Archive for the 'penguins & climate change' 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.





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Dec 18 2007

BALI, SCHMALI

Well there is the small victory to celebrate at Bali – the U.S. was frightened enough by the threatened boycott of its January conference to refrain from preventing an agreement.

But from the point of view of the rest of the world – the non-humans of this world – it was pretty sad. It is very disappointing to penguins around the world that after so much talk, the best you humans can come up with is an “agreement” for a “new framework” for two more years of talk.


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Emperors – Photo: AFP



Meanwhile during the Bali conference, we learned from new studies that 4 species of penguin are in great peril, the Arctic ice is melting far faster than any of your scientists predicted, carbon dioxide levels are the highest in 650,000 years and that our coral reefs are in danger.


George Monbiot pointed out how little has changed by quoting the following:

“After 11 days of negotiations, governments have come up with a compromise deal that could even lead to emission increases. The highly compromised political deal is largely attributable to the position of the United States, which was heavily influenced by fossil fuel and automobile industry interests. The failure to reach agreement led to the talks spilling over into an all-night session.”

These are extracts from a press release by Friends of the Earth. So what? Well it was published on December 11 – I mean to say, December 11 1997. The US had just put a wrecking ball through the Kyoto protocol … Its climate negotiators were led by Albert Arnold Gore.

The European Union had asked for greenhouse gas cuts of 15% by 2010. Gore’s team drove them down to 5.2% by 2012. Then the Americans did something worse: they destroyed the whole agreement.



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Moon above Feegletscher, Switzerland – Photo: AFP/Fabrice Coffrini



As for Bali, Monbiot declares:

There are still two years to go, but so far the new agreement is even worse than the Kyoto protocol. It contains no targets and no dates.



While the climate negotiators were negotiating, this is some of what we learned. It was a very bad year for walruses. The AP reports:

In what some scientists see as another alarming consequence of global warming, thousands of Pacific walruses above the Arctic Circle were killed in stampedes earlier this year after the disappearance of sea ice caused them to crowd onto the shoreline in extraordinary numbers …

”It was a pretty sobering year — tough on walruses,” said Joel Garlach-Miller, a walrus expert for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

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Dead walruses, Arctic Circle – Photo: A Kochnev/AP

Unlike seals, walruses cannot swim indefinitely. The giant, tusked mammals typically clamber onto the sea ice to rest, or haul themselves onto land for just a few weeks at a time.

But ice disappeared in the Chukchi Sea this year because of warm summer weather, ocean currents and persistent eastern winds, Garlach-Miller said.

As a result, walruses came ashore earlier and stayed longer, congregating in extremely high numbers, with herds as big as 40,000 at Point Shmidt, a spot that had not been used by walruses as a ”haulout” for a century, scientists said.

Walruses are vulnerable to stampedes when they gather in such large numbers. The appearance of a polar bear, a hunter or a low-flying airplane can send them rushing to the water.


And as the ice melts and thins, the polar bears suffer. The polar bears die. Paul Richards of AFP writes that climate change has reduced the time polar bears can hunt for the food they need.


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Polar bear and cubs, Hudson Bay – Photo: Paul J. Richards/AFP


“For many years, there were 1,600 to 2,200 of our polar bears, called the western Hudson Bay sub-population,” Bonnie Chartier, a Churchill native who works as a guide for tour groups who come to this northern town to spot the world’s largest bear, told AFP.

“Now they’re saying there are about 965. Boom! In a very short span of time, we have a much smaller population and this has been attributed to global warming,” she said.

Polar bears are carnivores, and the seals that live in the Hudson Bay are their favorite meal.

They hunt when the bay is frozen, venturing far out on the thick ice and waiting patiently for a seal to pop its head out of the water for air.

They spend the part of the year when the bay is not frozen on land, fasting.

“In the last 20 years, our bears have been coming off the ice two weeks earlier and going out about one week later, so you’ve taken three weeks’ hunting time out of their diet, including the crucial spring weeks, when seals are pupping. Seal pups are easier prey for the polar bears,” Chartier said.

“The bears are having a harder time. They’re not able to put on enough weight to carry themselves through the whole fasting season,” she said.



