Connect with us

News

The 12 days of climate change myths: #10, can animals and plants adapt to climate change?

With thanks to Skeptical Science, over the Christmas holidays, Blue & Green Tomorrow is tackling climate change myths to find out the truth behind them.

Today we are looking at the idea that animals and plants can adapt to climate change.

Published

on

With thanks to Skeptical Science, over the Christmas holidays, Blue & Green Tomorrow is tackling climate change myths to find out the truth behind them.

Today we are looking at the idea that animals and plants can adapt to climate change.

The sceptic argument…

“Corals, trees, birds, mammals, and butterflies are adapting well to the routine reality of changing climate.”

(Hudson Institute).

What the science says…

This was a guest post written for Skeptical Science by Professor Barry Brook, an international research leader in global ecology and conservation biology.

A large number of ancient mass extinction events have been strongly linked to global climate change. Because current climate change is so rapid, the way the species typically adapt (migration) is, in most cases, simply not possible. Global change is simply too pervasive and occurring too rapidly.

Humans are transforming the global environment. Great swathes of temperate forest in Europe, Asia and North America have been cleared over the past few centuries for agriculture, timber and urban development. Tropical forests are now on the front line. Human-assisted species invasions of pests, competitors and predators are rising exponentially, and over-exploitation of fisheries, and forest animals for bush meat, to the point of collapse, continues to be the rule rather than the exception.

Driving this has been a six-fold expansion of the human population since 1800 and a 50-fold increase in the size of the global economy. The great modern human enterprise was built on exploitation of the natural environment. Today, up to 83% of the Earth’s land area is under direct human influence and we entirely dominate 36% of the bio productive surface. Up to half the world’s freshwater runoff is now captured for human use. More nitrogen is now converted into reactive forms by industry than all by all the planet’s natural processes and our industrial and agricultural processes are causing a continual build-up of long-lived greenhouse gases to levels unprecedented in at least the last 800,000 years and possibly much longer.

Clearly, this planet-wide domination by human society will have implications for biological diversity. For instance, a study conducted in 2003 showed that up to 42% of species in the Southeast Asian region could be consigned to extinction by the year 2100 due to deforestation and habitat fragmentation alone. Given these existing pressures and upheavals, it is a reasonable question to ask whether global warming will make any further meaningful contribution to this mess. Some, such as the sceptics S. Fred Singer and Dennis Avery, see no danger at all, maintaining that a warmer planet will be beneficial for mankind and other species on the planet and that “corals, trees, birds, mammals, and butterflies are adapting well to the routine reality of changing climate”. Also, although climate change is a concern for conservation biologists, it is not the focus for most researchers (at present), largely I think because of the severity and immediacy of the damage caused by other threats.

Global warming to date has certainly affected species’ geographical distributional ranges and the timing of breeding, migration, flowering, and so on. But extrapolating these observed impacts to predictions of future extinction risk is challenging. The most well known study to date, by a team from the UK, estimated that 18 and 35% of plant and animal species will be committed to extinction by 2050 due to climate change. This study, which used a simple approach of estimating changes in species geographical ranges after fitting to current bioclimatic conditions, caused a flurry of debate.

A large number of ancient mass extinction events have indeed been strongly linked to global climate change, including the most sweeping die-off that ended the Palaeozoic Era, 250 million years ago and the somewhat less cataclysmic, but still damaging, Palaeocene–Eocene Thermal Maximum, 55 million years ago. Yet in the more recent past, during the Quaternary glacial cycles spanning the last million years, there were apparently little climate-related extinction. This curious paradox of few ice age extinctions even has a name – it is called ‘the Quarternary Conundrum’.

Over that time, the globally averaged temperature difference between the depth of an ice age and a warm interglacial period was 4 to 6°C – comparable to that predicted for the coming century due to anthropogenic global warming under the fossil-fuel-intensive, business-as-usual scenario. Most species appear to have persisted across these multiple glacial–interglacial cycles. This can be inferred from the fossil record, and from genetic evidence in modern species. In Europe and North America, populations shifted ranges southwards as the great northern hemisphere ice sheets advanced, and reinvaded northern realms when the glaciers retreated. Some species may have also persisted in locally favourable regions that were otherwise isolated within the tundra and ice-strewn landscapes. In Australia, a recently discovered cave site has shown that large-bodied mammals were able to persist in the arid landscape of the Nullarbor in conditions similar to now.

