As our mild winter has followed a hot and sunny summer, we can often hear the climate sceptics (read Donald Trump, Jeremy Clarkson et al) saying what’s not to like? Let’s have more of this! So, a short comment to refute these medievalists, who wish to relegate science and scientists to the fringe of society and policy making, whilst politely requesting those who enjoy warm and sunny weather to spare a thought for species that are not adapted for hot climates (man evolved in Africa after all).
It has been said that some mountain butterfly species in the Scottish Highlands have had to migrate uphill for hundreds of metres to keep their living conditions the same. Will they run out of mountains once they reach the top? Things are much worse already for animals and birds adapted to living in polar conditions.
It has been said that the polar bear will become extinct when the sea ice of the Arctic Ocean on which it hunts its seal prey eventually disappears sometime in the next fifty years (and possibly within the next 20 years). Already the white bears have changed their habits and have begun to interbreed with brown bears from which they evolved during the last couple of Ice Ages, so this iconic animal of the Arctic will disappear in our lifetime. Reindeer around the tundra are dying of starvation as deep soft snow that used to protect their winter food source of lichens (misleadingly called reindeer MOSS) now freezes and melts and freezes again, so that the food is locked away under a sheet of ice which the reindeer cannot break.
But surely, we are guaranteed sunshine on the beaches of the UK so that will be alright wont it? NO CHANCE! A warming climate means more clouds and rain during the spring and autumn with far more violent winds caused by deepening depressions. The beaches may actually disappear as coasts erode under these impacts. On holiday in Devon recently, we were stopped where the coast road had been washed away and was being rebuilt further inland.
But surely a sunny holiday will counter these negative effects? NO CHANCE! Quite apart from the increased chances of UV radiation causing burnt skin and melanoma, our southern beaches border counties such as Kent and Sussex where water is in very short supply so that rationing of drinking water and irrigation water for crops is now a distinct probability, should a dry summer be followed by a drier winter.
The effects of drought are enormous on all life. Just think of the life in a pond or marsh that dries out after a few weeks of drought. Multiply this by the enormous area covered by upland bogs and heaths, which depend on heavy rain across the Pennines, Cambrian hills and Scottish uplands. Remember the fires that burnt out of control across those moors this year? These are the biggest ecosystems in the UK and they are under severe threats from global warming.
Our seas are also warming fast, and while this is bringing rare fish and even whales into coastal waters, this means disaster for species that breed in cool conditions such as the herring. They are being pushed away from the UK and they too, may eventually find like the polar bear, that there is nowhere left that is cold enough for them.
What can we do to avert this disaster for our environment? Not a lot really but reduction in energy use and carbon emissions has to now be top priority for everyone. “TURN OUT THAT LIGHT!” was the war time cry of the air raid warden to stop bombs being dropped on cities. It may become an even more important shout in the few years we have left to reverse global climate change.
Keith Falconer January 2019
Keith Falconer is a local wildlife expert, enthusiast and photographer and acts as a volunteer for The Fold Nature Trail, keeping us updated about all the changes in wildlife and recommendations to improve habitats.