January 09, 2004

An Unnatural Disaster: Global Warming to Kill Off 1 Million Species: Scientists Shocked by Results of Research; 1 in 10 animals and plants extinct by 2050

Guardian: John Lanchbery, climate change campaigner
for the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds,
agreed: "This is a deeply depressing paper. President
Bush risks having the biggest impact on wildlife since
the meteorite that wiped out the dinosaurs. At best,
in 50 years, a host of wildlife will be committed to
extinction because of human-induced climate change. At
worst, the outcome does not bear thinking about.
Drastic action to cut emissions is clearly needed by
everyone, but especially the USA."

Save the Environment, Show Up for Democracy in 2004:
Defeat Bush (again!)


http://www.commondreams.org/headlines04/0108-06.htm

Published on Thursday, January 8, 2004 by the
Guardian/UK
An Unnatural Disaster: Global Warming to Kill Off 1 Million Species: Scientists Shocked by Results of Research; 1 in 10 animals and plants extinct by 2050

by Paul Brown

Climate change over the next 50 years is expected to
drive a quarter of land animals and plants into
extinction, according to the first comprehensive study
into the effect of higher temperatures on the natural
world.

This is a deeply depressing paper. President Bush
risks having the biggest impact on wildlife since the
meteorite that wiped out the dinosaurs.

John Lanchbery, climate change campaigner for the
Royal Society for the Protection of Birds
The sheer scale of the disaster facing the planet
shocked those involved in the research. They estimate
that more than 1 million species will be lost by 2050.


The results are described as "terrifying" by Chris
Thomas, professor of conservation biology at Leeds
University, who is lead author of the research from
four continents published today in the magazine
Nature.

Much of that loss - more than one in 10 of all plants
and animals - is already irreversible because of the
extra global warming gases already discharged into the
atmosphere. But the scientists say that action to curb
greenhouse gases now could save many more from the
same fate.

It took two years for the largest global collaboration
of experts to make the first major assessment of the
effect of climate change on six biologically rich
regions of the world taking in 20% of the land
surface.

The research in Europe, Australia, Central and South
America, and South Africa, showed that species living
in mountainous areas had a greater chance of survival
because they could simply move uphill to get cooler.

Those in flatter areas such as Brazil, Mexico and
Australia, were more vulnerable, faced with the
impossible task of moving thousands of miles to find
suitable conditions.

Birds, which had the greatest chance of escape, could
in theory move to a more suitable climate but the
trees and other habitat they needed for survival could
not keep pace and all would die.

Professor Thomas said: "When scientists set about
research they hope to come up with definite results,
but what we found we wish we had not. It was far, far
worse than we thought, and what we have discovered may
even be an underestimate."

Among the more startling findings of the scientists
was that of 24 species of butterfly studied in
Australia, all but three would disappear in much of
their current range, and half would become extinct.

In South Africa major conservation areas such as
Kruger national park risked losing up to 60% of the
species under their protection.

In the Cerrado region of Brazil - also known as the
Brazilian Savannah - which covers one fifth of the
country, a study of 163 tree species showed that up to
70 would become extinct. Many of the plants and trees
that exist in this savannah occur nowhere else in the
world. The scientists concluded that 1,700 to 2,100 of
these species - between 39% and 48% of the total -
would disappear.

In Europe, the continent least affected by climate
change, survival rates were better, but even here
under the higher estimates of climate change a quarter
of the birds could become extinct, and between 11% and
17% of plant species.

One British example is the Scottish crossbill which is
found nowhere else. The future climate in Scotland
will be different and the birds will be unable to
survive, especially with rivals from warmer climes
moving in.

The crossbill would need to move to Iceland, but
currently there are virtually no trees and suitable
food. The scientists conclude: "It seems unlikely that
the species will manage to move to Iceland."

In Mexico, studies in the Chihuahuan desert confirmed
that on flatter land extinction was more likely
because a small change in climate would require
migrations over vast distances for survival. One third
of 1,870 species examined would be in trouble and
three small rodents, the smokey pocket gopher,
Alcorn's pocket gopher, jico deer mouse would go the
way of the dodo.

In South Africa, where many popular garden plants
originate, 300 plant species were studied and more
than one third were expected to die out, including
South Africa's national flower, the king protea.

Commenting on the findings in Nature, two other
scientists, J Alan Pounds and Robert Puschendorf, who
has studied the extinction of frogs in the mountains
of Costa Rica since the 1980s as a result of climate
change, say their colleagues have been "optimistic".

When other factors as well as increased temperatures
were taken into account the extinctions would probably
be greater.

"The risk of extinction increases as global warming
interacts with other factors - such as landscape
modification, species invasions and build-up of carbon
dioxide - to disrupt communities and ecological
interactions."

So many species are already destined for extinction
because it takes at least 25 years for the greenhouse
effect - or the trapping of the sun's rays by the
carbon dioxide, methane and nitrous oxide already
added to the air - to have its full effect on the
planet. Deserts, grasslands and forests are already
changing to make survival impossible.

The continuous discharging of more greenhouse gases,
particularly by the USA, is making matters
considerably worse. The research says if mankind
continues to burn oil, coal and gas at the current
rate, up to one third of all life forms will be doomed
by 2050.

Prof Thomas said it was urgent to switch from fossil
fuels to a non-carbon economy as quickly as possible.
"It is possible to drastically reduce the output of
greenhouse gases into the atmosphere and this research
makes it imperative we do it as soon as possible. If
we can stabilize the climate and even reverse the
warming we could save these species, but we must start
to act now."

If conservation groups wanted to save species they
should devote at least half their energies to
political campaigning to reduce global warming because
that was the greatest single threat to survival of the
species.

John Lanchbery, climate change campaigner for the
Royal Society for the Protection of Birds, agreed:
"This is a deeply depressing paper. President Bush
risks having the biggest impact on wildlife since the
meteorite that wiped out the dinosaurs. At best, in 50
years, a host of wildlife will be committed to
extinction because of human-induced climate change. At
worst, the outcome does not bear thinking about.
Drastic action to cut emissions is clearly needed by
everyone, but especially the USA."

Guardian Newspapers Limited 2004

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Posted by richard at January 9, 2004 10:01 AM