However, although the geological record is essential for understanding how species respond to natural climate change, there are a number of reasons why future impacts on biodiversity will be particularly severe:

A) Human-induced warming is already rapid and is expected to further accelerate. The IPCC storyline scenarios imply a rate of warming of 0.2 to 0.6°C per decade. By comparison, the average change from 15 to 7 thousand years ago was ~0.005°C per decade, although this was occasionally punctuated by short-lived (and possibly regional-scale) abrupt climatic jolts.

B) A low-range optimistic estimate of 2°C of 21st century warming will shift the Earth’s global mean surface temperature into conditions which have not existed since the middle Pliocene, 3 million years ago. More than 4°C of atmospheric heating will take the planet’s climate back, within a century, to the largely ice-free world that existed about 35 million years ago. The average ‘species’ lifetime’ is only 1 to 3 million years. So it is quite possible that in the comparative geological instant of a century, planetary conditions will be transformed to a state unlike anything that most of the world’s modern species have encountered.

C) As noted above, it is critical to understand that ecosystems in the 21st century start from an already massively ‘shifted baseline’ and so have lost resilience. Most habitats are already degraded and their populations depleted, to a lesser or greater extent, by past human activities. For millennia our impacts have been localised although often severe, but during the last few centuries we have unleashed physical and biological transformations on a global scale.

D) Past adaptation to climate change by species was mainly through shifting their geographic range to higher or lower latitudes (depending on whether the climate was warming or cooling), or up and down mountain slopes. There were also evolutionary responses – individuals that were most tolerant to new conditions survived and so made future generations more intrinsically resilient. Now, because of points A to C described above, this type of adaptation will, in most cases, simply not be possible or will be inadequate to cope. Global change is simply too pervasive and occurring too rapidly. Time’s up and there is nowhere for species to run or hide.

Many thanks to Skeptical Science for allowing us to republish their work. To view the original article, click here.

Continue Reading
Advertisement
Click to comment

You must be logged in to post a comment Login

Leave a Reply

Energy

What Should We Make of The Clean Growth Strategy?

Published

on

Clean Growth Strategy for green energy
Shutterstock Licensed Photo - By sdecoret | https://www.shutterstock.com/g/sdecoret

It was hardly surprising the Clean Growth Strategy (CGS) was much anticipated by industry and environmentalists. After all, its publication was pushed back a couple of times. But with the document now in the public domain, and the Government having run a consultation on its content, what ultimately should we make of what’s perhaps one of the most important publications to come out of the Department for Business, Energy and the Industrial Strategy (BEIS) in the past 12 months?

The starting point, inevitably, is to decide what the document is and isn’t. It is, certainly, a lengthy and considered direction-setter – not just for the Government, but for business and industry, and indeed for consumers. While much of the content was favourably received in terms of highlighting ways to ensure clean growth, critics – not unjustifiably – suggested it was long on pages but short on detailed and finite policy commitments, accompanied by clear timeframes for action.

A Strategy, Instead of a Plan

But should we really be surprised? The answer, in all honesty, is probably not really. BEIS ministers had made no secret of the fact they would be publishing a ‘strategy’ as opposed to a ‘plan,’ and that gave every indication the CGS would set a direction of travel and be largely aspirational. The Government had consulted on its content, and will likely respond to the consultation during the course of 2018. And that’s when we might see more defined policy commitments and timeframes from action.

The second criticism one might level at the CGS is that indicated the use of ‘flexibilities’ to achieve targets set in the carbon budgets – essentially using past results to offset more recent failings to keep pace with emissions targets. Claire Perry has since appeared in front of the BEIS Select Committee and insisted she would be personally disappointed if the UK used flexibilities to fill the shortfall in meeting the fourth and fifth carbon budgets, but this is difficult ground for the Government. The Committee on Climate Change was critical of the proposed use of efficiencies, which would somewhat undermine ministers’ good intentions and commitment to clean growth – particularly set against November’s Budget, in which the Chancellor maintained the current carbon price floor (potentially giving a reprieve to coal) and introduced tax changes favourable to North Sea oil producers.

