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  1. #91
    Republican lawmakers shrug off Pope Francis' climate message

    By Erica Werner and Matthew Daly (Associated Press) |

    Updated June 19, 2015 - 9:16am

    WASHINGTON — Pope Francis' call for dramatic action on climate change drew a round of shrugs from U.S. congressional Republicans on Thursday, while many of the party's presidential candidates ignored it entirely.

    "I don't want to be disrespectful, but I don't consider him an expert on environmental issues," said Texas Rep. Joe Barton, a senior Republican on the Energy and Commerce Committee, in a comment echoed by a number of other Republicans.

    Even Capitol Hill's many Catholics, despite their religion's reverence for the holy father, seemed unmoved by his urgent plea to save the planet. The reactions suggested that the pontiff's desire to translate his climate views into real action to combat greenhouse gases could fall flat, at least as far as the American political system is concerned.

    Republican House Speaker John Boehner, a Catholic who invited the pontiff to address Congress later this year, said the pope is not afraid to challenge thinking on various issues. "I respect his right to speak out on these important issues," Boehner said, but he demurred when asked whether Francis' views, made public in an encyclical released Thursday, might spur legislative action by the Republicans who run Congress.

    "There's a lot of bills out there. I'm not sure where in the process these bills may be," Boehner said.

    In the encyclical, a landmark foray by the Vatican into the area of environmental policy, Francis called for a bold cultural revolution, framing climate change as an urgent moral issue and blaming global warming on an unfair, fossil fuel-based industrial model that harms the poor most. He urged people of every faith to save God's creation for future generations.

    Francis is to address lawmakers in September in the first speech by a pope to Congress.

    Despite his status as an exalted spiritual figure and leader of the world's 1.2 billion Catholics, his pronouncements on climate were received much as a presidential address might be: with enthusiastic embraces from those who already agreed with him, and disavowals or silence from most everyone else.

    President Barack Obama fell into the former category. "I welcome His Holiness Pope Francis's encyclical, and deeply admire the pope's decision to make the case — clearly, powerfully, and with the full moral authority of his position — for action on global climate change," the president said in a statement.

    The Republicans vying to replace Obama were not so full-throated. A number of them, including Sens. Ted Cruz and Rand Paul, did not respond to requests for comment or avoided answering when questioned by reporters on the topic.

    Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush questioned the pope's foray into climate science when discussing the issue Wednesday ahead of the encyclical's release.

    "I don't think we should politicize our faith," he said.

    A statement from a spokesman for former Texas Gov. Rick Perry did not directly mention Francis but said, "Gov. Perry believes the climate is always changing, but it's not clear what role humans have in it."

    It's not the first time the Catholic Church's teachings on political or social issues have created complications for Catholic lawmakers who take a different view. House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi of California, who is Catholic, faced questions in the run-up to passage of Obama's health care bill over her support for abortion rights in light of the church's opposition.

    But with his entry into the contentious politics of climate, and his attempt to reframe the issue in moral terms, Francis opened a new chapter in the long-running debate over the intersection of politics and religion.

    And it was one that most Republicans did not particularly welcome.

    "I think the pope needs to continue to study this," said Sen. Jeff Sessions, a Republican. "I think it will be given respectful treatment, but I don't think it's going to change a lot of votes."


    Associated Press writer Steve Peoples contributed to this report.

  2. #92
    The most subversive text of the year

    By: John Nery


    Philippine Daily Inquirer

    01:43 AM June 23rd, 2015

    For a good many of us, “Laudato Si” (Praised Be) will be the most subversive text we will read all year, or indeed for many years. The extraordinary eco-encyclical from Pope Francis contains explosive truths, not about the science of climate change, but about the persistence of poverty, the excesses of a market economy, the fetish for technology and the technocratic solution, the consequences of middle-class aspirations, the failings of the media, even the role of the human in a “rapidifying” world.

    “Laudato Si” offers the kind of radical reading that subverts our assumptions, challenges our deepest convictions, makes us see anew. The lengthy document attempts to give a truly global treatment of the ecological catastrophe we all face; some or many of the notes the Pope strikes will be familiar to us, but taken together, the whole acquires a resonance unheard since “Gaudium et Spes” signaled the reconciliation between the Church and the modern world.

