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In light of the GOP disbanding the Committee on Global Warming the following article is an example of a species trapped by climate change. The warming of our planet is a fact, an observation one backed by straight forward science. One may debate the cause as either anthropogenic or natural, yet the hard fact is the planet is warmer.

From the press release of John Boehner:

“We have pledged to save taxpayers’ money by reducing waste and duplication in Congress,” said Michael Steel, a spokesman for Rep. John Boehner, R-Ohio, who becomes speaker in January.

“The Select Committee on Global Warming was created by Democrats simply to provide political cover to pass their job-killing national energy tax. It is unnecessary, and taxpayers will not have to fund it in the 112th Congress,” Steel said.

Oh well. We’ll have to look to China and Germany for innovation and political will to address climate change.

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The sun dips lower on the southern horizon till solstice on the 21st of December. Each day we loose two minutes of sunlight. The sun, low in the horizon, is less powerful and the reduced energy forces adaption upon all living things. Trees, now dormant, have shed their leaves preparing for the bite of winter. Birds, by and large, fly south on their annual migration for warmth and a place to raise their off spring. Bears endure by hibernating, burrowing in to stave off cold and hunger. As the ultimate tool users, we humans bundle up with tools sourced from the earth’s resources. From flight to hibernation to complex material systems each species has a unique way of adapting to seasons. How each of these species reacts to seasonal change is an indicator of future adaptability to a warmer climate.

The sun we loose in Montana is gained in the southern hemisphere. Summer is just around the corner on the planet’s coldest and driest continent, Antarctica. Winter ice is at a minimum and the long days set the biological clock in motion for the wildlife of the frozen continent. One denizen, the Adelie penguin, is a flightless bird that has evolved to its state in the absence of land-based predators and a rich marine environment. The waddling tuxedo like birds have adapted to seasonal change with a generous stores of fat. As humans we have an affinity for animals that resemble us. This anthropomorphic adulation has been popularized in film and zoos. The adelie, as all penguins, are adept swimmers. The krill and similar small marine organisms keep the birds healthy. Seals, orcas and two of the many animals that then feed on penguins. Whereas flighted birds fly for the seasons the Adelie’s adaptation involves fattening up before the onset of winter and huddling together.
The temperatures recorded on the Antarctic Peninsula have increased 9 degrees in the past 50 years. Warmer winters, with fewer freeze days, when combined with warmer waters result in less seasonal ice. Seasonal ice provides a home for the adelies and is at the source of their food. Algae and plankton grow on the underside of the translucent ice, which feed larval krill, which in turn are the food stores for the adelies. Is there a correlation between the shrinking ice and the adelie population? Steve Forrest, Research Associate with the Antarctic Site Inventory, is convinced warmer climates are affecting Adelie populations. He notes, “Lack of ice is driving Adelies on the Antarctic Peninsula to breeding extinction.” He has been studying adelie population on Peterman Island, and at about 20 other sites with Adelie penguins along the Antarctic Peninsula,for the past 15 years. Petermann Island populations have a recorded population loss of 57% since the 1980s. Each year the population declines 15 to 20%.
The result is, there will be no Adelie penguins breeding on the Peninsula in the next 20 years. In this changing and warmer climate, Adelies, adapted to ice and cold, are limited in their options. A raptor in the Rockies can fly from New Mexico to Alaska to find the right climate. The breeding grounds of penguins with nearby krill populations are fixed, and once they no longer serve the Adelie, the species faces extinction, trapped by climate change.

The temperature induced challenges facing penguins and polar bears are irrefutable indicators of a warming planet. Because of this heat, earth faces the steepest extinction rate in 65 million years. The species that survive this extinction will have to adapt quickly. For humans to survive we need to ramp our adaptation skills. We adapt with tools, efficiency and new technology. By focusing on how we can invent a more sustainable existence we’ll be ahead of the curve and leave future generations the opportunity that the previous generations have left us.

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