August 9, 2005

Global Warming: Bad for Good and Good for Bad

Filed under: Adaptation

Whenever we read a story about some plant or animal showing up where they usually weren’t or disappearing from where they usual are, global warming always shows up in the list of the usual suspects.

And, of course, global warming is up to no good. Usually, “bad” species are showing up where they are unwanted, while “good” ones are being endangered.

For instance, here is a sample of the plants and animals that have been reported as expanding their ranges because of planetary warming:

•Mosquitoes carrying West Nile Virus and Malaria; see here or here

•Ticks transmitting Lyme’s Disease; see here

•Rats vectoring Bubonic Plague; see here

•Pine Beetles, killing our forests; see here

•Spruce Bark Beetles, also killing our forests; see here

•Jellyfish. Yuck! See here or here

•Poison Ivy, no laughing matter if you’ve got a big case; see here

•Ragweed, coming atchoo; see here

But what’s disappearing is never as gross. In fact, what is going bye-bye is usually downright beautiful: Consider:

•Butterflies, everyone’s favorite insect; see here

•Songbirds that brighten the dawn; see here

•Waterfowl, for the inside of that Sears sleeping bag; see here

•Salmon, Trout and associated delectable fighters; see here

•Penguins. They all look alike in socialist communes. A lesson for us all! See here

•Puffins. Who doesn’t like Puffins? See here

In fact, Google “global warming” and the cute, cuddly animal of your choice is guaranteed to show up as endangered or disappearing, while yucky jellyfish take over the Gulf of Mexico.

With this in mind, we were not surprised to read the August 5th AP story describing how a green sea turtle (one of the several sea turtles that are on the Endangered Species list and thus universally loved) that recently became the “first documented case of the protected turtle laying its eggs in Virginia” failed to mention global warming as possibly being the cause. After all, green sea turtles typically nest in the warm climate of southeastern Florida (very occasionally nesting as far north as the Outer Banks of North Carolina). So, the Virginia egg-laying event marks pretty big northerly departure from what is typical. Yet not a single mention of the possibility that the turtle is expanding its nesting grounds northwards due as a response to rising temperatures. Global warming may do good for good things? Never!

Not that we are suggesting that anthropogenic global warming has anything to do with the event, for it is impossible to place isolated events such as this one into the context of climate change. We are merely pointing out that given the opportunity to link global warming to some sort of species shift, the opportunity is not taken when the species that may be broadening its habitat (and thus benefiting from a climate shift) is a well-loved symbol of environmental struggle—such as the endangered green sea turtle.

Conservative think tanks are often singled out for selective use of data to make the issue of climate change seem less certain than others (presumably less conservative) believe it is. See, for example, the column to this effect in the August 5th issue of the New York Times by Paul Krugman (or here for another take on the article).

At the same time, the press ignores the environmentalists who do the opposite, making the issue of disastrous climate change seem much more certain and catastrophic than evidence and observations suggest. Some argue that it’s OK for the environmentalists to exaggerate, because, after all, they are trying to save the earth. The green sea turtle might not agree.

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