This Week’s Eco News

I started this on the wrong day (typically) so it’ll be a short week to start, but hopefully I’ll keep this going as a long term thing. Essentially, each day I will pick one story from the Guardian Online (my paper of choice) with an ecological theme and add a commentary which may (or may not) include wit, sarcasm and a little black humour but more than likely go back to a book I’ve read or a film I’ve seen. If you want to read the stories themselves, please visit the newspaper’s website and go to the “Environment” tab.

Tuesday – Biological Annihilation as Earth Faces Sixth Mass Extinction
And all I can think of is ELE from Deep Impact. I can’t see any journalists risking their careers here though; in fact, I think only the Guardian reported this story, which is a bit outrageous. Maybe it’s because Morgan Freeman wasn’t involved, because I can’t see why Wimbledon is more important.

Anyway, this is seriously upsetting. It’s not just the “popular” animals, such as tigers, polar bears, elephants, but smaller creatures such as birds, insects and even plants. Ecosystems are a carefully structured mechanism where everything plays a part – take one away, and chances are the whole thing falls apart. For example, lose the honey bee, a sizeable number of plants don’t get pollinated, and humans lose a number of fruit and vegetables that we may have got used to eating.

I read a book recently called Silent Spring Revisited which looked at the decrease in population of many British birds and some of the causes behind it. It’s very sobering reading (once you get over the nostalgia trip) but demonstrates why this is a serious problem.

Wednesday – Iceberg Twice the Size of Luxembourg Breaks Off Antarctic Ice Sheet
Now all I can say to this is “oh shit” – with absolutely no apologies for my language. This is really important for a number of reasons, mostly relating to weather but also about the future life on the planet.

Firstly, the ice shelf will contain substantial amounts of fresh water, which will not only cause sea levels to rise, putting low lying countries at risk, but will also trigger marine desalinisation. When the salt/fresh water balance reaches a certain point, this halts the Gulf Stream and will cause extreme weather reactions – anyone who’s seen The Day After Tomorrow as many times as I have could probably recite this off by heart. We’re talking Ice Age, people only without the mammoths.

Not only that, but the majority of organisms that populate the oceans have evolved to survive in sea water – not fresh water. This could affect everything from plankton and algae levels, to fish populations and even sharks and marine mammals. It’s not quite on the level of “oops, I dropped an ice cube”, especially when that ice cube happens to be four times the size of London.

Thursday – So Long Dippy: Museum’s Blue Whale Seeks to Inspire Love of Living World
Anyone who’s been to the Natural History Museum in London will know Dippy the Diplodocus, the gigantic skeleton which stood in the entrance hall. For many he was our first experience of seeing just how big dinosaurs were; for some reason, that never seemed to be communicated well in books. However, Dippy is now going off on tour, and in his place is the skeleton of a blue whale, Earth’s largest living mammal. (And yes, it’s huge).

The selection of the blue whale seems to be a bit controversial. Some, like the Museum’s curator, believe that it is an effective way to encourage interest in (and future study of) the marine world generally, and marine biology in particular, and I’m sure they have a point. However, there is also the school of thought that says well, without the whaling industry killing cetaceans year in year out, this skeleton wouldn’t even be in the museum in the first place, so perhaps we ought to question the ethics.

I’m not going to be drawn into this. I still think the Natural History Museum is a great place and worry that one day it will be the only way future generations will ever see what a blue whale is like. After the angry stories of the past couple of days, I thought this would be quite a nice one.

Friday – Southern Europe Swelters as Heatwave Sparks Wildfires and Closes Tourist Sites
Descended as I am from a long line of Frost Dwarves (a bit like Frost Giants, but shorter), I would understand why my friends would interpret this as my usual grumble about being too hot. This headline, however, makes a very serious point. It reached 47°C yesterday, which is 116.6°F in old money, and is the highest temperature ever recorded in Europe. This is the kind of temperature one usually sees in the middle of the desert at noon. Combined with record rainfall and mudslides in China and north west India, this suggests to me that the climate is shifting.

It ought to be headline news; it’s a very worrying thing to see. If this doesn’t convince people of the realities of climate change, I’m not sure what will. I’m not sure that we’re not too late already.

Next week I’ll have a fuller round up because it will include things I picked up over the weekend – and I promise to start on a Monday!

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