A 12 Month Green Energy Initiative with Real Teeth

But, there is much to appreciate and commend about the CGS. It fits into a 12-month narrative for BEIS ministers, in which they have clearly shown a commitment to clean growth, improving energy efficiency and cutting carbon emissions. Those 12 months have seen the launch of the Industrial Strategy – firstly in Green Paper form, which led to the launch of the Faraday Challenge, and then a White Paper in which clean growth was considered a ‘grand challenge’ for government. Throughout these publications – and indeed again with the CGS – the Government has shown itself to be an advocate of smart systems and demand response, including the development of battery technology.

Electrical Storage Development at Center of Broader Green Energy Push

While the Faraday Challenge is primarily focused on the development of batteries to support the proliferation of electric vehicles (which will support cuts to carbon emissions), it will also drive down technology costs, supporting the deployment of small and utility-scale storage that will fully harness the capability of renewables. Solar and wind made record contributions to UK electricity generation in 2017, and the development of storage capacity will help both reduce consumer costs and support decarbonisation.

The other thing the CGS showed us it that the Government is happy to be a disrupter in the energy market. The headline from the publication was the plans for legislation to empower Ofgem to cap the costs of Standard Variable Tariffs. This had been an aspiration of ministers for months, and there’s little doubt that driving down costs for consumers will be a trend within BEIS policy throughout 2018.

But the Government also seems happy to support disruption in the renewables market, as evidenced by the commitment (in the CGS) to more than half a billion pounds of investment in Pot 2 of Contracts for Difference (CfDs) – where the focus will be on emerging rather than established technologies.

This inevitably prompted ire from some within the industry, particularly proponents of solar, which is making an increasing contribution to the UK’s energy mix. But, again, we shouldn’t really be surprised. Since the subsidy cuts of 2015, ministers have given no indication or cause to think there will be public money afforded to solar development. Including solar within the CfD auction would have been a seismic shift in policy. And while ministers’ insistence in subsidy-free solar as the way forward has been shown to be based on a single project, we should expect that as costs continue to be driven down and solar makes record contributions to electricity generation, investment will follow – and there will ultimately be more subsidy-free solar farms, albeit perhaps not in 2018.

Meanwhile, by promoting emerging technologies like remote island wind, the Government appears to be favouring diversification and that it has a range of resources available to meet consumer demand. Perhaps more prescient than the decision to exclude established renewables from the CfD auction is the subsequent confirmation in the budget that Pot 2 of CfDs will be the last commitment of public money to renewable energy before 2025.

In short, we should view the CGS as a step in the right direction, albeit one the Government should be elaborating on in its consultation response. Its publication, coupled with the advancement this year of the Industrial Strategy indicates ministers are committed to the clean growth agenda. The question is now how the aspirations set out in the CGS – including the development of demand response capacity for the grid, and improving the energy efficiency of commercial and residential premises – will be realised.

It’s a step in the right direction. But, inevitably, there’s much more work to do.

Continue Reading

Energy

4 Energy Efficient Home Upgrades that You Can Install Yourself

Published

on

The wide range of energy efficient products is growing rapidly every day. Nearly every appliance in your home can be upgraded to be more energy efficient, which oftentimes is not only helpful in lowering your carbon footprint but also in lowering your monthly bills.

However, the upfront costs of installing green appliances can sometimes be fairly steep. In order to lessen some of the cost, try installing energy efficient upgrades yourself rather than hiring a professional. While it is smart to hire a professional in some cases, try installing the following four upgrades yourself and make your home even more energy efficient at a fraction of the price.

Insulate Your Water Heater

If you own a home, you have most likely thought about making sure your walls and roof are insulated. You don’t want your hard earned money escaping due to a lack of insulation. However, if you are like most people you haven’t given a second thought to insulating your hot water tank. If you have a newer tank chances are you don’t need to worry about this.

