We spend a lot of time worrying about endangered species, especially the cute and cool ones like foxes and bears and big cats.
Well, where do you think all those cute and cool guys live? They live in places: glorious, complex, living, beautiful places. The species of the world couldn’t live without the environments that sustain them, which is why deforestation, resource extraction, and climate change pose such global threats. And when we talk about protecting the “environment” we need to remember to protect particular environments: ecosystems.
10 most irreplaceable ecosystems on Earth
Photos via Flicker Commons: Gladner/Noah Reid/certified su
Mexico cannot afford to lose Cancun.
Yet that may be exactly what will happen as more, stronger hurricanes, generated by warming seas, batter the Yucatan Peninsula.
Meanwhile, the Caribbean itself is slowly rising, around 3 millimeters a year, thanks to ice melting at the poles and in mountain ranges from the Andes to the Himalayas.
In the next decade or two, Cancun will likely have to repeat the sand dredging operation annually, and possibly even continuously, experts say.
VIDEO: A fortune made of sand: How climate change is destroying Cancun
SI PHAN DON, Laos — They might not be as adventurous as Flipper, but every couple minutes the light gray head and back of a freshwater dolphin breaches the surface.
These aren’t trained sea mammals in a theme park. We’re in southern Laos on the mighty Mekong, Southeast Asia’s powerhouse river. Globally, it’s second only to the Amazon in fish diversity.
The Mekong is also the natural habitat of the endangered Irrawaddy dolphin.
The 4,000 islands region, as it’s known, is home to one of world’s biggest Irrawaddy dolphin pools — a whopping 11 individuals.
Foreigners come to munch fried rice, dangle their feet in the tepid chocolate-colored waters and watch these vanishing mammals swim just 50 feet from the riverside. Set amid the lush rain forest, emerald rice fields, homes on stilts and golden-roofed Buddhist pagodas, it’s hardly surprising that this region is attracting tourists.
At least for the moment.
New Mekong dam will soon wipe out endangered Irawaddy dolphin: Environmentalists
Photo by Thomas Christofoletti/Ruom
RANOMAFANA NATIONAL PARK, Madagascar — Deep in the Madagascan rainforest, a lemur and his daughter chatter softly as they climb through towering spires of bamboo.
Tiny, furry creatures, with snub noses and tufts of white hair sprouting from their ears, they exchange purr-like noises to keep tabs on each other’s whereabouts.
They definitely don’t want to get separated.
Scientists say these two are likely the last remaining greater bamboo lemurs in the entire 160 square mile national park, a rare sanctuary for wildlife on this Indian Ocean island. To find the two little lemurs, guides track through the dense bush, imitating their calls.
As few as 60 greater bamboo lemurs are left in the wild, and no more than 150, making them among the most critically endangered primates on the planet.
Lemurs are endemic to Madagascar. The greater bamboo lemur once lived all over the island, fossil records show, but years of slash-and-burn agriculture and deforestation have decimated the population.
Scientists say what may ultimately doom the species is something far more insidious: the effects of climate change on their teeth.
VIDEO: Lamenting Madagascar’s last lonely lemurs
To help understand the breadth, depth and scope of climate change — and what it means to the people living through it — GlobalPost’s team of correspondents and videographers spent much of 2013 investigating this global phenomenon, assessing the environmental, economic and political costs.
Their reporting mirrors the dire warnings of climate experts.
Our team has traveled to the Amazon rainforest, where scientists are struggling to understand what human activity is doing to the world’s most complex ecosystem.
We’ve scaled the Himalayan mountains of northern India, where rapidly melting ice and shifting rains are triggering deadly flash floods.
We’ve explored the ice fields of Greenland, Alaska and Canada where glacial melting is altering landscapes and threatening traditional ways of life.
We’ve traveled to the southern African island of Madagascar where the world’s only lemurs are disappearing amid a host of severe climate changes.
We’ve trekked across the North African country of Mali where desertification is contributing to rising political instability, including the growth of Islamic terrorist groups like Al Qaeda in the Maghreb.
We’ve been to the Gobi, a vast and expanding desert across Mongolia and China that’s hurtling sand and dust into the atmosphere, which then mixes with polluted skies to create toxic clouds that are choking some of Asia’s most-populous cities.