As the politicians were arguing, we also discovered that thanks to climate change the oceans are rising faster than scientists predicted. The BBC reports on a study published by the journal, Nature Geoscience:

The world’s sea levels could rise twice as high this century as UN climate scientists have previously predicted, according to a study.

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change proposes a maximum sea level rise of 81cm (32in) this century.

But in the journal Nature Geoscience, researchers say the true maximum could be about twice that: 163cm (64in).

They looked at what happened more than 100,000 years ago – the last time Earth was this warm.

The results join other studies showing that current sea level projections may be very conservative.

Sea level rise is a key effect of global climate change. There are two major contributory effects: expansion of sea water as the oceans warm, and the melting of ice over land.



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Kangerdlussuaq Glacier, East Greenland – Photo: J A Dowdeswell


All this while humans talk and talk and talk.


It’s enough to drive a penguin batty.


Bali, Schmali.





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Dec 11 2007

PENGUINS IN PERIL

You know you’re in big trouble when they talk about you in Forbes and the UK Guardian and the Telegraph and National Geographic News all in the same day.

Big big trouble. Why? The World Wildlife Fund issued its report, “Antarctic Penguins and Climate Change.”

This is what the Forbes headline says: “Penguins in Peril as Climate Warms.” The Chinese news service Xinhua puts it this way: “WWF: Climate warming threatens Antarctica Penguins.”

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Adelie, Emperor, Chinstrap & Gentoo Penguins – UK Telegraph

According to Forbes:

four populations of penguins that breed on the Antarctic continent are under escalating pressure. For some, global warming is taking away precious ground on which penguins raise their young. For others, food has become increasingly scarce because of warming in conjunction with overfishing.

This reminds us a bit of the American writer Mark Twain who read his own obituary in the newspaper.

You writing about us?

We’ve talked a lot about the Arctic ice here but today they’re talking about our ice:

The Antarctic Peninsula is warming five times faster than the average rate of global warming. The vast Southern Ocean has warmed all the way down to a depth of 3,000m.

Sea ice – ice that forms from sea water – covers 40 percent less area than it did 26 years ago off the West Antarctic Peninsula. This decrease led to reduced numbers of krill, the main source of food for Chinstrap Penguins.

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Macaroni and Chinstrap Penguins – Sylvia Rubli/WWF

The number of Chinstraps decreased by as much as 30 to 66 percent in some colonies, as less food made it more difficult for the young to survive. It’s the same story for Gentoo Penguins, which are increasingly dependent on the declining krill stocks as overfishing kills off their usual food sources.

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Gentoo Penguin with chicks, South Georgia – Fritz Pölking/WWF

The Emperor Penguin, the largest and most majestic penguin in the world, has seen some of its colonies halved in size over the past half century. Warmer winter temperatures and stronger winds mean that the penguins had to raise their chicks on increasingly thinner sea ice. For many years, sea ice has broken off early and many eggs and chicks have been blown away before they were ready to survive on their own.

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2 Emperors with chick – Fritz Pölking/WWF

In the northwestern coast of the Antarctic Peninsula, where warming has been the most dramatic, populations of Adelie Penguins have dropped by 65 percent over the past 25 years. Not only has food become scarcer with the disappearance of sea ice, but the Adelies’ warm-loving cousins the Gentoos and Chinstraps have also invaded the region.

Warmer temperatures mean that the atmosphere can hold more moisture, which in turn brings more snow. Scientists are worried for the Adelie Penguin, which needs land that is free of snow and ice to raise their young, is likely to lose out to its warm-loving cousins.

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Adelie Penguin – Sylvia Rubli/WWF

“Having just returned from the Antarctic, I’ve witnessed what is happening to the penguins there,” says Dr. Lara Hansen, Chief Scientist of WWF’s Global Climate Change program. “The warming climate means warmer, wetter air and too much snow at the wrong time of year. Penguins have to wait for snow to melt and they are breeding later – much too late. Add invasive species that are expanding their ranges to diminishing numbers of penguins and you’ve got a recipe for disaster. The delegates at the Bali COP have a chance to protect Antarctica’s penguins and many other species, but they must act now.”

Well many many thanks to Dr. David Ainley and WWF and their terrific photographers and their very informative website, penguinscience.com for bringing attention to our plight.

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Gentoos at sunset, Falklands – Kevin Schafer/WWF




In the days to come we’ll offer our take on the events taking place in Bali. But for today, this one day, it’s time to focus on PENGUINS IN PERIL.


