Climate change has altered nearly all of the planet’s ecosystems

It looks like we’re going to have a climate change denier heading up the EPA, Oklahoma’s attorney general Scott Pruitt, who has spent the Obama administration suing the agency he will now lead. So we’ll be hearing a lot about whether the science is “settled” and the uncertainty in climate scientists forecast.

As you listen to these debates, the thing to know is that climate change isn’t just about what might happen in the future. It has already radically altered the planet in ways that may be invisible to those of us who live in wealthy countries, but not to just about all life on Earth. As a recent review of the documented biological impacts of climate change puts it, “Climate change impacts have now been documented across every ecosystem on Earth.”

Last month I wrote about this story for Pacific Standard. The key point is one to keep in mind as we confront denialism in the Trump administration:

The consequences of widespread and rapid changes to something as complex as the world’s ecosystems are difficult to predict. The unpredictability of these consequences has been used as an excuse to dismiss them and paint scientists as alarmists. But unpredictability is exactly what should concern us: Our civilization, including our agriculture, water usage, population geography, and public-health measures, are adapted to fit the global climate that we live in. The prospect of further broad, unpredictable shifts to the world’s ecosystems should spur us to action, not complacency. As the authors of the Science paper write, “humanity depends on intact, functioning ecosystems for a range of goods and services.” For most life in those ecosystems, climate change is not a future event, but a present reality.



Science for the People: Superstorm

sftpThis week, Science for the People is exploring the evolving frontier of extreme weather, and how it’s influenced by our warming planet. Desiree Schell talks about the largest Atlantic storm system ever recorded with Kathryn Miles, author of Superstorm: Nine Days Inside Hurricane Sandy. She will also talk about the relationship between climate change and hurricane strength and frequency with Christopher Landsea, Ph.D, Science and Operations Officer at NOAA’s National Hurricane Center.

*Josh provides research & social media help to Science for the People and is, therefore, completely biased.

The Art of Science: Rosemary Mosco Explores Quirks of Nature

From Quirks of Nature
From Quirks of Nature by Rosemary Mosco

Rosemary Mosco is a naturalist, illustrator and science communicator who has seamlessly merged her scientific and artistic interests into a range of projects, most notably her Bird and Moon science comics.

Mosco’s academic background as a field naturalist, her obvious love of nature in all its forms, and her sunny sense of humor and cheerful style combine to create informative content that feels effortless.

Her work is featured in an exhibition called Quirks of Nature, running through June 8 at the Museum of the Earth in Ithaca, NY.  The exhibition pairs her comics and illustrations with fossils, taxidermy, live animals, and more. Mosco provides commentary on her drawings and the inspiration behind them – from working at a bird rehabilitation center as a kid to suffering through an awkward first date – while experts explain the hard science behind each comic.

If you can’t make it to Ithaca, you can see more of Rosemary Mosco’s work at her website and support her work via Patreon.

The Music of Climate Change

Here’s something to listen to over the weekend: On NPR, composer John Luther Adams explains the science and art behind his Pulitzer-winning orchestral work, Become Ocean, which I’ve listened to at least ten times in the past week.

I believe deeply in the inherent power and mystery, the imperative, for music in our lives. And it’s my hope that you can listen to this music without knowing anything about what the composer had in mind…

At the same time — and this is me talking out of the other side of my mouth — most of us these days, think a lot about the future of the present state of the Earth, the future of the human species and specifically about climate change. As I composed Become Ocean, I had in my mind and my heart this image of the melting of polar ice and the rising of the seas. All life on this Earth emerged from the ocean. If we don’t wake up and pay attention here pretty soon, we human animals may find ourselves once again becoming ocean sooner than we imagine…

And maybe that’s the Alaskan in me: 40 years living in the presence of raging wildfires and river ice breaking free in the springtime. I’ve been in touch for most of my life — pretty directly in touch — with these elemental forces that are so much bigger and more powerful, not only than I am, but than I can even imagine. And that can be both terrifying and profoundly reassuring.

Watch the performance by the Seattle Symphony:

The Art of Science: Voyage Redux, with bonus!

Michele Banks, Micro/Macro 3, Ink on Mylar,  2013
Michele Banks, Micro/Macro 3, Ink on Mylar, 2013

Voyage of Discovery, an art exhibition I created together with Jessica Beels and Ellyn Weiss, will reopen on Thursday for a two-month run at the McLean Project for the Arts in McLean, VA.

The artwork in Voyage of Discovery has its roots in the idea of a journey of scientific exploration, in the tradition of Darwin, Wallace, and the thousands of scientists who constantly travel the globe in search of new findings. This imaginary voyage takes viewers to a polar region where the iconic, seemingly eternal, landscape of ice and snow is in profound and rapid transition due to climate change.

The pieces in the show – ranging from ink paintings to wire and paper and wax sculptures to a massive 30 foot fabric installation – reflect our artistic responses to the transformation of land and sea as the planet warms. The show looks at many aspects of climate change – not only the obvious, like the melting of glaciers and the thawing of permafrost, but also more subtle effects, like the movement of previously unknown species and microbes into the Arctic and the dramatic shift of the color of the land from white to green to black.

Voyage of Discovery, which ran for 5 months at the American Association for the Advancement of Science earlier this year, will open with a reception and gallery talk this Thursday, from 7-9 pm, at the McLean Project for the Arts’ Emerson Gallery, at 1234 Ingleside Avenue in McLean. (details here)

As a special bonus for science fans, the reception takes place on the same day that renowned science writers Carl Zimmer and Sam Kean are speaking in the same building as part of “Fall for the Book”. Their talk starts at 7:30.  So if you arrive at 7, you can take in the art, have a glass of wine, and then go downstairs and hear more about some fascinating science. Win-win.

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