Over the next 10 weeks we’ll be featuring these stories and videos — one every week — in a series we’ve named Calamity Calling. We hope you’ll follow along each week, and share these stories and videos widely.
VIDEO: Calamity Calling: What is your biggest fear?
BROOKLYN, New York — According to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), Earth’s climate system is a “complex, interactive system consisting of the atmosphere, land surface, snow and ice, oceans and other bodies of water and living things.”
And, yes, the scientific community pores over all kinds of data related to this system every day.
But how should ordinary people think about the science of what’s happening right now to the planet? And where do we go from here?
To find out, we turned to climate expert Paul Mayewski, the director of the Climate Change Institute at the University of Maine and the science adviser for GlobalPost’s yearlong investigation Calamity Calling.
For the past four decades, Mayewski has studied how the climate works and documented how it’s changing.
GP: Were you ever a climate change skeptic?
Mayewski: As recently as 20 plus years ago, scientists thought that the climate system operated very, very slowly. We thought it was such a big, powerful system that it could literally absorb anything that we small humans had ever done. So we’ve obviously changed our opinion greatly.
So when was the moment when you suddenly thought, “Wow, there’s no denying this anymore?”
There were a bunch of moments. When we realized the Antarctic glaciers along the coasts were changing their size faster than ever. When we realized it was getting harder and harder to collect un-melted records of ice cores. When we started traveling to remote places and realizing that the air quality and the noise quality and the visual quality were completely different than the places we lived and we could prove how much humans had impacted climate using our ice core records.
Q & A: Climate change expert says Earth is having its ‘Independence Day’ moment
Photo by Solana Pyne/GlobalPost
ABOVE THE AMAZON JUNGLE, Peru — The Amazon rainforest is best known for its vibrant wildlife and endless canopy. But it also plays a key role in the world’s climate.
It generates rainclouds that water some of the world’s most productive farmlands, from Argentina to Texas.
It also helps buffer us from global warming.
As our cars and power plants spew greenhouse gases into the atmosphere, the Amazon’s seemingly boundless plantlife has been soaking up some of that extra carbon.
“The worst case is that we could lose almost all of the basin,” tropical ecologist Greg Asner says.
VIDEO: What if we lost the Amazon?
LIMA, Peru — The ravaging of the Peruvian Amazon by a wave of illegal gold mining is twice as bad as researchers had thought.
That is according to a new study using groundbreaking technology that’s discovered thousands of previously undetected small mines in the Madre de Dios region of Peru, near the Bolivian border, a global biodiversity hotspot.
Thanks to its stunning wildlife, the region is home to various nature and indigenous reserves and dozens of thriving jungle lodges that welcome tourists from around the world.
Yet it’s also experienced widespread devastation since the 2008 global financial crisis saw gold prices rocket. Thousands of miners have flooded into the region, dredging riverbeds and carving up vast tracts of the forest floor in remotes areas beyond the reach of the authorities.
They have also poisoned the water table for miles around by dumping hundreds of tons of mercury, which miners use to extract gold from the soil.
Peru’s gold miners are killing the Amazon
Photo by Greg Asner
Listen carefully to what the world’s climate experts are saying.
Their latest report on global climate change is — quite literally — a list of climatic calamities.
Here’s a sample, with italics added for emphasis:
"Warming of the climate system is unequivocal, and since the 1950s many of the observed changes are unprecedented over decades to millennia.”
"Each of the last three decades has been successively warmer at the Earth’s surface than any preceding decade since 1850. In the Northern Hemisphere, 1983–2012 was likely the warmest 30-year period of the last 1,400 years.”
"Over the last two decades, the Greenland and Antarctic ice sheets have been losing mass,glaciers have continued to shrink almost worldwide.”
"The rate of sea level rise since the mid-19th century has been larger than the mean rate during the previous two millennia.”
"The atmospheric concentrations of carbon dioxide (CO2), methane, and nitrous oxide haveincreased to levels unprecedented in at least the last 800,000 years.”
But forget the science. Forget the politics.
For multitudes around the world today, calamity has already arrived.
Calamity Calling: A GlobalPost investigation into global climate change
The state controls when the heat turns on. It goes on for everyone at the same time on the same day. The spike in Harbin is due to the fact that they just turned on the heat, and heat demands the burning of coal.