These Scary Changes
“Change is a good thing!” Except when it isn’t. I’m thinking climate change right now.
Longer heat waves, hotter drier summers (and winters in some places), and higher average temperatures overall. Add to that the increasing frequency of, duration of, and devastation from drought, fire, and severe weather events, and climate change definitely does not look like a good thing. We’re already seeing the effects. Mega-storms, 500 year floods, and fierce wild fires that destroy town and life.
The Black Friday Climate Report released by the Trump administration a few weeks ago spells it all out. Over 300 scientists employed by 13 different federal agencies concluded that Climate change is real, it’s here, and we are to blame. The report spells out what we can expect in the United States through the end of this century.
The report makes a region by region assessment, in terms of losses to the economy, damages to infrastructure and private property, and the effects on the health of Americans if current releases of greenhouse gasses go unabated. They also explored the effects of limiting the carbon emissions so that the temperature increases to no more than 2 degrees above the norm (we are currently at 1.8 degrees over the norm). The conditions in either scenario of increased global temperature investigated by the Black Friday Climate Report would be devastating because plants and animals have trouble adapting in real time to rapid climate changes.
But why are the predictions so dire? Because, climate change is about more than a the daily weather. Whole ecosystems result largely from their climates. When climate changes suddenly, ecosystems are stressed and damaged because plants and animals adapt slowly. Water supplies change as do average surface temperatures. Plants bloom at abnormal times, or not at all, while others die because they cannot survive in the new conditions. These in turn impact the animal species that are dependent upon them for survival. This is why changing environment can lead to mass extinction in plants and animals. Many believe we are in the midst of the 6th mass extinction right now.
But this is all very general. Here’s a look at how changing climate can have more of an effect than just the temperature and when it rains.
What the Heat Does to Our Trees
Drought and increased heat can weaken trees. It makes them more susceptible to pests like the bark beetle. Trees have a natural defense against the beetles. It’s their sap. When beetles burrow deep enough into the wood, the sap, which is toxic to them, flushes them out. But with years of drought and hotter temperatures, the sap doesn’t flow as freely in the trees, making this natural defense virtually useless. Combine this with shorter, warmer winters that allow bark beetles to start earlier in the season, and reduces the likelihood of larval die-off during the winter, and the effect can be devastating. This has lead to mega infestations in some areas. And with dead, dry wood, comes the increased risk of wildfire. This has already been seen in several notable fires across the west.
Over the last few decades, with changes in climate, the problem of tree mortality due to bark beetles has risen sharply. Just as climate change is a global problem, so is the damage to forests from bark beetles. Major infestations have been found throughout Europe and Siberia.
What About the Bees?
Looking at the example of the bark beetles, I cannot help but wonder if the problems faced by bees are being climate driven in ways that might not have been previously considered. Every fire, superstorm, and drought reduces habitat and livability. As the temperature inches up, how much does the stress on the bee’s environment impact them? How much of a change in environment will be too much before we see ever accelerating losses in wild and domestic bee? And what will it mean for the food supply? Which brings us back to where we started. Climate change.
The effects of climate change will be profound, and are already starting to be felt. They will only become more pronounced, unless drastic measures are taken. Even then, we might not be able to set things right. We’re going to be stuck with a new reality, and it starts right now. How we choose to respond will determine how livable our planet will be. Will we halt climate change where it is? Or will we act as if there is nothing to worry about?
Weather we believe in this stuff or not is irrelevant. What is relevant is that we have 12 years to figure out how to get greenhouse emissions under control, before the effects become catastrophic and irreversible.
To read more about bark beetle infestations, and the impact they have, check out this article by the Yale School of Forestry.
The US forest service also has a very informative page on bark beetles.
This article discusses how climate change can affect plant biodiversity.