However, if your tank is older or you’ve recently purchased your house, you want to make sure that you have at least an R-value of 24 insulating your water tank. Not sure how to determine your R-value? According to the Department of Energy, just touch your water heater – if it’s warm, then it needs additional insulation.

If you find that your R-value is less, then adding insulation is your best bet. You can save between 7% and 16% on your heating costs by adding a water heater jacket or blanket. This simple upgrade, which should cost around $20, will yield a much higher return on investment in the long run. And better yet, it’s quick and easy to do! Follow these instructions:

  1. Shut off the water heater while you work.
  2. Cut the insulation blanket to the height of the water heater and wrap it around. (Make sure it isn’t covering the top)
  3. Mark and cut out the areas needed to allow you to reach the controls.
  4. Finish the installation and turn the water heater back on.

Insulate Your Hot Water Pipes

Everyone loves a nice, hot shower, but did you know that if your pipes aren’t insulated, your water is losing a significant amount of heat on its way from the water heater to your shower. By simply wrapping insulation around your hot water pipes you can increase the temperature of your water by 2° to 4°F. This allows you to actually lower your temperature control settings, as the water is staying hot by the time it gets to you.

The amount of money that you can save by doing this depends on how your house and piping system are laid out. Additionally, the type of fuel you use to heat the water and how much water you use will have an impact.

Installing insulation around the pipes is made incredibly simple by the use of insulation sleeves. Installation is as simple as measuring the length of the pipe, cutting the insulation and wrapping it around the pipe. You can use simple cable ties to secure it in place.

Seal Air Leaks with Caulk

One quick and easy way to make your house more insulated, which will ultimately allow you to reduce your heating costs and reduce your carbon footprint, is through sealing air leaks. Any air leaks that you have around your doors and windows will let the hot air out in the winter and cool air out in the summer. Luckily, this is an easy fix with a caulk gun. You just need to seal the areas around your doors and windows.

There are several options that you can use like aerosol cans and squeeze tubes. However, the most popular solution is a caulking gun and a standard tub of $2 caulk. If you want a specialty color it will cost you slightly more.

To seal any leaks, start off by cleaning the area thoroughly. Scrape off any old caulk or paint. Cut the tip of the caulk gun at a 45° angle and put it in the gun. Hold the gun at a 45° angle to the area you want to apply the caulk. Continue moving the tip of the gun around the door or window to apply a continuous line of caulk. To ensure that each crack and space is filled, use a damp finger, sponge or other object to make sure it has filled the cracks. You can use a damp rap to clean up any excess or mistakes.

Lower Water Heater Temperature

Turning down the temperature on your water heater is a good way to take advantage of energy efficient cost savings. The majority of water heaters are set to 140°F by the manufacturer but may only need to be set to 120°F. Lowering the temperature can help prevent scalding, reduce the speed at which mineral buildup and corrosion occur within the pipes, and save you money by reducing your energy usage.

Lowering the temperature setting will reduce the amount of standby loss that occurs, which is the heat you lose from the heater into the room that it is housed. If your temperature is set higher than it needs to be you could be throwing away around $31 to $61 each year. When you add in the amount that you save from consumption of water at a lower temperature you could save over $400.

The only reason you would want to consider keeping the temperature control set at 140°F is if you have a dishwasher without a booster heater. The appliance may need the higher temperature in order to reduce the risk of legionellae bacteria for individuals with suppressed immune systems or respiratory issues. Just note that when the heat is turned up this high it can cause scalding, so it is best to install mixing valves to lower the temperature to sinks and bathtubs.

Conclusion

The focus on going green is not a new concept. In fact, the millennial generation, even those who don’t own their own home, are highly invested in energy efficiency. As we continue to work on reducing our carbon footprint, it is important to do all that we can to make our homes more energy efficient.

Making your home more energy efficient does not always require a handyman. In fact, making these four energy efficient upgrades yourself is a great way to go green and stay within your budget. Going green does not always have to cost an arm and a leg, so start saving money and reducing your carbon footprint today.

Continue Reading
Advertisement

Facebook

Trending