Archive for the 'penguin extinction' Category

Jun 30 2008

CLIMATE CRIMINALS?

Things are heating up – a penguin joke. James Hansen testified before Congress 20 years after his famous warning about Global Warming. Famous, at least, for penguins and polar bears.

If I told you only two Congresspeople showed up to hear one of the world’s greatest experts talk about a threat that could end human civilization as you know it would you laugh or cry? Human civilization. Some of us consider that yet another penguin joke.

After reading Hansen’s testimony, Andrew Revkin of the New York Times posted his comments beneath the following headline: “Are Big Oil and Big Coal Climate Criminals?

[Hansen] said everything he has been saying for years: unabated warming would erode the ice sheets, flood coastal cities and drive many species into extinction.

But there was a much discussed recommendation in both his oral presentation and a written statement he prepared beforehand: that the heads of oil and coal companies who knowingly delayed action on curbing greenhouse gas emissions were committing a crime. “These CEO’s, these captains of industry,” he said in the briefing, “in my opinion, if they don’t change their tactics they’re guilty of crimes against humanity and nature.


Adelie Penguins – Photo: Heidi N. Geisz



From the penguin perspective, you humans have some odd ideas about crime. You can imprison a man or a woman for stealing money from a grocery store, but you seem to turn away from the larger crimes: destroying the Amazon forest, allowing the glaciers to melt, allowing species after species to disappear.

You are the smart ones, after all. Fire, the atom, the Space Shuttle, the iPod.

And now you seem to turn away from the obvious.

James Hansen terms it the “global cataclysm:”

He testified:

Climate can reach points such that amplifying feedbacks spur large rapid changes. Arctic sea ice is a current example. Global warming initiated sea ice melt, exposing darker ocean that
absorbs more sunlight, melting more ice. As a result, without any additional greenhouse gases, the Arctic soon will be ice-free in the summer.

More ominous tipping points loom. West Antarctic and Greenland ice sheets are vulnerable to even small additional warming. These two-mile-thick behemoths respond slowly at first, but if disintegration gets well underway it will become unstoppable. Debate among scientists is only about how much sea level would rise by a given date. In my opinion, if emissions follow a business-as-usual scenario, sea level rise of at least two meters is likely this century. Hundreds of millions of people would become refugees. No stable shoreline would be reestablished in any time frame that humanity can conceive.

Animal and plant species are already stressed by climate change. Polar and alpine
species will be pushed off the planet, if warming continues. Other species attempt to migrate, but as some are extinguished their interdependencies can cause ecosystem collapse. Mass extinctions, of more than half the species on the planet, have occurred several times when the Earth warmed as much as expected if greenhouse gases continue to increase. Biodiversity recovered, but it required hundreds of thousands of years.


Weddell Seal under the ice – Photo: Getty


A kind lady wrote to us recently kindly suggesting that we use too many words. That humans have a short attention span. That if we wanted to get our point across we needed to be more like television. What, we wondered, would that look like? How about: The End Is Near! Or maybe: “You’re Killing Us All!”

While we all think about the perfect 30 second spot, how about you think more about what Dr. Hansen has to say:

The disturbing conclusion, documented in a paper I have written with several of the world’s leading climate experts, is that the safe level of atmospheric carbon dioxide is no more than 350 ppm (parts per million) and it may be less. Carbon dioxide amount is already 385 ppm and rising about 2 ppm per year. Stunning corollary: the oft-stated goal to keep global warming less than two degrees Celsius (3.6 degrees Fahrenheit) is a recipe for global disaster, not salvation.



Like his very smart carbon tax, Hansen offered some clear ideas for action:

We must move beyond fossil fuels eventually. Solution of the climate problem requires that we move to carbon-free energy promptly.

Now I imagine many of you are looking for climate criminal part. Are you ready?

Hansen continues:

Special interests have blocked transition to our renewable energy future. Instead of moving heavily into renewable energies, fossil companies choose to spread doubt about global warming, as tobacco companies discredited the smoking-cancer link. Methods are sophisticated, including funding to help shape school textbook discussions of global warming.

CEOs of fossil energy companies know what they are doing and are aware of long-term consequences of continued business as usual. In my opinion, these CEOs should be tried for high crimes against humanity and nature.

Conviction of ExxonMobil and Peabody Coal CEOs will be no consolation, if we pass on a runaway climate to our children. Humanity would be impoverished by ravages of continually shifting shorelines and intensification of regional climate extremes. Loss of countless species would leave a more desolate planet.

What is the term you humans use? Oh yeah, we penguins are interested parties. Count us among those “countless species” who can lose.

I guess the question for you how much are a bunch of polar bears or a bunch of penguins worth? And if corporate greed and your need for a carbon economy kills us, are any of you quilty?

James Hansen calls it a high crime against humanity. Polar bears would call it a high crime against polar bears. And we’d call it a high crime against penguins. All of us would call it a high crime against nature.





No responses yet

Sep 11 2007

NO PENGUIN RETREAT, NO SURRENDER

Let’s start with us. It’s kind of scary to read an article with a headline like: “Retreat of the Penguins.

It only gets worse: “These bellwethers of climate change face a grave future.” Thanks a lot, Leigh Dayton.

It’s hard enough being a penguin these days. Who in their right mind wants to be a bellwether. Isn’t that a bit like being a canary in a coalmine? You die and warn humans there’s a problem. How many canaries do you think really wanted to find themselves in a coalmine?