    Right on the first page, in Paragraph 2, we read: “The violence present in our hearts, wounded by sin, is also reflected in the symptoms of sickness evident in the soil, in the water, in the air and in all forms of life. This is why the earth herself, burdened and laid waste, is among the most abandoned and maltreated of our poor; she ‘groans in travail’ (Rom 8:22).”

    The earth itself is poor. This powerful assertion flies in the face of the easy assumption that the planet is rich in still untapped resources, and that vulnerability is a human construct not applicable to it; the statement forces us to see that the connection between poverty and planetary fragility is intimate, as close as it gets.

    * * *

    Given the advice on homilies Pope Francis suggested in his apostolic exhortation “Evangelii Gaudium,” it is no surprise to find that Paragraph 16 helpfully lists the key themes which “reappear as the Encyclical unfolds.” There are 10 in all: “the intimate relationship between the poor and the fragility of the planet, the conviction that everything in the world is connected, the critique of new paradigms and forms of power derived from technology, the call to seek other ways of understanding the economy and progress, the value proper to each creature, the human meaning of ecology, the need for forthright and honest debate, the serious responsibility of international and local policy, the throwaway culture and the proposal of a new lifestyle.”

    * * *

    Some passages acquire a deeper shade when read against the Pope’s personal background. For instance, those of us who believe in the “aspirational” dimension of planned real estate communities will be disturbed to read Paragraph 45: “In some places, rural and urban alike, the privatization of certain spaces has restricted people’s access to places of particular beauty. In others, ‘ecological’ neighborhoods have been created which are closed to outsiders in order to ensure an artificial tranquillity. Frequently, we find beautiful and carefully manicured green spaces in so-called ‘safer’ areas of cities, but not in the more hidden areas where the disposable of society live.”

    This note reminds us of a disclosure Francis made, in that series of interviews Francesca Ambrogetti and Sergio Rubin conducted with him when he was still cardinal archbishop of Buenos Aires, about his first trip abroad, in the 1970s: “In Mexico I came across a gated community for the first time, something that didn’t exist in Argentina back then. I was astonished to see how a group of people could cut themselves off from society.”

    Paragraph 45 revisits that original moment of astonishment, but now sees in the phenomenon of the gated community another aspect of it: not the decision of “a group of people” to “cut themselves off from society,” but rather the effect that cutting off has on the “outsiders,” the “disposable.” Taken together, the “artificial tranquillity” that gated communities offer may come at too high a price.

    * * *

    Other passages hit us where we least expect it. Paragraph 47, for instance, is a startling critique of the media’s role in “mental pollution.” Startling because it comes unexpectedly in a section on the declining quality of human life, and because it does not pull any punches. It begins: “when media and the digital world become omnipresent, their influence can stop people from learning how to live wisely, to think deeply and to love generously.” It continues: “True wisdom, as the fruit of self-examination, dialogue and generous encounter between persons, is not acquired by a mere accumulation of data which eventually leads to overload and confusion, a sort of mental pollution.” It concludes: “We should be concerned that, alongside the exciting possibilities offered by these media, a deep and melancholic dissatisfaction with interpersonal relations, or a harmful sense of isolation, can also arise.”

    * * *

    There are many more such passages; in a document that tries to see the greatest crisis facing the planet in the clearest terms, there is no room for fudging or word-mincing. The Pope’s visit to the United States in September will provoke an encounter with science-denying Catholic conservatives. The encyclical will not allow them to misunderstand Francis. Here, for instance, is Paragraph 67: “We are not God. The earth was here before us and it has been given to us. This allows us to respond to the charge that Judaeo-Christian thinking, on the basis of the Genesis account which grants man ‘dominion’ over the earth (cf. Gen. 1:2, has encouraged the unbridled exploitation of nature by painting him as domineering and destructive by nature. This is not a correct interpretation of the Bible as understood by the Church.” That, it seems to me, is a subversion of the peculiarly American gospel of never-ending resource-rich prosperity.

    * * *

  3. #93
    From the New York Times online ___

    Climate Change Is Complex. We've Got Answers to Your Questions.

    By JUSTIN GILLIS Illustrations by JON HAN.

    We know. Global warming is daunting. So here's a place to start: 17 often-asked questions with some straightforward answers.

    Part 1
    What is happening?

    1. Climate change? Global warming? What do we call it?

    Both are accurate, but they mean different things.