ACT NOW. SAVE THE ICE.







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Nov 26 2007

ADOPT A HUMAN

Several human-based environmental organizations have ways of raising money based on adopting animals.

One organization, Defenders of Wildlife, has a program called “Adopt a Penguin.” This is what they write:
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A variety of species of penguins have been declining due to the effects of global warming. Starvation, habitat loss, and the fact that the penguins’ world is literally breaking up under their feet are all contributing factors to dramatic population loss.

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Adelie Penguins Photo: British Antarctic Survey

In one instance, a large number of Adelie penguins were literally made prisoners and starved because global warming had unexpectedly altered their habitat. In 2004, Antarctica’s McMurdo Sound was blocked by the mountainous remnant of the world’s largest iceberg. The iceberg cut off supply routes for several research bases on the sound and was so big that it blocked wind and water currents that would normally break up the ice in the sound and make access to the sea much easier for researchers and penguins. As a result, tens of thousands of Adelie penguin chicks and their parents were stranded inland with a 112-mile round trip being the shortest distance to gather food. Experts estimate that the three colonies of Adelie penguins may have declined by up to 70 percent.

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Rockhopper Penguin, The Falklands Photo: Ben Tubby

The decline of the rockhopper penguin is another example of how warming temperatures are affecting these beloved birds. The number of rockhopper penguins breeding on one island has gone from 1.4 million to only 100,000 in the last 60 years–most likely due to warming waters surrounding the island.

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Emperor Penguins Photo: Serene Chew

… according to National Geographic News, the population of emperor penguins has been cut in half over the past 50 years … These amazing animals can withstand some of the harshest conditions on Earth, but they cannot continue to sustain themselves without krill–a shrimplike creature that is a staple of the emperor penguin’s diet. The sea ice necessary to the survival of krill larvae is disappearing earlier and taking with it 80 percent of the krill population. The emperor penguins are starving to death because the warming air and water is drastically changing the environment to which they have adapted.

Where there are obviously good reasons to adopt a penguin. We are in big trouble. Melting ice, starvation, the destruction of our home. So maybe the least you can do is to adopt one of us.

But, the fact of the matter is. if you have been paying attention to our last posts you should be adopting many many others: polar bears, the scottish puffin, butterflies, baby seals, dolphins, whales … The list never ends.

We’ve been doing a lot of thinking lately down here at Penguin Central. And we’ve been doing a lot of reading too.

How many of you have checked out the latest report of the IPCC – Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. This is their report to policy makers about the climate crisis. Here are a few excerpts:

Warming of the climate system is unequivocal, as is now evident from observations of increases in global average air and ocean temperatures, widespread melting of snow and ice, and rising global average sea level …

Numerous long-term changes in climate have been observed. These include changes in arctic temperatures and ice, widespread changes in precipitation amounts, ocean salinity, wind patterns and aspects of extreme weather including droughts, heavy precipitation, heat waves and the intensity of tropical cyclones …

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Beached mini-icebergs Longyearbyen Photo: Rob Bell

Sea ice is projected to shrink in both the Arctic and Antarctic under all SRES scenarios. In some projections, arctic late-summer sea ice disappears almost entirely by the latter part of the 21st century … It is very likely that hot extremes, heat waves and heavy precipitation events will continue to become more frequent …

So what does this all mean. The UK Independent puts it this way:

Here it is: the future of the world, in 23 pages … [The IPCC] spelled out comprehensively that the Earth could warm by an average of up to 6C during the course of the coming century, and that this would be catastrophic in its impact for human society, most of all the poor in developing countries; but they also offered hope that the problem was solvable, if the governments took rapid and decisive action to reduce the greenhouse gas emissions causing the warming.

So you can adopt a penguin if you want. You can adopt a baby seal. You can adopt a fern. But that won’t change what’s really going on here. It isn’t us spewing greenhouse gases up into the atmosphere. It isn’t us burning coal and oil. We’re not cutting down the forests of Indonesia and the Amazon.

How about you adopt a human for a change? How about you adopt your friends and neighbors? How about you save your farmland? How about you save Glacier National Park in Montana? How about you save the Swiss Alps? How about you demand to drive a car that gets 100 miles to the gallon? Better yet, how about you demand energy-efficient buses and trains?

