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<nettime> Melting Planet (fwd)
Alan Sondheim on Tue, 4 Oct 2005 12:11:55 +0200 (CEST)

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<nettime> Melting Planet (fwd)

Apologies for the constant forwards. The planet is at one of any number of crisis-
points. At this point we should all join Peta, do our best to pass this
information along, vote and act on it. - Alan

---------- Forwarded message ----------
Date: Sun, 2 Oct 2005 16:29:48 -0400 (EDT)
From: moderator {AT} portside.org
Reply-To: portside {AT} portside.org
To: portside {AT} lists.portside.org
Subject: Melting Planet

The Independent
October 2, 2005

Melting Planet: Species are Dying Out Faster Than We
Have Dared Recognize, Scientists Will Warn This Week

The erosion of polar ice is the first break in a
fragile chain of life extending across theplanet,
from bears in the north to penguins in the far south.

By Andrew Buncombe in Anchorage and Severin Carrell
in London

The polar bear is one of the natural world's most
famous predators - the king of the Arctic wastelands.
But, like its vast Arctic home, the polar bear is under
unprecedented threat. Both are disappearing with
alarming speed.

Thinning ice and longer summers are destroying the
bears' habitat, and as the ice floes shrink, the
desperate animals are driven by starvation into human
settlements - to be shot. Stranded polar bears are
drowning in large numbers as they try to swim hundreds
of miles to find increasingly scarce ice floes. Local
hunters find their corpses floating on seas once coated
in a thick skin of ice.

It is a phenomenon that frightens the native people
that live around the Arctic. Many fear their children
will never know the polar bear. "The ice is moving
further and further north," said Charlie Johnson, 64,
an Alaskan Nupiak from Nome, in the state's far west.
"In the Bering Sea the ice leaves earlier and earlier.
On the north slope, the ice is retreating as far as 300
or 400 miles offshore."

Last year, hunters found half a dozen bears that had
drowned about 200 miles north of Barrow, on Alaska's
northern coast. "It seems they had tried to swim for
shore ... A polar bear might be able to swim 100 miles
but not 400."

His alarming testimony, given at a conference on global
warming and native communities held in the Alaskan
capital, Anchorage, last week, is just one story of the
many changes happening across the globe. Climate change
threatens the survival of thousands of species - a
threat unparalleled since the last ice age, which ended
some 10,000 years ago.

The vast majority, scientists will warn this week, are
migratory animals - sperm whales, polar bears,
gazelles, garden birds and turtles - whose survival
depends on the intricate web of habitats, food supplies
and weather conditions which, for some species, can
stretch for 6,500 miles. Every link of that chain is
slowly but perceptibly altering.

Europe's most senior ecologists and conservationists
are meeting in Aviemore, in the Scottish Highlands,
this week for a conference on the impact of climate
change on migratory species, an event organised by the
British government as part of its presidency of the
European Union. It is a well-chosen location.
Aviemore's major winter employer - skiing - is a victim
of warmer winters. Ski slopes in the Cairngorms, which
once had snow caps year round on the highest peaks,
have recently been closed down when the winter snow
failed. The snow bunting, ptarmigan and dotterel - some
of Scotland's rarest birds - are also given little
chance of survival as their harsh and marginal winter
environments disappear.

A report being presented this week in Aviemore reveals
this is a pattern being repeated around the world. In
the sub-Arctic tundra,caribou are threatened by
"multiple climate change impacts". Deeper snow at
higher latitudes makes it harder for caribou herds to
travel. Faster and more regular "freeze-thaw" cycles
make it harder to dig out food under thick crusts of
ice-covered snow. Wetter and warmer winters are cutting
calving success, and increasing insect attacks and

The same holds true for migratory wading birds such as
the red knot and the northern seal. The endangered
spoon-billed sandpiper, too, faces extinction, the
report says. They are of "key concern". It says that
species "cannot shift further north as their climates
become warmer. They have nowhere left to go ... We can
see, very clearly, that most migratory species are
drifting towards the poles."

The report, passed to The Independent on Sunday, and
commissioned by the Department for the Environment,
Food and Rural Affairs (Defra), makes gloomy
predictions about the world's animal populations. "The
habitats of migratory species most vulnerable to
climate change were found to be tundra, cloud forest,
sea ice and low-lying coastal areas," it states.
"Increased droughts and lowered water tables,
particularly in key areas used as 'staging posts' on
migration, were also identified as key threats stemming
from climate change."

Some of itsfindings include:

    * Four out of five migratory birds listed by the UN
    face problems ranging from lower water tables to
    increased droughts, spreading deserts and shifting
    food supplies in their crucial "fuelling stations"
    as they migrate.

    * One-third of turtle nesting sites in the Caribbean
    - home to diminishing numbers of green, hawksbill
    and loggerhead turtles - would be swamped by a sea
    level rise of 50cm (20ins). This will "drastically"
    hit their numbers. At the same time, shallow waters
    used by the endangered Mediterranean monk seal,
    dolphins, dugongs and manatees will slowly disappear.

    *Whales, salmon, cod, penguins and kittiwakes are
    affected by shifts in distribution and abundance of
    krill and plankton, which has "declined in places
    to a hundredth or thousandth of former numbers
    because of warmer sea-surface temperatures."

    *Increased dam building, a response to water
    shortages and growing demand, is affecting the
    natural migration patterns of tucuxi, South
    American river dolphins, "with potentially damaging

    * Fewer chiffchaffs, blackbirds, robins
    and song thrushes are migrating from the UK due to
    warmer winters. Egg-laying is also getting two to
    three weeks earlier than 30 years ago, showing a
    change in the birds' biological clocks.