    You can think of global warming as one type of climate change. The broader term covers changes beyond warmer temperatures, such as shifting rainfall patterns.

    President Trump has claimed that scientists stopped referring to global warming and started calling it climate change because "the weather has been so cold" in winter. But the claim is false. Scientists have used both terms for decades.

    2. How much is the Earth heating up?

    Two degrees is more significant than it sounds.

    As of early 2017, the Earth had warmed by roughly 2 degrees Fahrenheit (more than 1 degree Celsius) since 1880, when records began at a global scale. The number may sound low, but as an average over the surface of an entire planet, it is actually high, which explains why much of the world?s land ice is starting to melt and the oceans are rising at an accelerating pace. If greenhouse gas emissions continue unchecked, scientists say, the global warming could ultimately exceed 8 degrees Fahrenheit, which would undermine the planet's capacity to support a large human population.

    3. What is the greenhouse effect, and how does it cause global warming?

    We've known about it for more than a century. Really.

    In the 19th century, scientists discovered that certain gases in the air trap and slow down heat that would otherwise escape to space. Carbon dioxide is a major player; without any of it in the air, the Earth would be a frozen wasteland. The first prediction that the planet would warm as humans released more of the gas was made in 1896. The gas has increased 43 percent above the pre-industrial level so far, and the Earth has warmed by roughly the amount that scientists predicted it would.

    4. How do we know humans are responsible for the increase in carbon dioxide?

    This one is nailed down.

    Hard evidence, including studies that use radioactivity to distinguish industrial emissions from natural emissions, shows that the extra gas is coming from human activity. Carbon dioxide levels rose and fell naturally in the long-ago past, but those changes took thousands of years. Geologists say that humans are now pumping the gas into the air much faster than nature has ever done.

    5. Could natural factors be the cause of the warming?


    In theory, they could be. If the sun were to start putting out more radiation, for instance, that would definitely warm the Earth. But scientists have looked carefully at the natural factors known to influence planetary temperature and found that they are not changing nearly enough. The warming is extremely rapid on the geologic time scale, and no other factor can explain it as well as human emissions of greenhouse gases.

    6. Why do people deny the science of climate change?

    Mostly because of ideology.

    Instead of negotiating over climate change policies and trying to make them more market-oriented, some political conservatives have taken the approach of blocking them by trying to undermine the science.

    President Trump has sometimes claimed that scientists are engaged in a worldwide hoax to fool the public, or that global warming was invented by China to disable American industry. The climate denialists' arguments have become so strained that even oil and coal companies have distanced themselves publicly, though some still help to finance the campaigns of politicians who espouse such views.

    Part 2
    What could happen?

    1. How much trouble are we in?

    Big trouble.

    Over the coming 25 or 30 years, scientists say, the climate is likely to gradually warm, with more extreme weather. Coral reefs and other sensitive habitats are already starting to die. Longer term, if emissions rise unchecked, scientists fear climate effects so severe that they might destabilize governments, produce waves of refugees, precipitate the sixth mass extinction of plants and animals in the Earth?s history, and melt the polar ice caps, causing the seas to rise high enough to flood most of the world's coastal cities. The emissions that create those risks are happening now, raising deep moral questions for our generation.

    2. How much should I worry about climate change affecting me directly?

    Are you rich enough to shield your descendants?

    The simple reality is that people are already feeling the effects, whether they know it or not. Because of sea level rise, for instance, some 83,000 more residents of New York and New Jersey were flooded during Hurricane Sandy than would have been the case in a stable climate, scientists have calculated. Tens of thousands of people are already dying in heat waves made worse by global warming. The refugee flows that have destabilized politics around the world have been traced in part to climate change. Of course, as with almost all other social problems, poor people will be hit first and hardest.

    3. How much will the seas rise?

    The real question is how fast.

    The ocean has accelerated and is now rising at a rate of about a foot per century, forcing governments and property owners to spend tens of billions of dollars fighting coastal erosion. But if that rate continued, it would probably be manageable, experts say.

    The risk is that the rate will increase still more. Scientists who study the Earth's history say waters could rise by a foot per decade in a worst-case scenario, though that looks unlikely. Many experts believe that even if emissions stopped tomorrow, 15 or 20 feet of sea level rise is already inevitable, enough to flood many cities unless trillions of dollars are spent protecting them. How long it will take is unclear. But if emissions continue apace, the ultimate rise could be 80 or 100 feet.

