Global Warming: Man or Myth?

Scientists can also wear their citizen hats

Climate Change is NOT Being Nice to Mother Nature – Overview

with 15 comments

This is the first part of a series of blog posts that summarize some of the negative effects of climate change on the world’s ecosystems.

“Observed recent changes in climate, especially warmer regional temperatures, have already had significant impacts on biodiversity and ecosystems, including causing changes in species distributions, population sizes, the timing of reproduction or migration events, and an increase in the frequency of pest and disease outbreaks.  By the end of the century, climate change and its impacts may be the dominant direct driver of biodiversity loss and changes in ecosystem services globally.  The balance of scientific evidence suggests that there will be a significant net harmful impact on ecosystem services worldwide if global mean surface temperature increases more than 2o Celsius above pre-industrial levels or at rates greater than 0.2o Celsius per decade”  (Millennium Ecosystem Assessment, Reid et al., 2005)

An ecosystem is a dynamic complex of plant, animal and micro-organism communities, and the non-living environment, interacting as a functional unit.  Ecosystems are critical in supporting the well-being of humans (IPCC, 2007; Millennium Ecosystem Assessment, Reid et al., 2005).

According to the IPCC (2007):

Ecosystems provide many goods and services that are of vital importance for the functioning of the biosphere, and provide the basis for the delivery of tangible benefits to human society. These services are separated into four categories.

  1. Supporting services, such as primary and secondary production, and biodiversity, a resource that is increasingly recognized to sustain many of the goods and services that humans enjoy from ecosystems. These provide a basis for three higher-level categories of services.
  2. Provisioning services, such as products, i.e., food (including game, roots, seeds, nuts and other fruit, spices, fodder), fibre (including wood, textiles) and medicinal and cosmetic products (including aromatic plants, pigments;)
  3. Regulating services, which are of paramount importance for human society such as (a) carbon sequestration, (b) climate and water regulation, (c) protection from natural hazards such as floods, avalanches or rock-fall, (d) water and air purification, and (e) disease and pest regulation.
  4. Cultural services, which satisfy human spiritual and aesthetic appreciation of ecosystems and their components.
Linkages between Ecosystem Services and Human Well-being

Linkages between Ecosystem Services and Human Well-being

The IPCC (2007) has determined that there are five key issues pertaining to assessing the vulnerability of ecosystems to anthropogenic climate change:

  1. Ecosystems can tolerate some future climate change but will they be able to adapt to significant future climate change?
  2. Climate change will increasingly exacerbate human-induced pressures (land use, nitrogen deposition, pollution and invasive species), causing a progressive decline in biodiversity.
  3. Will ecosystems exceed critical thresholds and trigger responses in the biosphere that could lead via positive feedback to novel states that are poorly understood?
  4. The understanding of time-lags in ecosystem responses is still developing.  Many ecosystems may take several centuries (vegetation) or even possibly millennia (where soil formation is involved) before responses to a changed climate are played. A better understanding of transient responses and the functioning of ecosystems under continuously changing conditions is needed to narrow uncertainties about critical effects and to develop effective adaptation responses at the time-scale of interest to human society.
  5. Extinctions of species that are critical for ecosystem functioning are virtually certain to reduce societal options for adaptation responses.
Main Direct Drivers of Change in Biodiversity and Ecosystems

Main Direct Drivers of Change in Biodiversity and Ecosystems

As the figure above shows shows, climate change is causing very rapid increases in the impact on all ecosystems over the past century.  Climate change impact on the biodiversity of polar regions is high while coastal, mountain, and dryland regions are being impacted moderately (Millennium Ecosystem Assessment, Reid et al., 2005).

Ecosystem vulnerability to climate change

Ecosystem Vulnerability to Climate Change

The figure above (Gonzalez et al., 2010) maps areas of ecosystem vulnerability to climate change while the figure below (USGRP, 2009) shows the key impacts of climate change in the United States.

Key impacts of climate change in the United States

Key Impacts of Climate Change in the US

Next post: Climate change impacts on freshwater wetlands, lakes & rivers

References for this post.

Written by Scott Mandia

July 25, 2010 at 6:00 am

Posted in Uncategorized

15 Responses

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  1. What POSITIVE effects, if any, can we expect, in the distant future, from sea level rise due to global warming?

    Mandia: Hunt, I am not aware of any but I worry that discussing the very few (if any) positive impacts will deflect the conversation from the many negative impacts much as discussing the positives of smoking (stress relief, taste, cool factor, etc.) might deflect from the many deadly effects of smoking. The cost of sea level rise to humanity will be staggering not to mention the loss of many ecosystems. I will address coastal ecosystems a bit in a future blog post

    Hunt Janin

    July 25, 2010 at 9:42 am

    • > “What POSITIVE effects…from sea level rise”

      Some very interesting – though likely toxic – near-shore scuba diving.

      Anna Haynes

      July 26, 2010 at 9:06 pm

  2. Thanks, Scott, I look foward to your forthcoming piece on coastal systems. FYI, there’s a “delta” conference scheduled for Rotterdam this fall. I hope to attend. Know anything about it beyond what’s on the web?



    Hunt Janin

    July 26, 2010 at 7:05 am

  3. Scott, while stressing that I’m a mere beginner on the subject of climate change (including sea level rise), I do believe that one is playing into the hands of the deniers by refusing to discuss the possible positive effects (if any) of these processes. Logically, it seems to me, there must be SOME positive effects. For example, I live in France and have heard it that French champagne producers have been buying land in southern England because it is becoming warm enough to make champagne there. If true, wouldn’t this ba a small but positive impact, e.g., a few more jobs for workers in England?