See these people. Don’t they deserve to be adopted?

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Yutian, China Photo: Peter Parks/AFP – Getty



God bless these environmental movements. And thanks if you’ve actually adopted one of us. But really isn’t it time to wake up! Look, really look, at the world around you. It’s time for you human to get your act together.


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Polluted reservoir, La Paz Bolivia Photo: Dado Galdieri/AP



Adopt A Human.
Save the Earth.
Save the Ice.
Save the Penguins.
Save us All.
Save Yourselves.
Adopt A Human.
Please, Adopt A Human.





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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.

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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.”

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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?

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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.”

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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.”

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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 …

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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!





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Aug 22 2007

WHERE HAVE ALL THE PENGUINS GONE

PG-13

Penguin 134 saw the headline and just had to read the story. She’s a big fan of the British newspapers. Especially for some reason I can’t remember a fan of the Independent:

What can dying penguins tell us about the future of the planet?

It turns out there are a bunch of excerpts from a book by Meredith Hooper “The Ferocious Summer: Palmer’s penguins and the warnings of Antartica.”

You’d probably want to read an article called “What can dying people tell us about the future of the planet?”

Anyway here are some of Meredith Hooper diary entries:

2 January 2002
The night before arriving at Palmer, Bill gives me a briefing. Dr Bill Fraser is a seabird ecologist, one of an inner group of US scientists who have dedicated themselves to Antarctic research …

The news is shocking. The season, Bill says flatly, has gone to hell. Palmer’s Adélie penguins are in crisis, barely holding on. The weather has been relentless, dire. The seabird work is under real pressure. “We are arriving to a catastrophe, walking into a bitter scenario produced by climate change,” he says. “The Adélie penguins don’t have the capacity to survive the drastic changes that are occurring. There’s no doubt. ”

The real penguin losses in Antarctica are happening on the Antarctic Peninsula, where the greatest warming is occurring …

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Michael Van Woert, 1998 NOAA

And some penguin-inspired poetry:

“There’s a revelling in the intense activity of a penguin summer. Its rhythm catches you up. It’s there in all the accounts – the early explorers, scientists, delighted visitors, dedicated penguin observers, everyone engrossed in the privilege of watching, the luck of being there. Becoming in a small way part of it, because they are tolerated. Stop watching, and you miss something. Keep watching and you begin to recognise the stages.

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Adelie penguin & minke whale – Peter Rejcek, NSF

But this time there is so little noise. So little smell. Such small groups. So few chicks. An almost complete absence of guano, that starburst of pink radiating out from each nest, that signal of occupancy, of chicks at home, of regular feeding, of the need to feed, of rotation of parents with their full bellies coming back from the ocean. Some of the smaller colonies have only one successful nest with one chick, very occasionally two, under the one bird. Seeing the Adélies for myself is shocking. In my head are memories of busy, functioning penguin colonies. The din of living, the pervasive smell of food being crammed in and processed out. Of beaks snapping and clashing, of the haze of dust and feathers rising over massed nests …

Last time, each colony, each subset, seemed to me like a suburb, most households roughly similar. Now the rookery feels like an urban city in a war zone. Some colonies are reasonably active, some almost non-functioning. But in general the city is severely depleted. There appear to be very few “families,” lots of singles and childless partners.

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Patrick Rowe, NSF

One leopard seal has been working the area periodically, another full-time. Pickings are easy at Torgersen, where birds have to stack in bottlenecks to come ashore. Beach access has been confined by snow to two narrow locations, and the water churns as a leopard thrashes a penguin out of its skin. Birds grab morsels. If the dead penguin is one of a functioning pair – this season that’s not just a loss, it’s a disaster.

There’s a small amount of pebble-carrying and nest-tidying, but very little. I see one pair attempting a fumbling copulation: beaks clacking, flippers waving, male attempting to balance on the female’s back. Many birds are sitting in the brooding position. But nothing is happening. What do birds do when the eggs have failed? Does the pair bonding remain? Does alternate feeding continue when there’s no need to relieve each other on the nest? I find just one empty egg on a rock; but no eggshells. I see dead penguins on the ground, bones and sinew, but the carcasses could belong to last year, or the year before. The skuas seem particularly confident. Where have all the penguins gone?”






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