June 12, 2005

Consequences of Global Warming

TomDispatch features a thoughtful piece by Chip Ward describing the increasingly perilous life of the Marmot.


So when you hear about global warming, the odds are good that you never think of the yellow-bellied marmot. Probably, you've never even heard of the critters, but the big rodents, common not to the distant Arctic but to Rocky Mountain meadows, have been acting like so many canaries lately -- coal-mine canaries, that is. They may be the first among many species in the Lower 48 to die off, thanks to close-to-home global warming effects that we hear little about. They are dying of confusion.

...The intricate and precisely timed collaborations of plants, animals, birds, and insects, fine-tuned over endless thousands of years of evolution, is inevitably short-circuited when the weather goes whacky over periods of time that are the geological equivalent of a wink. When environmental events and biological events that once fit together lose their synchronicity, the consequence can be extinction. Even the Pentagon realizes that, if dependable local weather patterns become erratic, chaos can ensue as, for instance, crops begin to fail. Some of the less adaptable wild creatures, great and small, who share our American backyards are already coping with the kind of eco-havoc we can as yet only imagine for ourselves. For them, a more accurate description of what is happening might be Eco-Topsy-Turvy or, perhaps, Climate Helter-Skelter.

Take that marmot, for example. The yellow-bellied marmot's hibernation habits are guided by ancient circadian rhythms that are cued by seasonal changes in light and temperature. Like their cousin Punxsutawney Phil, the marmots awake from winter hibernation in their underground burrows and surface when they sense that the earth is warming. In recent years, conservationists have been reporting that marmots are emerging from their holes a month sooner than expected. But if the ground warms before deep snowpack melts, which is now often the case, the emerging marmots cannot get to their food and they starve.

Humans are creating a world unlike any our species has ever had to face. And one where numerous other species will find themselves losing the race to adapt fast enough to survive into the next century. Bill McKibbens asks that we at least document the world that we are changing so there is some record of the one we were blessed to have before we left it worse for the generations coming after us.

Otherwise, the only role left to us -- noble, but also enraging in its impotence -- is simply to pay witness. The world is never going to be, in human time, more intact than it is at this moment. Therefore it falls to those of us alive now to watch and record its flora, its fauna, its rains, its snow, its ice, its peoples. To document the buzzing, glorious, cruel, mysterious planet we were born onto, before in our carelessness we leave it far less sweet.

Posted by Mary at June 12, 2005 05:53 PM | Environment | Technorati links |

THANKS for posting this! I read it somewhere and then lost it. I wanted to post it on my blog, so hope you don't mind if I just post the title and a link back here...

Posted by: Joe at June 12, 2005 09:05 PM

Take as much as you want, Joe. It was a really excellent piece and one that deserves broad exposure.

Posted by: Mary at June 12, 2005 10:59 PM

Thanks for posting this, Mary. The irritating thing is that global warming deniers will say that species will evolve and adapt, and they're right. Only not for thousands of years. Many generations of us will come and go before the earth is restored to the diversity it had at the dawn of the industrial era.

Posted by: natasha at June 13, 2005 06:05 PM

Aren't they the ones that are also pushing for evolution to stop being taught in schools?

Posted by: Hanna at June 14, 2005 01:56 AM