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Climate Crisis: Palm Trees In The Antarctic, 540% Increase
In Heat Related Deaths And Smaller Fishes

By Countercurrents.org

24 October, 2012

Climate crisis is going to bring in anomalies that at first glance appear “amazing”. But there is apprehension of increase in the number of heat related deaths and reduced size of fishes, possibilities of growth of palm trees in the Antarctic. The poor people are suffering.

Palm trees could grow in the Antarctic, just as they did 55 million years ago, if climate change continues unabated. A study found the fact [1].

The study found that similar trees grew in the region during the early Eocene epoch, when the area had a near-tropical climate with frost-free winters, even in the polar darkness. Global levels of the principal GHG, carbon dioxide, were nearly three times as high then as today.

It has long been known that the start of the Eocene was a "thermal maximum", one of the hottest periods in Earth's history, and that Antarctica as a continent would have been ice-free and much warmer than at present.

But the new findings, based on sediment cores taken from the Antarctic seabed and disclosed in August in the journal Nature, have enabled the first-ever detailed reconstruction of its environment and thus its climate.

This was previously impossible because any Eocene sediments remaining on land were destroyed by the subsequent glaciation of Antarctica, or covered with thousands of feet of ice. But pollen grains were washed, blown or transported by insects on to the shallow coastal shelf, where they settled in the mud and were preserved for 50 million years.

Analysis of the pollen in the sediment reveals two plant environments, one being a lowland, coastal warm rainforest similar to that in northern Australia or New Guinea, dominated by palms, tree-ferns and members of the Bombacoideae family, which include the famous baobabs of Africa. The other was an upland, mountain forest region, further into the continent's interior, with beech trees and conifers.

The study was carried out by a team of 36 scientists involved in the Integrated Ocean Drilling Research Program, a project set up to research the early Eocene climate. Off the coast of Wilkes Land, they dropped a drill through 4km of water, then bored 1km into the ocean floor to collect the sediment samples.

Dr James Bendle, of the University of Glasgow, one of the authors of the study, said: "Our work carries a sobering message. Carbon dioxide levels were naturally high in the early Eocene, but today CO2 levels are rising rapidly through human combustion of fossil fuels and deforestation. Atmospherically speaking we are heading rapidly back in time towards the Eocene."

Heat related death

Climate change may increase the number of heat-related deaths in the UK by 540 percent, according to the Health Protection Agency [2].

By 2080 almost 11,000 people could die every year as a result of heatwaves, up from 2,000 at present, as extreme weather becomes more common.

Rising temperatures could also mean that British people contract exotic illnesses at home as mosquitoes carrying tropical diseases, such as dengue fever and chikungunya, migrate to the UK.

People with hay fever will have a protracted period of suffering each year as the warmer climate could mean the pollen season starts earlier and finishes later.

The HPA report suggests the health burden created by cold weather could decline by 2080 compared with the present day as average temperatures are expected to rise between 2C and 5C.

Heatwaves are likely to cause more premature deaths, increasing by 70 percent in the 2020s and by 540 percent over the next 70 years.


The biggest fish in the sea could be almost 25 percent smaller by 2050 because of global warming, according to a new study [3].

Warmer oceans will carry less dissolved oxygen, causing fish to grow to smaller sizes and forcing them to move to cooler waters, the research published in the journal Nature Climate Change claims.

Scientists predict that a rise in global temperatures will cause the average body size of sea fish to decline by between 14 and 24 percent.

The predication is based on a study of more than 600 species of saltwater fish, including the Atlantic cod and the North Sea haddock.

About half of the shrinkage will be due to changes in the distribution and abundance of fish caused by changes to their environment, and half will be the direct result of living in oxygen-poor water.

Species living in tropical and intermediate-latitude oceans will suffer the most, with an average reduction in weight of more than 20 percent, according to the study by William Cheung and colleagues at the University of British Columbia in Vancouver, Canada.

While changes in distribution were expected, "we were surprised to see such a large decrease in fish size", Dr Cheung said. "The unexpectedly big effect that climate change could have on body size suggests that we may be missing a big piece of the puzzle in understanding climate change effects."

El Salvador

The poor people in El Salvador’s Bajo Lempa region is experiencing impact of sea level rise.

The forest of towering, dead mangrove trees stretches along the beach as far as the eye can see. As the crashing waves rise and fall, short stumps emerge and vanish beneath the Pacific Ocean. Climate change has come early to the Bajo Lempa region of western El Salvador [4].

A tiny rise in the sea level has, according to local people, seen about 1,000ft of the mangroves on which they depend vanish beneath the ocean since 2005. Another 1,500ft remains between the Pacific and their village, La Tirana. No one, it seems, knows how long it will take before the waves reach their homes.

But even now, the rising waters are ruining the villagers' meagre livelihood. At low tide each day, the men in this community of 22 families wade through the mud collecting punche, a local species of crab.

A full day's backbreaking work can yield two dozen crabs, which fetch around £2.50 on the local market. It is the only cash income the people of La Tirana have and they need it to buy basics such as clothing and cooking oil. For their own food, they rely on fishing and subsistence agriculture, growing corn, rice and vegetables, and rearing chickens and ducks.