    Hunt Janin

    July 27, 2010 at 12:41 am

    • I only commented on sea level rise. Any benefit is orders of magnitudes less than the detriment so I maintain that we should not try to hunt down these possible benefits. Stay focused on the theme and that is that sea level rise is a very bad thing.

      Regarding climate change overal, yes, there are some benefits to a few in the short term but as we approach 4C and higher, it is quite likely that there will be a global economic collapse, wars, and massive die-off of the population.

      Scott Mandia

      August 2, 2010 at 6:32 pm

  4. Scott, re my book-in-progree on sea level rise, I don’t want you to have to read any chapter more than once. I therefore want to make sure that before it gets to you every chapter has been read critically and commented on by one or more climate change or sea level rise experts.

    I can’t afford to pay such readers anything but am hoping that some of your list members might be willing, as an intellectual challenge, to read and comment free of charge.

    What do you think? If this is a possibility, how can I find such readers? Through a posting on the list?
    Please let me know.



    Hunt Janin

    July 27, 2010 at 6:54 am

    • I hope you find some people to help you. I suggest an occasional post on Realclimate and also perhaps on Skeptical Science. People there are usually very helpful. My blog hits do not come close to theirs.

      Scott Mandia

      August 2, 2010 at 6:34 pm

  5. Up river ports will become seaports as sea level rises, increasing the value of real estate there (temporarily).

    I imagine that as sea level rises slowly and buildings are surrendered to the waters, every material will be removed and recycled. We Americans won’t be as rich when sea level rises so I’d think everything will be of value to someone and worth the labor of removing. There will be no sea water gradually rising over ruins. The ruins will be dismantled and brought inland long before that happens. Unless, of course, there are no humans to do the work.


    July 28, 2010 at 8:08 pm

  6. catman, I fancy you’re being a bit optimistic. When things do start to go visibly pear-shaped, many people will cling to the hope that the change is merely temporary. And we should remember that if sea level rises significantly, so will storms and the havoc they wreak.

    The idea that this will result in an orderly and sensible retrieval and reuse of materials on a large scale is attractive. But I’m not so sure. Look at the aftermath of the tsunami or the consequences of Katrina or Haiti. There’s lots of good work being done, but it’s nowhere near enough.

    Having to deal with a dozen of each simultaneously is a very big ask.


    July 28, 2010 at 9:12 pm

  7. I’m sorry if I sounded optimistic. I’m not at all. Fast sea level rises (1″ / year) will be noticed by the more observant members of the coastal community. These individuals will probably come out better than their sleepy neighbors.

    Some people left Pompeii the day before the big eruption, they noticed something was different in the smoke and thought it prudent to go. Prudent people will move to higher ground before the stampede when the hurricane hits with a record breaking storm surge. The percentage of prudent people living near the ocean remains to be seen.

    A major disintegration of the Greenland Ice Sheet or the West Antarctic Ice Cap will lead to far greater rates of sea level rise which will get everyone’s attention, even our main stream media.


    July 29, 2010 at 12:13 pm

    • Re ice sheets/ice caps: I need to learn, in some detail, about the relationships between ice ages and sea level rise.

      I can only use information that is available on-line because I live deep in the French countryside, very far from a good library.

      Any suggestions?


      Hunt Janin

      Hunt Janin

      July 30, 2010 at 1:17 am

  8. Hunt,
    Did you see this over at Skeptical Science. This might be a starting point for you. Some of the references in the comments might be helpful.


    August 3, 2010 at 3:29 am

  9. Hunt:
    If you are a francophone (though your English seems totally fluent), there are some important centres of climate research in France, notably at CNRS-Saclay. I expect you can find a good amount of content on these questions in French on their sites. Here are four that I’m aware of:

    Saclay (Paris): Inst Pierre Simon Laplace (IPSL) — sciences de l’environnement:

    Saclay: CNRS/LSCE – Labo des Sciences du Climat et de l’Environnement (sous IPSL):

    Univ. Versailles Saint Quentin: LSCE – Labo des Sciences du Climat et de l’Environnement:

    Univ. Joseph Fourier – LGGE – Labo de Glaciologie et Geophysique de l’Environnement:

    Jim Prall

    January 12, 2011 at 11:31 am

  10. Hunt:
    One more suggestion: to interest people in reading draft chapters of your book, it might help to have available an outline, and a short blurb on what type of audience you are aiming for: popular intro, moderately technical? Also a bit on what kind of sources you are working from. Have you accessed any of the primary literature (journal articles, conference proceedings)?
    Some of these are only available by subscription, but a fair number are open access (and even some papers paywalled by the journal still turn up for free posted by one of the authors).
    The easiest way to locate such primary sources online is probably Google Scholar:
    You can do advanced search to restrict the search to a specific category or journals or even an exact journal. Almost all hits will at least give you access to the abstract; some will also link to the full text if the journal or article is “open access” (either as published, or sometimes after a set amount of time has passed such as two years.)

    Jim Prall

    January 12, 2011 at 11:38 am

  11. High(?)lights from the cranky emails generated by Morano posting my email in reaction to our paper in PNAS last June:

    “hypocrite” (??)
    “Grand Inquisitor”
    “loathsome … creep”
    “u very dumb ass” — this from “peacemakerdoug”
    and my overall favorite, for the unwitting self-referential pun (‘hominem’ is a homonym of ‘homonym’):
    “your ad homonym attacks”

    Jim Prall

    January 12, 2011 at 12:01 pm

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