    4. Is recent crazy weather tied to climate change?

    Some of it is.

    Scientists have published strong evidence that the warming climate is making heat waves more frequent and intense. It is also causing heavier rainstorms, and coastal flooding is getting worse as the oceans rise because of human emissions. Global warming has intensified droughts in regions like the Middle East, and it may have strengthened a recent drought in California.

    In many other cases, though ? hurricanes, for example ? the linkage to global warming for particular trends is uncertain or disputed. Scientists are gradually improving their understanding as computer analyses of the climate grow more powerful.
    Last edited by Joescoundrel; 10-20-2017 at 10:11 AM. Reason: Citation

  4. #94
    ^ Continued

    Part 3
    What can we do?

    1. Are there any realistic solutions to the problem?

    Yes, but change is happening too slowly.

    Society has put off action for so long that the risks are now severe, scientists say. But as long as there are still unburned fossil fuels in the ground, it is not too late to act. The warming will slow to a potentially manageable pace only when human emissions are reduced to zero. The good news is that they are now falling in many countries as a result of programs like fuel-economy standards for cars, stricter building codes and emissions limits for power plants. But experts say the energy transition needs to speed up drastically to head off the worst effects of climate change.

    2. What is the Paris Agreement?

    Virtually every country agreed to limit future emissions.

    The landmark deal was reached outside Paris in December 2015. The reductions are voluntary and the pledges do not do enough to head off severe effects. But the agreement is supposed to be reviewed every few years so that countries ramp up their commitments. President Trump announced in 2017 that he would pull the United States out of the deal, though that will take years, and other countries have said they would go forward regardless of American intentions.

    3. Does clean energy help or hurt the economy?

    Job growth in renewable energy is strong.

    The energy sources with the lowest emissions include wind turbines, solar panels, hydroelectric dams and nuclear power stations. Power plants burning natural gas also produce fewer emissions than those burning coal. Converting to these cleaner sources may be somewhat costlier in the short term, but they could ultimately pay for themselves by heading off climate damages and reducing health problems associated with dirty air. And expansion of the market is driving down the costs of renewable energy so fast that it may ultimately beat dirty energy on price alone ? it already does in some areas.

    The transition to cleaner energy certainly produces losers, like coal companies, but it also creates jobs. The solar industry in the United States now employs more than twice as many people as coal mining.

    4. What about fracking or 'clean coal'?

    Both could help clean up the energy system.

    Hydraulic fracturing, or "fracking," is one of a set of drilling technologies that has helped produce a new abundance of natural gas in the United States and some other countries. Burning gas instead of coal in power plants reduces emissions in the short run, though gas is still a fossil fuel and will have to be phased out in the long run. The fracking itself can also create local pollution.

    "Clean coal" is an approach in which the emissions from coal-burning power plants would be captured and pumped underground. It has yet to be proven to work economically, but some experts think it could eventually play a major role.

    5. What?s the latest with electric cars?

    Sales are still small overall, but they are rising fast.

    The cars draw power at night from the electric grid and give off no pollution during the day as they move around town. They are inherently more efficient than gasoline cars and would represent an advance even if the power were generated by burning coal, but they will be far more important as the electric grid itself becomes greener through renewable power. The cars are improving so fast that some countries are already talking about banning the sale of gasoline cars after 2030.

    6. What are carbon taxes, carbon trading and carbon offsets?

    It?s just jargon for putting a price on pollution.

    The greenhouse gases being released by human activity are often called "carbon emissions" for short. That is because two of the most important gases, carbon dioxide and methane, contain carbon. (Some other pollutants are lumped into the same category, even if they do not actually contain carbon.) When you hear about carbon taxes, carbon trading and so on, these are just shorthand descriptions of methods to put a price on emissions, which economists say is one of the most important steps society could take to limit them.

    7. Climate change seems so overwhelming. What can I personally do about it?

    Start by sharing this with 50 of your friends.

    Experts say the problem can only be solved by large-scale, collective action. Entire states and nations have to decide to clean up their energy systems, using every tool available and moving as quickly as they can. So the most important thing you can do is to exercise your rights as a citizen, speaking up and demanding change.

