade, but if so it seems I immediately forgot it.
Formed in 2012, the IPBES (Intergovernmental-science Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services, if you must have the full name) put out its first global biodiversity assessment report in 2016, after two years of intensive work.
That earlier report focused primarily on the issue of pollination — the natural activity most closely identified with bees, which is needed to sustain the life cycles of nearly 90% of the world’s plant species, not to mention the annual worldwide production of half a trillion dollars worth of food for human beings.
You might recall reading something about the puzzling decline in the numbers of bees in many parts of the globe, most of it attributed to the use of pesticides, insecticides, herbicides and all manner of poisons. Specifically, scientists believe, one type of poison, neonicotinoid insecticides, is the main culprit in the decline of bees, a message that seems not to have penetrated the thinking of the petrochemical industry that has convinced too many of the world’s farmers they need to keep using these toxins.
But, hey, that was nearly three years ago, it’s old news now, right?
Getting back to the latest IPBES report, you’ve heard or read something about it, I’m sure. Among its conclusions, based on the work of untold numbers of scientists and experts, is the prediction that at least 1 million species of animals are facing extinction worldwide as a result of human activity.
That one made headlines around the world over the course of the past week, including in outlets here in the Roaring Fork Valley.
As attentive readers might recall, this latest report follows pretty quickly on the heels of another United Nations report, one that in late 2018 warned that we have only about a dozen years to reverse current trends that are driving the phenomenon known as global warming, and to keep the rise in global temperatures to somewhere around 1.5 degrees Celsius.
According to published reviews of the 2018 report, global average temperatures already have warmed by about 1 degree Celsius (or 1.8 degrees Fahrenheit) since the 19th century, which may not seem like much as you read it here but to which we can attribute the recent rise in life-threatening heat waves, water shortages, global flooding and much, much more.
The plain fact is that, as scientists generally agree, a 1 degree rise in average global temperatures already is melting the polar ice caps and glaciers around the globe, to the point where we already are seeing a rise in the ocean levels that is bringing with it alarming floods and extreme weather events such as hurricanes and typhoons that get worse every year.
Then there is the rise in oceanic temperatures, which is killing off the coral reefs and no one is certain how many vertebrate species of fish and mammals that live beneath the surface of the seas.
Taken together, these reports, based on the work of hundreds of scientists, academics, research institutions and other contributors, are painting a pretty grim and alarming picture, and one that is not to the liking of certain U.S. policy makers, conservative think tanks and others who are desperate to maintain the status quo at all costs.
I recall seeing an online map of the globe which purported to show what the world would look like after warming a total of 4 degrees Celsius, an image offered up back in 2017 at the BigThink.com website for our amusement.
“Micronesia is gone — sunk beneath the waves. Pakistan and South India have been abandoned. And Europe is slowly turning into a desert,” is how the opening paragraph put it, adding later one that much of the U.S. also would become uninhabitable desert at that point.
The Colorado River, according to this scenario, would become “a mere trickle,” and in general the U.S. population would be migrating northward to escape the desertification.
I’ve been intrigued lately by photos of recently hatched eaglets and young red tailed hawks in the lower Roaring Fork Valley, which a local friend has been posting online this spring.
But, if the IPBES and other scientists are correct, life will soon get a lot harder for those raptors as their food sources change or disappear, and their habitat morphs into something they wouldn’t recognize. And we humans could suffer a similar fate.
In fact, the aforementioned global map and accompanying text envision a world in which we humans might very well end up living at the north or south poles (and other northern exposures), since they might well be turned into temperate zones thanks to the rising global temperatures that are turning much of the planet’s land masses to sand and dust.
Or it could be that Australians might be pushed from the fertile coastlands they have occupied since the penal-colony days, and into what historically has been the wild and dry and sparsely populated “outback” that some say will become a green breadbasket of productivity.
I know there are some who deride all of this as “fake news” and not something we should worry about, but from where I stand, this all seems terribly possible given how things are going on a global ecological scale, and given my belief that scientists are not normally alarmists.
All of these studies and predictions, it seems to me, must add up to something real, and I look forward to the full IPBES report due out later this year.
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