Forget Global Warming (for a day or two)

Forget Global Warming (for a day or two)

For many years now I have felt that an awful lot of energy has been wasted arguing about the extent and even existence of Global Warming. Global warming is a vital issue, but one that many people are tired of. Meanwhile, problems just as serious are accumulating and becoming even more ‘bleeding obvious’. There is NO excuse for people not being aware of a fundamental crisis for the future of current life forms, including our own.

Today I read: “We are clearing land, we are degrading land, we introduce feral animals and take the top predators out, we change the marine ecosystem by overfishing – it’s a death by a thousand cuts. That direct impact upon the land is the most important factor right now, even more than climate change.” Prof Will Steffen of the Australian National University. [i]

Even the tough arid parts of this huge continent are having eco-processes and ecosystems destroyed by feral animals, weeds, changes in fire patterns and land degradation. In other parts of Australia farming practices modify habitats and introduce herbicides and pesticides into the food chain and ground water. Land clearing itself demolishes habitat, ecosystems and processes that can never be replaced, encourage erosion and siltation, and water level rises which leads salination, soil impoverishment and erosion, and so it goes around. Farming has improved recently but it is taking too long. Warnings were given over a hundred years ago about unsustainable farming practices, and they are continuing, take for example the West Australian what belt.

The crisis in Australia began early. One day a rowboat entered Sydney Harbour or Cadi, as the body of water was then called. Governor Phillip was on board, seeking a place to settle the 1,000 odd people of Australia’s First Fleet.

Phillip discovered a pretty cove called Werrong (Camp Cove) with its run of good, clean water. He must have been delighted by the smooth-trunked angophoras that seemed to spring straight from the sandstone around it, their limbs turning bright salmon pink as they shed the last of the old year’s bark. And the water was full of fish. One of the rowers, an American named Jacob Nagle, hooked a beauty while the Governor was ashore.

Normally canoes were playing on the harbour, with women fishing, often a fire on board and a baby. The men tended to spear fish from the shore. Not long after, the beaches were full of Aborigines dying from the pox. Within 18 months of Phillip’s return, half of the local community was dead from smallpox, and soon their 10,000 years or more of freehold living around the harbour would be first denied and then forgotten.

Global warming is a problem though

Apart from Pacific Islanders losing their countries, and much richer Australians their beach homes, the spread of Malaria and Dengue fever, agricultural crises and more, I want to give one example from north of here. The highest mountains in Australia’s wet tropics are home to seven rare marsupials–five types of possums and two tree kangaroo species. They are the last relics of the time twenty million years ago when rainforest covered much of Australia. As animals that essentially need temperate conditions, they retreated to the cool mountain sides when the global climate warmed significantly over 3500 years ago. There’s evidence that further warming, together with clearing of the lowland forests is forcing animals further up in search of cooler conditions and food. But although there may be more food there, it is likely to be of poorer quality – the thin soils of the upland areas mean the leaves are low in nutrients. That means the tree kangaroos and possums need to eat larger amounts to survive. And that causes a problem. The leaves of rainforest trees contain natural toxins such as phenolics, alkaloids, and in some cases cyanide-forming compounds, that have evolved to protect the trees against overly voracious animals. So these rare marsupials may be gradually poisoned by their own diet.[ii]

[i] Quoted by Oliver Milman, ‘Rate of environmental degradation puts life on Earth at risk, say scientists’, Guardian,  16, Jan, 2015.

[ii] New Scientist, 9 January, 1999.

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