Saturday, February 03, 2007

We're all doomed!

Via Eli Rabett, I find that the Indescribablyoverhyped is living up to its name with a real bottom-of-the-barrel scraping. Read it and weep, or laugh. It's not worth getting too upset over some nonsense in a here-today-gone-tomorrow chip wrapper, I know. I do hope that no-one who claims to have any relevant scientific background was involved in the article's production.

In another article, Mark Lynas breathlessly announces "I know that life on a 6C-warmer globe would be almost unimaginably hellish." Well, Tokyo's summer is fully 10C warmer than even the warmer parts of the UK let alone the more northern climes from whence I hail, and I don't need to speculate as to how that much climate change feels. To be honest it was a real struggle the first year, but it seems that even a Scot can largely acclimatise in a few years. I wouldn't say it is actually pleasant, but I'm not dead yet!


John Quiggin said...

Despite this slightly OTT quote, most of the piece is about large-scale species extinction, which seems like a serious concern to me. Do you think Scottish ecoystems will get used to a 6 degree change in a year or a century?

James Annan said...

I'm sure there will be extinctions, it's not my field but I suspect that habitat loss, invasive species, and other direct human intervention will be a much larger factor than climate change in the UK. Clch will probably play a role in the invasion of some alien species of course, although plenty of them need no help at all once humans have introduced them.

To be honest I am rather bemused by the volume of research that explicitly assumes absolutely no adaptation at all. If someone suggested wiping out a disease by changing its ambient environment in some way at a barely perceptible rate over the course of a century, they would be laughed off stage.

Here are two random papers on rapid adaptation to environmental change.

(I've not read them but the former certainly had a lot of news coverage.)

At a recent talk on health risks from high temperatures, the speaker described how he couldn't use a singe temperature response curve across Japan because people in the hot areas coped better with hot temperatures (doh!). His presentation was in Japanese so I'm not quite sure, but I think that he did not draw the logical conclusion from this and consider that in the future, people might also adapt to the local temperature, instead he assumed that future hot summers in Hokkaido (north) will kill large numbers even though the present summers in Tokyo are already hotter and the death toll is very low.

Brian said...

I expect biological adaptation by rare species to do little to reduce the impact of climate change on biodiversity on a human timescale:

1. Fossil record shows hundreds of thousands of years or longer for biodiversity recovery from mass extinctions.

2. "Pre-adapted" invasives will be better adapted to different climate.

3. Even if a particular rare species can adapt, it won't do much good if the rest of the ecosystem can't.

4. Species most likely to adapt well to change are generalists, and they're much less likely to be endangered, anyway.

I'd agree habitat destruction is more important, but you can't completely separate the problems - habitat destruction plus climate change prohibits adaptation through migration.

James Annan said...

Well I'm sure that the balance in the ecosystems will change as some species adapt and invade better than others (note for what it's worth that the fungus that is heavily implicated in the extinction of frogs should actually be hindered by warming). But rapid adaptation to significant external pressure seems to be found just about everywhere that anyone looks for it. Bighorn sheep losing their horns under hunting pressure, fish growing more slowly to avoid being netted, lizards growing longer legs to escape a new predator (and then shorter legs again once they learnt to escape by climbing trees). Those are just a few famous cases that come to mind. It's perhaps better though of not so much "evolution" as a selective pressure on the existing genetic variation in the population.

One thing in particular I'd like to see is a long-term version of the ocean acidification + calcifying cocolithophore experiments. Put these bugs in an acid bath (ie 2xCO2 or so) and they don't like it at first - but we don't know how they would adapt. Of course we can't quickly do a ~100 year experiment but it would obviously be interesting to see how they would adapt in a couple of years, or perhaps 5. Such an experiment would not be very expensive or difficult.

The implicit assumption of no adaptation whatsoever is clearly a worst-case which can be expected to give biased results.

Brian said...

Changing the ecosystem balance should be enough to send many rare species over the edge, given all the other insults they've suffered.

Nearly as problematic is the decreased diversity through "functional extinction" where the rare species may hang on but in such reduced numbers as to contribute little value to the ecosystem. I think this might be the result of the acidification experiment you've suggested.

Anonymous said...

I agree that the key question is one of adjustment to changing climate, rather than a fixed comparison between climates.

Note, though, that a lot of stuff on adaptation (for example, Mendelsohn, Nordhaus and Shaw and many of the results reported by Nordhaus and Boyer) go to the opposite extreme and assume instantaneous adjustment.


James Annan said...

Instantaneous adjustment of what exactly? If new crops are developed that are more drought-tolerant (or whatever) then where is the loss? Are you saying that someone has estimated the additional cost of this development on top of existing agricultural research?