    You can also take direct personal action to reduce your carbon footprint in simple ways that will save you money. You can plug leaks in your home insulation to save power, install a smart thermostat, switch to more efficient light bulbs, turn off unused lights, drive fewer miles by consolidating trips or taking public transit, waste less food, and eat less meat.

    Taking one or two fewer plane rides per year can save as much in emissions as all the other actions combined. If you want to be at the cutting edge, you can look at buying an electric or hybrid car or putting solar panels on your roof. If your state has a competitive electricity market, you may be able to buy 100 percent green power.

    Leading corporations, including large manufacturers like carmakers, are starting to demand clean energy for their operations. You can pay attention to company policies, support the companies taking the lead, and let the others know you expect them to do better.

    These personal steps may be small in the scheme of things, but they can raise your own consciousness about the problem ? and the awareness of the people around you. In fact, discussing this issue with your friends and family is one of the most meaningful things you can do.

  5. #95
    Another fake news: Trump's climate theory

    Associated Press / 07:22 AM January 29, 2018

    WASHINGTON - US President Donald Trump's description of the climate on planet Earth doesn't quite match what data show and scientists say.

    In an interview with Piers Morgan that aired on Sunday on Britain's ITV News, the president said the world was cooling and warming at the same time and that claims of melting ice caps haven’t come true.

    "There is a cooling, and there's a heating. I mean, look, it used to not be climate change, it used to be global warming. That wasn't working too well because it was getting too cold all over the place," Trump told Morgan.

    Ten different climate scientists contacted by The Associated Press, however, said the president was not accurate about climate change.

    Rutgers University climate scientist Jennifer Francis responded in an e-mail: "Clearly President Trump is relying on alternative facts to inform his views on climate change. Ice on the ocean and on land are both disappearing rapidly, and we know why: increasing greenhouse gases from burning fossil fuels that trap more heat and melt the ice."

    The facts: The world hasn't had a cooler than average year since 1976 and hasn't had a cooler than normal month since the end of 1985, according to more than 135 years of temperature records kept by the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (Nasa) and National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).

    4 hottest years on record

    The last four years have been the four hottest years on record globally, with 2010 the fifth hottest year, according to NOAA.

    Every year in the 21st century has been at least 0.4 degrees Celsius warmer than the 20th-century average and in the top 25 hottest years on record, NOAA records show.

    And while a good chunk of the United States had a frigid snap recently, most of the rest of the world was far warmer than normal, according to temperature records.

    'Not quite right'

    Zeke Hausfather of the Berkeley Earth temperature monitoring program - initially funded by nonscientists who doubt that the world is warming - said in an e-mail: "The world has been warming steadily over the past 50 years, with 17 of the past 18 years being the warmest since records began in the 1850s. It is not accurate to say that the climate has been 'cooling as well as warming.'"

    "The ice caps were going to melt, they were going to be gone by now, but now they're setting records. They're at a record level," Trump said in the TV interview.

    The facts: It is a bit more nuanced, but not quite right.

    While a small number of experts a decade ago had predicted that the Arctic would be free of summer sea ice by now, most mainstream scientists and the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change did not.

    Instead they said Arctic sea ice would shrink, which it has, said Richard Alley, a Pennsylvania State University ice scientist.

    Most scientists, including the director of the National Snow and Ice Data Center, are predicting that the Arctic will be free of summer sea ice sometime around the 2040s.

    The Arctic set a record for the lowest amount of sea ice in the winter, when sea ice usually grows to its maximum levels, in March 2017.

    In 2012, the Arctic set a record for lowest sea ice levels. Sea ice recovered slightly from that record and in 2017 in September, the annual low was only the eighth lowest on record, according to the National Snow and Ice Data Center.

    Continuous decline of sea ice

    But the 10 lowest years of sea ice have been all in the last 11 years. Arctic sea ice is declining at a rate of 13.2 percent per decade, according to Nasa.

    Michael Oppenheimer, a Princeton University climate scientist, said the Antarctic sea ice pack, less directly influenced by global climate change, varied from year to year.

    Antarctica hit a record low for sea ice in March 2017, the same month the Arctic hit a record winter low.

    Antarctic sea ice also reached a record high in 2014.

    "Both of the large ice sheets of Greenland and Antarctica are losing hundreds of billions of tons of ice per year. Sea ice continues to decline significantly in the Arctic decade by decade, and the thickness of Arctic ice is now less than 50 percent of what it was 40 years ago," a National Snow and Ice Data Center scientist, Ted Scambos, said in an e-mail.