"We can't take too many punche because we have to make sure that the species survives, and that there will be enough for our children," says Nahun Diaz Ramirez, the 26-year-old mayor of La Tirana. Despite the evidence before his eyes, he is finding it difficult to adjust to the fact that, on current trends, his three children aged two to five, may never get the chance to go crab-hunting.

According to El Salvador's Ministry of the Environment and Natural Resources (MARN), this country will lose somewhere between 10 percent and 28 percent of its coastal territories in the next century as a result of rising seas caused by climate change.

The lower figure is based on an anticipated sea level rise of 13cm and the higher figure on a rise of 110cm, the two extremes of the range predicted by some current climate modeling. The process has already started.

But the people of La Tirana, with no electricity, running water or sewerage, are far from the only vulnerable citizens of El Salvador to have their lives turned upside down. Devastating storms increasingly batter the Central American nation. Meanwhile, the ravaging of its forests has left natural drainage systems unable to cope.

After decades of indiscriminate logging, only 2 percent of El Salvador's original forests remain. In the Western Hemisphere, only Haiti has seen a larger proportion of its forest cover destroyed. The result is that, when sudden heavy rains do occur, there are massive, sometimes catastrophic flash floods along the lower reaches El Salvador's main river, the Lempa.

There was only one extreme storm in each of the 1960s and 1970s, and two in the 1980s, according to data released by MARN. But in the 1990s there were four, including Hurricane Mitch in 1998, which killed thousands across Central America. In the last decade, there were eight. So far, in this decade there has already been one, a massive tropical depression in October last year, named 12E by scientists. It lasted 10 days and saw between 762mm and 1513mm of rain, depending on where in the country it was measured. The higher figure was roughly equivalent to the country's average annual rainfall in the 1970s, 80s and 90s.

"The flood destroyed my whole harvest," says Herminia Arqueta, who lives in the village of Octavio Ortiz, beside the mouth of the Lempa about a mile from La Tirana. "My house was flooded for three weeks and we had to free all the chickens and ducks, otherwise they would have died."

Worse still, that harvest of corn and rice had been financed with a $1,000 (£600) loan which she has yet to repay. Desperate, she is considering selling five of her seven dairy cows, for around £150 each. The cows provide her and her three daughters aged 11 to 18 with a vital source of nutrition. She sells what is left over, bringing in her only regular cash income, £1.60 a day.

"Of course I don't want to sell them," Ms Arqueta says. "But what choice do I have if the bank insists on me repaying? Everyone else around here is in the same boat. No one can afford to pay back the loans for the 2011 harvest."

The extreme storms and devastating floods are not the only problem caused by climate change. Even moderate rains have become increasingly unpredictable, making it impossible for the country's peasant farmers to know when to sow their crops.

"We don't know when it's winter or summer," says Ms Arqueta. "We used to sow at the first rain, but now we do that and then it doesn't rain again for a long time and the whole harvest is lost. The corn dies if it does not rain for a couple of weeks."

Climate chaos is the last thing that El Salvador needed. Among the Western Hemisphere's poorest nations and plagued by gang warfare that has seen its murder rate reach 33 times that of the UK, it has more than enough on its plate without having to worry about an internal wave of climate refugees.

Sea levels have been rising gently throughout most of the last century, according to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), the UN's climate science task force.

Although the rise has been uneven around the globe, for various reasons including the Coriolis Effect caused by the Earth's rotation, the average increase was about 1.7mm per year.

The rise is the result of two phenomena produced by global warming: thermal expansion as sea water increases in volume as its temperature rises, and flows of melt-water from the ice and snow which is vanishing across the planet from Greenland to the Himalayas.

According to the IPCC, the rise comes after at least two millennia of roughly stable global sea levels. It is now expected to speed up during the 21st century as climate change accelerates.

Under the "A1B" scenario of future carbon emissions – based on a balanced use of different energy sources – the IPCC estimates that sea levels in the 2090s will be between 22cm and 44cm higher than 1990 levels and will continue to increase at around 4mm per year.

As the waters rise, vast low-lying coastal areas, from Bangladesh to Florida, and including El Salvador, are expected to be swept up permanently by the seas.


[1] The Independent, Michael McCarthy, “Palm trees and forests? A new future for the Antarctic”, Aug. 2, 2012, http://www.independent.co.uk/environment/climate-change/palm-trees-and-forests-a-new-future-for-the-antarctic-7999475.html

[2] The Independent, Ella Pickover, “The forecast for 2080: heatwaves, 11,000 deaths – and dengue fever”, Sept. 11, 2012, http://www.independent.co.uk/life-style/health-and-families/health-news/the-forecast-for-2080-heatwaves-11000-deaths--and-dengue-fever-8122446.html

[3] The Independent, Steve Connor, “Global warming 'may lead to smaller fish'”, Oct. 1, 2012, http://www.independent.co.uk/environment/climate-change/global-warming-may-lead-to-smaller-fish-8191514.html

[4] The Independent, Simeon Tegel, “El Salvador in battle against tide of climate change” Sept. 18, 2012, http://www.independent.co.uk/environment/climate-change/el-salvador-in-battle-against-tide-of-climate-change-8145210.html




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