Trends, changes, World Series make for one hot season
The Wildlife Forecast
Sunday, August 01, 2010
Media contact: Patricia Behnke
Our wildlife suffered through a cold winter in
Florida. We also endured a steamy June. What does it all mean? The
temperatures were below normal during the winter and above normal
in the spring. It's not rocket science, it's not static, and it is
impossible to draw conclusions about climate change with just a few
weeks' worth of data.
Yet that's what many of us do when it comes to
climate change. Either side could "prove" the other side wrong
based on the weather that occurred over the past six months. Both
would be wrong, because that's not how scientifically meaningful
predictions are made.
For example the Pittsburgh Pirates beat the
Milwaukee Brewers 15-3 recently. This stellar win has little to do
with the Pirates overall season. One game does not a World Series
winner make, just as one cold January does not a trend make.
Dr. Thomas Eason, deputy director of the Division
of Habitat and Species Conservation with the Florida Fish and
Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC), goes to the water to make
his point about trends.
"Think of the ebb and flow of high tide at the
beach. Even though the tide overall is rising, each
individual wave may be smaller or larger. At any point in
time, you could be standing in knee-deep or ankle-deep water, but
after a few hours, you would be in chest-deep water," he said.
"Climate change is about 30-year-plus trends that will have smaller
trends within them."
Climate is the average of weather conditions, and
seasonal scales are examined to determine how one season compares
to the other seasons in the past. Timescales used for making
predictions are based on models over decades and centuries.
"The long-term data solidly point to a warming
climate, whether looking at centuries or decades," Eason said.
"However, what happened in the past winter or what happens this
summer only tells us what took place in that season. It's the
addition of those data to the overall trend that will matter to the
scientists attempting to model climate change, and it will matter
to the fish and wildlife that will have to respond to those
The studies point to humans playing a direct role
in the changes, most notably since the beginning of the Industrial
Age. Other natural factors also are a consideration. El Niño, with
its warming trends, affects weather around the globe, as does La
Niña, bringing in colder winds during the winter. In the Atlantic,
natural changes in wind and sea temperatures create a change in
"A changing climate has existed since pre-Columbian
times, yet fish and wildlife science has treated climate as
something that is static," Eason said. "However, we are now forced
to confront this fallacy and move into a dynamic-state mindset when
thinking about managing fish and wildlife."
Climate is determined by the amount of energy
escaping and entering earth. NOAA reports that since the dawn of
the Industrial Age, we have seen an abundance of atmospheric
greenhouse gases entering the atmosphere from fossil fuel burning
and deforestation. Since 1750, carbon dioxide has increased by 31
percent, which is higher than seen in 420,000 years.
All of this added together means our climate is
changing - some of it naturally, some of it manmade. More than
2,000 years ago, the Greek philosopher Heraclitus said, "Nothing
endures but change." Maybe it's time to understand this concept and
be prepared for anything.
Dr. Jean Brennan, with the Defenders of Wildlife
and 2007 Nobel Peace Prize laureate as a member of the
Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, spoke at the FWC's 2008
climate change summit and stressed Florida's vulnerability to
climate change. She advised that wildlife will not be able to adapt
as quickly as the climate changes and will do one of three things:
shift range, adapt or face extinction.
By looking at the overall trends in climate that
have occurred during the past 50 years in Florida and modeling
potential future changes, we can plan flexible strategies to assist
wildlife as habitat ranges shift, and we can help them adapt. But
we cannot sit by and idly discuss the coldest winter as a way to
debunk climate change; nor can we attest to global warming because
of a hotter than usual June.
Brennan stressed the development of a roadmap "that
will be essential to ensuring that Florida's fish and wildlife
survive until we are able to reduce greenhouse gas emissions - the
driver of the climate change impacts."
Since change is inevitable, we can change a habit
or two that might lessen our impact upon the earth. If it saves an
animal from extinction, then who cares about one little baseball
game? We will have won the whole World Series.