  6. #96
    Icy Europe, warm North Pole: the world upside down

    Agence France-Presse / 07:49 AM February 28, 2018

    PARIS, France - Not for the first time in recent years, Europe has descended into a deep freeze while the Arctic experiences record high temperatures, leaving scientists to ponder the role global warming may play in turning winter weather upside down.

    The reversal has been dramatic.

    A Siberian cold front has spread sub-zero temperatures across Europe, carpeting southern cities and palm-lined Mediterranean beaches with snow.

    On Sunday, meanwhile, air temperatures at the North Pole - which won't see the Sun until March - rose above freezing.

    "In relative terms, that's a 30 C (54 degrees Fahrenheit) temperature anomaly," Robert Rohde, lead scientist at Berkeley Earth in Washington, tweeted.

    At the Longyearbyen weather station on the Island of Svalbard in the Arctic Ocean, temperatures were 10 C above average over the last 30 days, according to Zack Labe, a climate modeler at the University of California Irvine.

    At the same time, sea ice is covering the smallest area in the dead of winter since records began more than half a century ago.

    In one region, around Svalbard, the area covered by sea ice - 205,727 square kilometers - on Monday was less than half the average for the period 1981-2010, the Norway Ice Service reported.

    "Positive temperatures near the North Pole in winter are thought to have occurred during four winters between 1980 and 2010," Robert Graham, a climate scientist at the Norwegian Polar Institute, told AFP.

    "They have now occurred in four out of the last five winters."

    This acceleration, experts said, circumstantially points to climate change, which has - over the same period - warmed the Arctic region twice as fast as the global average.

    Transform the planet

    Another clue may be the Arctic thaw/European deep freeze pairing.

    "The surge of mild weather at the North Pole and the cold front in Europe are directly linked," Etienne Kapikian, a scientist at Meteo France, the national weather service, told AFP.

    "Just how hot is the Arctic now?" tweeted Peter Gleick, president emeritus of the Pacific Institute and a member of the US National Academy of Science.

    "Hotter than ever measured in winter. Human-caused climate change is beginning to radically transform our planet."

    Gleick's larger assertion is no longer seriously contested, but the link between the "warm Arctic, cold continent" phenomenon and global warming has yet to be proven, other scientists say.

    If the connection with global warming remains speculative, the mechanics of what scientists call "sudden stratospheric warming" - the weird winter weather's immediate cause - is well understood.

    Strong winds in the stratosphere circulate west-to-east over the Arctic some 30 kilometers above Earth's surface. This is the polar vortex.

    The jet stream, meanwhile, races in the same direction at bullet-train speed 10 kilometers overhead at the upper boundary of the troposphere, the lowest layer of the atmosphere.

    Sometimes the vortex dramatically warms and weakens, with winds slowing down and even reversing, explained Marlene Kretschmer, a climate scientist at the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research.

    A cooling tendency

    "When this happens, it can affect the jet stream where our weather is made," she told AFP. "That is exactly what has happened now."

    Freezing Arctic air that is normally "locked" in the polar vortex breaks out, creating the Siberian cold front that has blanketed Europe.

    Sudden stratospheric warming occurs, on average, every other year, so it is not a rare phenomenon.

    But over the last two decades, the vortex's breakdowns have become deeper and more persistent.

    "Overall, the global warming trend is clear," said Kretschmer. Earth's average surface temperature has gone up by one degree Celsius since the mid-19th century - enough to unleash deadly drought, heatwaves, and storms engorged by rising seas.

    "But if you just look at winter temperatures since 1990, you see a cooling tendency in winter over northern Eurasia."

    Still, the question remains: What drives changes in the intensity and duration of sudden stratospheric warming?

    One theory holds that newly ice-free ocean surface - which absorbs the Sun's rays rather than bouncing them back into space like snow - releases warmth into the air that eventually disrupts the stratosphere.

    "It is hard to say that any one event is linked to global warming," said Kretschmer.

    "But there are a lot of studies now suggesting this pattern - warm Arctic, cold continent - could be linked to climate change."

    "This much is certain - there is overwhelming evidence that changes in the Arctic will affect our weather," she added. /cbb

  7. #97
    When animals disappear, how are humans affected?

