February 20, 2008

More “Bad for Good and Good For Bad”

Just in case you don’t believe our original contention that reports about the impacts of global warming almost always say that ‘bad’ things will happen ‘good’ species and ‘good’ things will happen to ‘bad’ ones, we’ve recently come across perhaps the best example of this phenomenon to date.

A symposium titled “Under Thin Ice: Global Warming and Predatory Invasion of the Antarctic Seas” was held at the 2008 annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) during which several researchers discussed the probability that in the near future, anthropogenic global warming is going to elevate the temperatures in the sea off the coast of Antarctica such that sharks and crabs (read ‘bad things’) are going to invade the ecosystem there (where it has thus far been too cold for them to venture) and wreak havoc, or rather find a “smorgasbord” among all the innocent and unprepared creatures (i.e. the ‘good’ things) that currently inhabit those waters.

The press was all over this. The tone of the coverage is exemplified by an article by the Discovery Channel describing the Antarctic Invasion and its implications.

According to the Discovery Channel, “Global warming is now raising water temperatures to the point where, very soon, those long-exiled predators could return and wreak havoc on the ocean floor, say biologists.”

A lot of good things—clams, brittle stars, sea lilies (not sure what they are but they have a ‘good’-sounding name)—are going to chowed down by the bad things—king crabs and spiny dogfish (a kind of shark with a decidedly ‘bad’-sounding name).

Wait, there does seem to be some unexpectedly good news! The Discovery Channel reports that “Sharks also eat crabs.” So the future may be mixed for the bad ol’ crabs.

And, another piece of good news we are told, is that the shark and crab invasion shouldn’t adversely impact other ‘good’ things like penguins (aw, they are so cute), fish and whales because these animals subsist on a different ecosystem (krill) rather than the clams, brittle stars and sea lilies that the invading crabs and sharks are going to decimate.

Wait, a minute…the article brings up cute species and says that nothing bad is going to happen to them as the climate changes? Impossible.

Let’s keep reading…voila! here we go. It turns out that killer whales (‘bad’) eat the penguins, seal, and Minke whales (‘good’) and that global warming may reduce the sea ice that the penguins, seals, and Minke whales use to hide from the killer whales. Less ice, fewer hiding places, more dinner for the killers. (the Discovery Channel article never mentions that sea ice around Antarctica is actually increasing and just this past year set the record for the all-time high sea ice observed since satellite observations of sea ice there began in the late 1970s…details, details).

And of course, here is the kicker:

The predator invasion of Antarctica may be unavoidable, say the researchers, but it could be moderated if something is done immediately to reduce emissions of global warming greenhouse gases into the atmosphere.

“As global warming proceeds, the deeper water (around Antarctica) will only get warmer,” said Aronson. The momentum of global warming is, indeed, huge and can not be stopped, he said, but it can be slowed.

“If we’re going to do something about the planet we have to do it now.” Aronson said. “The window is closing.”

So let’s get going! Down with sharks and long live the penguins! Dim your lights, lower your thermostats and walk to work. Oh, we forgot, none of that will have any effect on future climate. Oh well, off to the zoo then.

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