Kwolz's Adventures in Saving the World

"Look deep into nature, and then you will understand everything better." -Albert Einstein

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Spring, Spring, Go Away!

Posted by kevinwolz on April 27, 2010

“Woodland wildflowers are blooming anywhere from a few days to two weeks earlier than average this year. Prairie trillium started blooming by April 18 when its average date is May 8.”

This is a quote from a recent University of Wisconsin-Madison Arboretum news article. The article describes all the great spring ephemerals which have been blooming lately and explains the transition to another set of species. Don’t get me wrong…wild flowers, especially the spring ephemerals, are very near and dear to me, BUT THIS ARTICLE COMPLETELY MISSES THE POINT!

Pretty flowers are great, but spring arriving earlier and earlier each year…not so much. To me, this “spring creep” is an obvious sign of the beginning of the end of the world as we know it. Slippery slope? There’s only one way to find out.

Spring doesn’t just show up two weeks earlier than normal without any consequences on the natural systems. Native organisms have been evolving in their native climate for thousands of years. In this time, nature has developed a routine! For example, many migrating birds fly north again in the spring. This habit has evolved so that, when the birds arrive home, all their food is already established and growing. Wouldn’t it stink if the birds arrived too early or too late and their preferred food either hadn’t arrived yet or had already come and gone!? They would starve!

Well, this is exactly the kind of occurrence that is beginning to happen all over the world.  One common misguided argument is that “the animals evolved and adjusted to this climate in the first place…why can’t they just evolve with the changing climate as well?” Well, it is true that this sort of thing has happened countless times in the history of our planet, and most of the time, the species are perfectly able to adapt with the changes. However, it’s important to keep in mind that, with these “ecological mismatches,” it’s not necessarily the fact that the climate is changing; it’s the rate at which it’s changing. Today, anthropogenic climate change is causing the climate to change more rapidly than ever before. More rapidly, in fact, that most species are able to evolve adaptive strategies.

Other ecological effects of climate change include:

  • Increased risk of forest fires — The pros and cons of these fires is the topic for another post, but suffice it to say for now that we don’t want more uncontrolled fires near cities. I would think that this past fire season is proof enough.
  • Invasive species are favored by the disturbance that the changing climate creates (making restoration efforts that much more difficult)
  • Habitat loss — The classic example of this is the pika, which is a small rodent that lives on the tops of mountains. As the climate warms, most mountain-dwelling creatures are able to move their ranges up the mountain to stay cool. The pika, however, and its community buddies, have nowhere to go: they’re already at the top of the mountain! And hence, they go extinct.
  • Loss of biodiversity – This is the dire ultimate consequence of all previously listed effects.

In my opinion, these ecosystem effects are vastly more important than the more popularized climate change effects: droughts, heat waves, sea level rise, and the like (not that those aren’t ridiculously bad in their own right). Last week I posted Einstein’s quote that humans would only have 3 years to live were bees to go extinct. 3 years is not that long, but imagine if an entire ecosystem went extinct!! We’d have…what?…a day?…a week? I don’t want to know the answer. If you don’t either, do something about it! Who knows what the tipping point is!? Spring is already arriving two weeks earlier than average…how much more will it take to trigger massive ecosystem collapse? I have faith in the resiliency of Earth’s natural systems, but lets face it, they’re no match for the $#!^ we pull.

This past winter, I saw a wild violet in bloom around New Year’s Day. If you see something like this, don’t say “Oh, what a pretty flower.” Say, ” Damn! I’m taking my bike to work from now on!”

Make the connections. Don’t close your eyes. It’s happening. Help me save the world while we still can…otherwise your child may never even have the opportunity to see a wild violet. What a shame that would be.

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