October 1, 2007

Back When All News Wasn’t Bad

Filed under: Adaptation, Animals, Extinctions, Plants

In 1996, Camille Parmesan published a paper in Nature magazine that supposedly was the first documentation that animal species (in this case Edith’s Checkerspot Butterflies) were shifting there range because of presumably anthropogenic climate changes. Parmesan told the New York Times, “I cannot say that climate warming has caused the shift; what I can say is that it is exactly what is predicted by global warming scenarios…”

Parmesan went on to look at additional species and her work, and other studies like hers that document shifting species ranges as the climate warms, are treated as “blockbusters” when the appear, most often in the world’s most prestigious scientific journals such as Science and Nature. These are accompanied by press releases and widespread media coverage that undoubtedly reverberates with the (mock?) horror of environmentalists worldwide. In fact, some studies have even taken the shifting-range-is-bad concept a step further, projecting that a quarter to a third of all the world’s species will be extinct in 50 years. The lead author of one such study published in Nature magazine, British University of Leeds’ Chris Thomas, told the Washington Post, “We’re not talking about the occasional extinction—we’re talking about 1.25 million species. It’s a massive number.”

Time and time again we at World Climate Report counter that the earth’s climate is normally quite variable, and if the earth’s plants and animals were not able to shift their behaviors and viable ranges there would be quite a few less of them on the world today (a category that probably includes the species homo sapiens as well). So plants and animals responding to climate change is hardly unexpected or catastrophic—what would be potentially catastrophic would be the exact opposite situation, that is, if plants and animals were not shifting as the climate varied.

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