Monday, January 26, 2009

The Weather Makers (5)

THE WEATHER MAKERS: HOW MAN IS CHANGING THE CLIMATE AND WHAT IT MEANS FOR LIFE ON EARTH by Tim Flannery

Reviewed by Thomas Riggins

Part 5

The golden toad was a beautiful small toad that lived in Costa Rica until the end of 1980s. It is now extinct, and Flannery calls it the "first documented victim of global warming." It was our gas guzzling cars and coal fired power plants that wiped out the delicate climate of its environment "as surely as if we had flattened its forest with bulldozers."

The golden toad was the first, but not the last. Enter RHEOBATRACHUS SILUS, the gastric brooding frog, formerly a native of Australia. This frog was first found in 1973. It was very unusual. The scientist who found opened its mouth to see a little tiny frog sitting inside. What was R. silus up to?

It had evolved to swallow its eggs which hatched into tadpoles in a special chamber of its stomach (where digestion would not take place) and when a tadpole turned into a little frog up it came into momma's mouth to be released into the world. Six years later there was no more R. silus. Although it too was killed by global warming the cause was not documented until after the cause of the golden toad had been.

There is a world wide die off of frogs, toads and other amphibians going on at this time. Many, if not most, are killed by a fungus SAPROLGENIA FERAX. But the reason this fungus is killing them is that climate change has weakened the amphibian embryo by allowing more ultra violet light to reach the Earth, and the rise in Earth's temperature is spreading the fungus and allowing it to attack more and more victims. Also the ponds that many tadpoles live in are drying up before they can turn into frogs and toads.

Some extra info. SCIENCE DAILY (online) for 1-21-2009 reports another major threat to frogs. The headline reads "Frogs Are Being Eaten To Extinction, Experts Say." Despite the fact that amphibians are "the most threatened animal group" hundreds of millions of frogs are being hunted to extinction for their legs. Frog legs are on menus throughout the world-- including school lunch menus in Europe. The crash in frog populations is similar to that of the marine fisheries. Bon appetit!

Some of the most serious consequences of global warming can be seen in the redistribution of rain fall patterns. As the Earth warms there is more rain at higher latitudes in winter, Flannery reports. This will, and has, produced more serious avalanches and flooding. Just watch the evening news!

But just as serious, in fact more serious, is that rainfall will also diminish in other areas where it has been plentiful. A new drier climate has been created in the Sahel region of Africa-- "an enormous swathe " of land from the Atlantic coast to Sudan. For the last 40 years the monsoon rains have failed to appear in this region, due to climate change caused by the European and American (and now Indian and Chinese) use of hydrocarbons for energy.

We have destroyed the rain and the consequence has been a rash of famines that have killed hundreds of thousands. All those starving Ethiopians we have seen on TV ever since the 1980s are starving because of our capitalist economic activity driven by coal and oil. Besides warming, "global dimming" is going on. The dust particles we pump into the air blocks sunlight from reaching the oceans and their cooling affects the rain fall and monsoons that are needed in the Sahel. The "moral implications" of this, Flannery says, "seems to have gone all but unnoticed in the world's news media." There is a direct causal link between our use of coal and other hydocarbons and the mass famines in Africa.

The tragic events in Dafur can also be explained by the West's causing of so much climate change. The camel herding nomads have been driven into the agricultural areas of Dafur seeking food and water for their animals and themselves due to climate change. Conflict broke out between them and the farmers in the agricultural areas. The two groups are classified as Arabs and Africans but, except for herding or farming, the groups are "culturally and physically indistinguishable" according to Flannery.

There are all sorts of political complications but "we see the west focusing on religion and politics as the problem, rather than the well-documented and evident environmental catastrophe that is its ultimate cause." We had better focus on the real causes because, "So big is the Sahelian climate shift that it could influence the climate of the entire planet."

If you remember, we live at the bottom of the troposphere which extends upwards about seven miles to meet the stratosphere-- the boundary region is called the tropopause. Flannery reports that in 2003 scientists discovered that the tropopause has risen by several hundred meters. This is important because this "is where much of our weather is generated." Greenhouse gasses trapped there heat up the whole planet causing more and more powerful hurricanes and other extreme weather phenomena.

These are some of the effects of this warming worth mentioning:
1. More flooding: 7 million people were flooded out yearly in the 1960s, but now the yearly figure is about 150 million.
2. More extreme heat waves. 26,000 people died from the heat in Europe in 2003 from July to September.
3. In 2004 the temperature in Egypt hit 126.8 degrees F. One of highest "ever recorded."
4. All the continents are right now in the process of shrinking. "This is because, courtesy of heat and melting ice, the oceans are expanding."

Part 6 coming up.

No comments: