Tim Flannery is a straight-talking Australian and perhaps that is what gives his book a refreshing unique perspective. While most of the book takes a global view, he leaves nothing out in his assessment of his own government’s contribution to the mess, and is forthright about its abilities, policies and motives. Flannery, who is a zoologist, is particularly irritated about the fate of the Great Barrier Reef as well as the beginning of the destruction of the second biggest industry in Australia, which is tourism.
When looking at the roles that the gases in the atmosphere had in the creation of our modern day Earth, there is nearly no comparison to their significance. By about six hundred million years ago, oxygen levels increased to a point where organisms that were non-microscopic were able to sustain themselves on the planet. The Earth’s atmosphere had undergone multiple changes, which had large-scale effects on the developing planet.
Another major element, which affects the Earth’s atmosphere on a major level, is Carbon. Carbon is found naturally in four main storage areas called “reservoirs”. These reservoirs include the earth’s soil and rock, the carbon floating in the atmosphere or (CO2) gas, dissolved carbon found in ocean water, and lastly absorbed carbon in the biosphere (within living organisms). For the majority of the Earth’s history, it has been “Give-and take” when it came to the Earth’s carbon cycle. It was consistent up until the turning point known as the Industrial Revolution in which people began to do things such as heating homes, driving vehicles, and producing energy through the use of fossil fuels, oil, greenhouse gas, and coal all of which release CO2 into the atmosphere.
Coal is the world’s most abundant natural resource making it the ideal short-term solution to how the world will have power. Although there have been advancements in technology regarding power using oil and gas, more coal is being burned today than at any other point in history. “In 1990, coal-fired power plants produced 39 percent of the world’s CO2. That slice of the global carbon emissions “pie” had grown to 41 percent in 2005. Projections are that by 2030 coal-fired plants will produce 44 percent of global carbon emissions.”
Due to the increase in the levels of natural gasses in the atmosphere such as CO2, major climate changes would cause the Earth to change environmentally, which will directly affect the future for many living organisms in the future.
When looking at environmental change that is being caused due to increased amounts of gasses in the Earth’s atmosphere, temperature is a key factor. Temperature has a large impact on the climate of any given area. It allows for specific life to be able to be able to sustain itself in the climate region and when the climate is in the process of changing, temperature is a factor that can create many issues for the organisms in the area. In 1976, the coral atoll known as Maiana in the central Pacific nation of Kiribati was found to be in a very important region due to the fact that it is the area where El Niños are first detected. El Niños is a phenomenon during which the sea-surface temperature in the central Pacific area increases and salt content decreases. Although the temperature and salinity change is isolated to just this area, it did affect other regions, including the United States. This is due to the fact that the jet stream, which is a high speed wind current that brings snow and rain to the United States, shifted positions due to this temperature and salinity change, causing odd weather conditions in the United States.
In addition to the United States, this rising sea-surface temperature also caused extreme weather conditions in other areas such as the Galápagos Islands. This is a key example of how due to the change in weather conditions, animals were forced to adapt or else they would not survive. Out of the population of 1300 native finches known as Geospiza fortis that existed before the drought, which was brought to the islands, only 180 survived. All of those who survived had the largest beaks, which allowed them to feed via cracking tough seeds. Of those who survived, approximately eighty-three percent of them were males, so come mating season the males faced large amounts of competition for mates.
Once again, the birds with the largest beaks were those who succeeded in finding mates and came out on top. Through this process of natural selection, the population of finches took a large downshift due to all of those who could not survive the circumstances. When looking at climate change today throughout the planet as well as in the future, with CO2 emissions rising and global temperatures rising, it must result in similar circumstances in some situations as the finches on the Galápagos Islands. When looking at a more current issue, in 2004 due to increasing temperature, the northern tip of Antarctica began to turn green. Large amounts of grass appeared in Antarctica, due to the warm temperatures yet it does little to compare to the amounts of sea ice that disappeared. Along the “semifrozen edge between salt water and the floating ice” it promotes an area for large amounts of growth of microscopic plankton. Plankton thrives under ice and is a large part of the base of the food chain in the area. Due to plankton thriving under the ice during the winter darkness, krill are able to feed on them in order to complete their life cycles. When there are longer winters, there are larger amounts of krill in the food supply within the ecosystem. Without this high population of plankton to sustain the krill population, it creates some issues for the other organisms, which require krill to sustain themselves.
Some of these animals include penguins, seals, and whales. Although krill numbers decreased, the numbers of other major grazing species such as “jelly-like salps” have increased. Unlike krill, salps do not require high amounts of plankton to thrive. The salps are low in nutrients and when the ocean is stocked full of them, it is rather useless for other animals in the ecosystem.
Although in the past there have been many occurrences of climate change being evident throughout the world and many occurrences of it being detrimental to the organisms, there is still more to come. Due to what researchers call “the commitment” we are bound to our fate of climate change occurring in the future. “The full impact of the greenhouse gases already in the atmosphere will not be felt until around 2050” yet if all green house gas emissions would stop now (2005) the Earth would reach a new stable state along with a new climate. Yet, production is not slowing and gas emissions continue to be released into the atmosphere creating a greater “commitment” that the planet would have to later deal with. In order to be able to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, a global commitment will require essentially all nations in order to work. Representatives from more than 160 countries attended a series of conferences from 1992 through December 1997 in Kyoto, Japan. During the series of conferences they drafted the treaty known as the Kyoto Protocol. The objective was to set a limit on the global CO2 emissions.
Industrialized countries such as Russia, the United States, Canada, as well as the European countries, would adopt measures that would lower human-made emissions of greenhouse gases by an average of 5.2 percent below levels in 1990 between the years 2008-2012. Although the idea was good, due to the disagreement of the United States on the terms regarding developing countries India and China not having to comply fully with the terms, the protocol was not fully effective.
When viewing the topic of climate change as a whole after having read this book, I have found that my own view on the severity of the issue was very warped. I now realize how large scale of an issue this truly is mainly through the topic of habitat loss. When thinking of a species of animal which I have known to be existent in the world throughout my entire life and to know that due to my own impact on the earth, that species is/will die, it allows myself to have a reality check and view this as a very serious issue the world is facing today. I have found as well that my understanding of the need for change has increased dramatically to the point in which I feel the need to be more proactive when it comes to taking care of the planet in order to have the quality of life in the future be ideal rather than sub par.