Leigh Dayton writes about the work of seabird ecologist Eric Woehler from the University of Tasmania. Woehler came to check us out on Heard Island. He compared our numbers with photographs taken by Frank Hurley in 1929.

ericwoehlercaseyantarcticbasepenguins.jpg
Eric Woehler – Casey Antarctic Base

“With a click of the shutter the University of Tasmania scientist captured the same view: rocks, coastline, ocean, penguins. It was the same, but different.

“In the late 1920s there were about 250 breeding pairs,” says Woehler. “But when I was there in 2000 the colony was less than 20 pairs and grass had grown around the edge of the colony.”

… like his US colleagues Susie Ellis, Dee Boersma and Elizabeth Skewgar, Woehler fears that the past and the present signal a worrisome future for the world’s 17 species of penguins.”

If you’re hoping for a happy ending, it doesn’t get any better. Dayton continues:

“They face serious population decreases throughout their range,” the team writes in Conservation Status of the World’s Penguins, a report that Ellis presented this week at the sixth International Penguin Conference, meeting in Hobart.

Going further, the researchers use words unusual in scientific discourse: “grim progression”, “disconcerting decrease” and dire. All up, Woehler and company conclude that unless scientists, governments, conservation groups and the public take immediate action to reverse the trend, penguin populations will plummet. Many species face extinction.

That’s more than a tragedy for the seabirds themselves, Woehler says. “Penguins are the bellwether of climate change. As birds they’re pretty much at the top of the food chain and act as two-footed bio-indicators of the health of the environment, marine and terrestrial,” he says.”

penguinconspirators-c-spencer-van-gulick.jpg
Photo – C. Spencer van Gulick

You wake up in the morning and the first thing you read is “penguin populations will plummet.” And that you face “extinction.”

Pretty harsh! If you had to pick would you rather be a bellwether or a two-footed bio-indicator?

So how are some of our other friends faring?

polarbearyoungsusannemiller.jpg
Polar bears, Beaufort Sea, Alaska – Susanne Miller

It turns out we’re in some chilling race to the end with the polar bears up north. Who will the climate crisis claim first? Us or them. Or maybe both at the same time?

I wonder if you were us, whether you’d be a bit more diplomatic. John Broder and Andrew Revlin pull no punches:

“Two-thirds of the world’s polar bears will disappear by 2050, even under moderate projections for shrinking summer sea ice caused by greenhouse gases in the atmosphere, government scientists reported on Friday.”

polarbearusgs.jpg

Greenhouse gases – sounds so academic, doesn’t it.

This is the funny part:

“The finding is part of a yearlong review of the effects of climate and ice changes on polar bears to help determine whether they should be protected under the Endangered Species Act. Scientists estimate the current polar bear population at 22,000.”

So the issue is, should you declare polar bears an endangered species before or after you kill them all? I guess it’s all about the paperwork.

It sounds like they might make it a bit longer than us:

“The scientists concluded that, while the bears were not likely to be driven to extinction, they would be largely relegated to the Arctic archipelago of Canada and spots off the northern Greenland coast, where summer sea ice tends to persist even in warm summers like this one, a shrinking that could be enough to reduce the bear population by two-thirds.

The bears would disappear entirely from Alaska, the study said.”

polarbear600.jpg

Another article from the AP lays out what life will be like for the polar bears.

“The situation is dire for polar bears, said Kassie Siegel of the Center for Biological Diversity, who wrote the petition seeking federal protection for the animals.

“They’re going to drown, they’re going to starve, they’re going to resort to cannibalism, they’re going to become extinct,” she said.

As ice recedes, many bears will get stuck on land in summer, where they have virtually no sustainable food source, Siegel said. Some will try and fail to swim to sea ice, she said.

Bears that stay on sea ice will find water beyond the continental shelf to be less productive, she said, and females trying to den on land in the fall will face a long swim.

“It’s absolutely horrifying from the polar bear perspective,” she said.”

Horrifying. That sounds right.

And since I’ve become a bellwether, let me ring the bell for you. If we go, you may not be far behind.

How about this:
Expert says climate change will spread global disease.

According to Alistair Woodward, a professor at the University of Auckland:

“Climate change will have an overwhelmingly negative impact on health with possibly one billion more people at risk from dengue fever within 80 years, an expert said Tuesday …

childdenguefeverallahabadindiarajeshkumarsinghap.jpg
Child with dengue fever, Allahabad India – Rajesh Kumarsingh AP

Giving examples in a speech, he said that in China’s Jiangsu province the winter freezing zone has moved northwards. The water snail that transmits schistosomiasis had also shifted northwards, putting perhaps 20 million people at risk of the parasitic disease also known as bilharziasis.

In France extreme heat in August 2003 led to about 25,000 deaths. In the WHO’s Western Pacific region, a heat wave in summer 1998 increased mortality in Shanghai threefold.

Globally, said Woodward, the largest effect would be under-nutrition. “There will be some winners and losers, but overall, climate change is expected to have a negative effect on food production.”

That’s it for me. I’m going off to take a nap. I am one very tired bellwether. And there’s lots of work to do. Mobilize that penguin power. For us at Penguins United, there’s no penguin retreat, no penguin surrender!





No responses yet