    February 16, 2018

    Dear Cecil:

    Are there extinct species that we really wish we hadn't wiped out? I don't mean we now say, "Gee, what a shame." I mean, is there anything where we now say, "Oh $#!&, we screwed ourselves!"? Like when the Chinese thought getting rid of all the sparrows was a good idea.

    Lumpy, via the Straight Dope Message Board

    Cecil replies:

    If you’re not as up on your People’s Republic history as Lumpy here, allow me to read you in. Having become concerned about sparrows eating the grain Chinese farmers were growing, in 1958 Mao ordered the birds’ extermination, and an estimated billion of them were killed. Problem was, those sparrows had also been eating locusts that liked to eat grain themselves, and with nothing keeping them in check, the bugs commenced to eat the fields bare. Together with various other agricultural policies of the Great Leap Forward, the sparrow campaign helped lead to the starvation deaths of tens of millions of people; as far as history’s gravest unintended consequences go, this one’s in the hall of fame. And as Lumpy suggests, it’s a particularly vivid illustration of how humans can bollocks up a functioning ecosystem by intervening without thinking through the bigger implications.

    Are there others? Sure. Turn your attention to present-day India, where since just the early ’90s three once-abundant species of vulture have all but died — officially they’re critically endangered, but according to some scientists they’re “functionally extinct.” This one’s on us, too: the birds were feeding on the decaying flesh of cows that Indian farmers had fed with a particular painkiller, diclofenac. In cows it soothed aching hooves; in vultures it led to fatal kidney failure.

    Appearancewise vultures don’t do much to pretty up a biome, true, but in south Asia their carrion-eating was a vital public service. Remember, these are birds that can put away an anthrax-infected carcass and go back for more. (Pity they couldn’t handle a common NSAID.) This made them a reliable firebreak between humans and some major infectious diseases, including tuberculosis and rabies, whereas the less hardy rats and wild dogs that have taken over the carrion gig tend to spread these around. With vultures on the ropes, India faces a public-health disaster.

    So far we’ve yet to mention an animal that’s been wiped out altogether, but don’t get too hung up on extinction per se. Sure, the disappearance of the last member of a species is a grim milestone. The consequential problem, though, is a species’ general disappearance from an ecosystem, even if a few individuals keep on keeping on. Just a modest decline in the populations of key creatures can screw things up, and a steep drop can be devastating; however circuitously, those effects will come back to bite us. For instance:

    In the late 1880s, Italian army livestock in East Africa introduced a highly lethal bovine disease called rinderpest: it devastated sub-Saharan herbivores from pigs to wildebeest, and starved a lot of people who relied on cattle for food, nomadic herders and colonial farmers alike. The deaths of all those grazers and browsers also led to a steep growth in plant biomass, leading to a century of worse and more frequent wildfires — leading in turn to property damage, fire-suppression costs, and tons of carbon dumped into the atmosphere.

    These days sub-Saharan Africa is contending with the decline of its apex predators via hunting, habitat loss, etc. Fewer lions and leopards means, among other things, more olive baboons, who’ve encroached further into human territory, bringing competition for food and an uptick in intestinal parasites for both the humans and the baboons. This isn’t the worst to come out of the complex relationship between food chain and disease on that continent: Industrial overfishing in the Atlantic has led West Africans to increasingly seek other protein sources, including primate bushmeat. If you’ll recall, eating chimp flesh is thought to be the conduit through which HIV found its way to humans, and there are other scary primate viruses out there ready to make their move.

    In the centuries since wolves were hunted out of the British Isles, deer have become rampant in the UK. With their numbers now at a thousand-year high, they’re responsible for some 50,000 traffic accidents annually, plus they impede forest regeneration by eating all the seedlings. The animals represent such a pain in Britain’s ass that there’s a project afoot (inspired by a successful initiative at Yellowstone) to bring back the wolves.

    One hears a lot about how we’re in the midst of a mass extinction, the sixth in history. Ecologists believe that losing large carnivores will be the really big deal here, setting in motion the follow-on effects seen above: more fires, invasive species, carbon pollution, agricultural problems, infectious diseases, and on and on — widespread ecosystem malfunction that reconfigures the whole food chain, and whose costs to us keep compounding over time. The technical name for this process is “trophic cascading,” but I can think of more colloquial phrases that might work here too — “You break it, you bought it,” for one.

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