Climate Change in the US Report: Part 2 Ecosystems, Home and Office

The next in our series of overviews from the Global Climate Change Impacts in the United States report is Ecosystems.

One of the most interesting points is made in the introduction to the section: while environmental processes like photosynthesis and decomposition do not have an assigned value within  our economy, our society depends upon them and the life they produce.  These ecosystem processes, which are affected by climate and carbon levels, are a good example of the types of factors left out of traditional economic models.

Key points:

  • Ecosystem processes, such as those that control growth and decomposition, have been affected by climate change.

    There is more carbon in the atmosphere--and trees and other plants are in the business of capturing carbon from the atmosphere.  This can lead to higher forest growth, but don't expect forests to expand that much. Experiments show that trees put much of this extra carbon into producing fine roots and twigs, rather than new wood.

  • Large-scale shifts have occurred in the ranges of species and the timing of the seasons and animal migration, and are very likely to continue.

    Think of springtime as an immense event synchronized between species every year. Then imagine a mixup that invites the butterflies a little too early, before the plants they depend on have bloomed. Birds and other species are also at risk of arriving at the wrong time for the serving of their course of plants.

  • Tree species shifts

    In the climate change lottery, oak and hickory may win out, expanding where maple, beech and birch contract.  Species like spruce and fir may disappear from the US.

  • Marine species shifts and effects on fisheries

    Recent experience with natural climate trends like El Nino and La Nina have shown how much climate determines marine life--both fish and plankton.  Climate change has marine species in U.S. waters moving north while disrupting the timing of plankton blooms.

  • Breaking up of existing ecosystems

    The nature of nature may be adaptation, but species can't always adapt fast enough to rapid climate change. Whether a plant or animal can change its timing or location is influenced by factors including their size, lifespan, and seed dispersal techniques in plants.

  • Extinctions and climate change

    "The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change has estimated that if a warming of 3.5 to 5.5°F occurs, 20 to 30 percent of species that have been studied would be in climate zones that are far outside of their current ranges, and would therefore likely be at risk of extinction."

  • Fires, insect pests, disease pathogens, and invasive weed species have increased, and these trends are likely to continue.

  • Deserts and drylands are likely to become hotter and drier, feeding a self-reinforcing cycle of invasive plants, fire, and erosion.

Okay! Those are all good reasons to get fired up about global warming. Though we have had a lot of rain on the East Coast, recently, it's still late June and in many places that means summer heat and air conditioning. Here are some tips for keeping your home and office ecosystems cool in a more energy-efficient fashion:

Tags: Air conditioning, Climate change, Ecosystem, Energy efficiency, Environment, Global warming, Heat, Species, Summer

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