The science magazine Nature predicted last year that up
to 37 per cent of terrestrial species could become
extinct by 2050. And the Defra report presents more
problems than solutions. Tackling these crises will be
far more complicated than just building more nature
reserves - a problem that Jim Knight, the nature
conservation minister, acknowledges.

A key issue in sub-Saharan Africa, for instance, is
profound poverty. After visiting the Democratic
Republic of the Congo last month, Mr Knight found it
difficult to condemn local people eating gorillas,
already endangered. "You can't blame an individual who
doesn't know how they're going to feed their family
every day from harvesting what's around them. That's a
real challenge," he said.

And the clash between nature and human need - a
critical issue across Africa - is likely to worsen. As
its savannah and forests begin shifting south,
migratory animals will shift along with them. Some of
the continent's major national parks and reserves -
such as the Masai-Mara or Serengeti - may also have to
move their boundaries if their game species, the
elephant and wildebeest, are to be properly protected.
This will bring conflict with local communities.

There is also a gap in scientific knowledge between
what has been discovered about the impact of climate
change in the industrialised world and in less
developed countries. Similarly, fisheries experts know
more about species such as cod and haddock, than they
do about fish humans don't eat.

Many environmentalists are pessimistic about the
prospects of halting, let alone reversing, this trend.
"Are we fighting a losing battle? Yes, we probably
are," one naturalist told the IoS last month.

The UK, which is attempting to put climate change at
the top of the global agenda during its presidency of
the G8 group of industrialised nations, is still
struggling to persuade the American, Japanese and
Australian governments to admit that mankind's gas
emissions are the biggest threat. These three continue
to insist there is no proof that climate change is
largely manmade.

And many British environmentalists suspect that Tony
Blair's public commitment to a tougher global treaty to
replace the Kyoto Protocol, aimed at a 60 per cent cut
in carbon dioxide emissions by 2050, is not being
backed up by the Government in private.

Despite President George Bush's resistance to a new
global climate treaty, many US states are being far
more radical. Even the G8 communiqu=E9 after the
Gleneagles summit in July had Mr Bush confirming that
the climate was warming.

In Alaska last week, satellite images released by two
US universities and the space agency Nasa revealed that
the amount of sea-ice cover over the polar ice cap has
fallen for the past four years. "A long-term decline is
under way," said Walt Meier of the National Snow and
Ice Data Centre.

The Arctic's native communities don't need satellite
images to tell them this. John Keogak, 47, an
Inuvialuit from Canada's North-West Territories, hunts
polar bears, seals, caribou and musk ox. "The polar
bear is part of our culture," he said. "They use the
ice as a hunting ground for the seals. If there is no
ice there is no way the bears will be able to catch the
seals." He said the number of bears was decreasing and
feared his children might not be able to hunt them. He
said: "There is an earlier break-up of ice, a later
freeze-up. Now it's more rapid. Something is

And now, said Mr Keogak, there was evidence that polar
bears are facing an unusual competitor - the grizzly
bear. As the sub-Arctic tundra and wastelands thaw, the
grizzly is moving north, colonising areas where they
were previously unable to survive. Life for Alaska's
polar bears is rapidly becoming very precarious.

Vanishing from the earth

Mountain gorilla

Already listed as "critically endangered", only about
700 mountain gorillas, including the distinctively
marked adult male silverbacks, migrate within the cloud
forests of the volcanic Virunga mountains of the
Democratic Republic of the Congo, Rwanda and Uganda.
After a century of human persecution it faced
extinction. Now its unique but marginal mountain
forests - already heavily reduced by forestry - are
shrinking, because of climate change. It will be forced
to climb higher for cooler climates, but will
effectively run out of mountain.

Across Africa, habitats are shifting as temperatures
rise, or disappearing in droughts, affecting the
migrations of millions of wildebeest, and savannah
elephant and Thomson's gazelle. This will hit game
reserves and national parks - forcing many to move
their boundaries.

Green turtle

The number of male green turtles is falling because of
rising temperatures, threatening their survival. Turtle
nests need a temperature of precisely 28.8C to hatch
even numbers of males and females. On Ascension Island,
where nest temperatures are up 0.5C,females now
outnumber males three to one. On Antigua too, nest
temperatures for hawkbill turtles are higher than the
ideal incubation level. Hatchling survival rates are
also cut by higher temperatures. Egg-laying beaches for
all species of turtle are being lost to rising sea
levels. A third of nesting beaches in the Caribbean
would be lost by a 50cm rise in sea level.

Saiga antelope

This rare antelope, thought to be half-way between an
antelope and a sheep, and found in Russia and Mongolia,
is "critically endangered". Hunted heavily, its autumn
migration to escape bitter weather and spring migration
to find water and food are being hit by unusual weather
cycles. The antelope will be forced by climate
instability to find new grazing areas, coming
intoconflict with humans. Bad years can cut its numbers
by 50 per cent, because of high mortality and poor
birth rates.

Sperm whale

The migration of the sperm whale, one of the earth's
largest mammals, made famous by Herman Melville's epic
Moby-Dick, is closely linked to the squid, its main
food source. Squid numbers are affected by warmer water
and weather phenomena such as El Ni=F1o. Adult male sperm
whales up to 20m long like cold water in the
disappearing ice-packs. Warm water cuts sperm whale
reproduction because food supplies fall. Around the
Galapagos Islands, a fall in births is linked to higher
sea surface temperatures. Plankton and krill, key foods
for many cetaceans such as the pilot whale, have in
some regions declined 100-fold in warmer water.

(c) Copyright 2005 Independent News & Media (UK) Ltd.


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