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Fighting Climate Change is "for the Birds"

Carey, C. 2009. The impacts of climate change on the annual cycles of birds. Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B 364: 3321-3330.
In a review of "the impacts of climate change on the annual cycles of birds," Carey (2009) writes that "climate change is causing mismatches in food supplies, snow cover and other factors that could severely impact successful migration and reproduction of avian populations unless they are able to adjust to new conditions," and that "resident (non-migratory) birds also face challenges if precipitation and/or temperature patterns vary in ways that result in mismatches of food and breeding." In fact, she notes - in all seriousness - that "by the year 2050, 15-37% of existing animal and plant species on earth are predicted to become extinct," citing Thomas et al. (2004), and that "half of all species on earth may experience extinction by 2100," citing Myers and Knoll (2001).

The United Nations-based solution to these predicted problems is to stop climate change by reducing anthropogenic CO2 emissions, primarily, and other greenhouse gas emissions, secondarily. But is this the wisest route we could take, in our last-ditch efforts to save earth's many life forms that are claimed to be teetering on the verge of extinction? Possibly not.

For one thing, Carey notes that "organisms living today are descended from ancestors that experienced considerable climate change in the past," and she suggests, therefore, that "species that persist into future climates may be able to do so in part owing to the genetic heritage passed down from ancestors who survived climate changes in the past." She also adds that "if climate change were the only new challenge facing birds, one might imagine that many species could become adapted to new conditions and survive with existing population variability and the genetic information that their ancestors used to survive past climate change," but that "other man-made challenges, such as habitat disruption, release of toxic chemicals into the environment, and other factors exist that can interfere singly or synergistically with the lives of birds." So what is one to do?

How about attacking these other man-made challenges? Most serious analyses of the subject suggest that (1) the cost of this approach would be a whole lot less, that (2) the specific goals would be much more likely to actually be achieved, and that (3) there would likely be many ancillary benefits accruing to most of the rest of the biosphere.

Additional References
Myers, N.H. and Knoll, A.H. 2001. The biotic crises and the future of evolution. Proceedings of the National Academy of Science, USA 98: 5389-5392.

Thomas, C.D., Cameron, A., Green, R.E., Bakkenes, M., Beaumont, L.J., Collingham, Y.C., Barend, F., Erasmus, N., Ferreira de Siqueira, M., Grainger, A., Hannah, L., Hughes, L., Huntley, B., van Jaarsveld, A.S., Midgley, G.F., Miles, L., Ortega-Huerta, M.A., Peterson, A.T., Phillips, O.L. and Williams, S.E. 2004. Extinction risk from climate change. Nature 427: 145-148.

Archived 14 June 2010