New Year Urgency and New Year Hope
January 5, 2022
By Mani Oliva, C.E.O.
Right now, we are at a critical time in the course of our history – mounting scientific evidence highlights the need for urgent action to address the climate change crisis. Looking at one facet of this crisis, the New York Times recently published an important article that highlights the critical state of the Antarctic due to the current and growing effects of climate change (Rising From the Antarctic, a Climate Alarm).
The Antarctic Circumpolar Current (“ACC”), referred to by the article as the world’s climate engine, is a massive ocean current that separates the Southern Ocean from the rest of the world. It plays a critical role in the Earth’s carbon balance, part of the system enabling the world’s oceans to sequester vast amounts of carbon dioxide. Scientists studying this current are concerned that the increasing winds associated with global warming will increase the speed at which the ACC will recycle carbon from the deep ocean and release greater amounts of carbon dioxide to the atmosphere. The other impact from warming temperatures across this region is a rapid melting of the giant ice shelves that will eventually contribute significantly to increased global sea levels and endanger coastal communities worldwide. The dire warnings shared in this article are based on careful scientific research and many years of oceanic data (e.g., water temperature and density) collected via hundreds of floating probes and satellites.
This article was of specific interest to me because while reading it I was also reviewing a new scientific paper published by Point Blue’s Antarctic research team on new methods for understanding change in the Southern Ocean using sensors attached to Adélie penguins. Our team, which as I write this blog is still braving the extreme conditions at our Antarctic field camp, is completing our 26th year of monitoring and researching these penguins. This year the team is testing and improving designs of the most advanced biologging devices for measuring salinity, temperature, light levels, and food availability across the vast region used by the penguins during their lives. Due to the interactions Adélie penguins have with other species in the Antarctic waters (e.g., competing with seals and whales to find the krill and small fish they need to feed to their chicks), they are an important indicator species to the health of the region’s broader wildlife and marine ecosystems. And because the Antarctic region is very sensitive to the effects of climate change and other human perturbations like fishing, the research of this unique species provides not only a critical understanding of ecosystem function but has also helped us develop more accurate understanding of the scale and pace of climate change. This knowledge can be applied globally to design and implement actions needed to stave off the worst impacts of climate change.
The urgency for action is clear. At the same time, we are at a moment in our history of opportunity, where we have many more threads of growing scientific research (e.g., climatic, ecological, social) that we can weave together and help guide a shift in our trajectory. As a scientific organization with over 56 years of expertise monitoring wildlife and habitats across the varied ecosystems of California, we have long recognized the importance of ecological research to inform broader environmental decisions. And it is a realization that is gaining broader acceptance, as was evident at the annual climate change summit in Glasgow Scotland. One reason why the summit was so important is that it provided an opportunity to share and discuss the latest scientific findings to address climate change by the leading experts in the world: from the latest designs of renewable energy systems; to important advances in regenerative agricultural practices; to monitoring of impacts within sensitive global regions such as the Antarctic, to name a very few. During the many scientific panels and conversations in-between, one theme continued to be raised – how the bringing together of ecological data (e.g., monitoring of species and ecosystems) with other scientific data can develop a complete picture of the effects of, and potential solutions to, the climate change crisis. As we continue to monitor the growing effects of climate change, our understanding of how life reacts and adapts to these effects is critical to develop successful and long-lasting climate solutions.
As we begin a new year, our knowledge of the urgency of the climate crisis before us must be balanced with a sense of hope that we can forestall its worst impacts. One thing that does give me a sense of optimism is the shift I have seen recognizing the link between the climate crisis and the biodiversity crisis – as we take actions to protect our natural systems, biodiversity and ecosystems, we build up the capacity for human communities to thrive under shifting environmental conditions, as well as unlock the potential of these systems to fight climate change. A refrain I often heard in Glasgow – we cannot solve the climate crisis without nature – rings truer now than ever.