It's generally accepted in the scientific community that it takes one to several centuries, on average, for species to truly adapt to a 1 degree Celsius shift in temperature, up or down.
Look around today and you'll see species "running" for their lives, continually migrating ever further away from the equatorial zone. Some species, particularly those that swim or fly, have a big advantage when it comes to migration. Plants aren't quite so lucky yet it's calculated that, in totality, they too are migrating at about 8-inches every year.
From my perch out here on the Pacific we see lots of signs of this migration out of the south. Humpbacks have returned to our waters in big numbers. Large schools of white sided dolphins have arrived bringing pods of transient orca with them. California has lost its once abundant anchovies which might be the same populations that have recently shown up here. Victoria now even has a resident flock of brown pelicans that have taken up residence between the provincial capital and Race Rocks.
This may be a case where the race goes to the swiftest in which event there'll be plenty of losers.
One of the most prominent experts in this area is the University of Hawaii's Camilo Mora, whose specialties include biogeography, geology and climate data modeling. Mora and his fellow researchers made headlines a couple of years ago when they produced a study that forecasts 2047
as the year by which every year that follows - every year - will be hotter than the hottest year that area has experienced over the previous century and a half, a phenomenon called "climate departure
." Some places will reach that point long before then:Mora forecasts that the unprecedented heat starts in 2020 with Manokwari, Indonesia. Then Kingston, Jamaica. Within the next two decades, 59 cities will be living in what is essentially a new climate, including Singapore, Havana, Kuala Lumpur and Mexico City.
In an interview last year with Yale University's e360 Project
, Mora touched on the frustration caused researchers by the public's and their leaders' reluctance to respond to the plain science.You don’t see any action on these things. And the problem is that these things die away pretty quickly. The press coverage of this paper lasted two days. We were in the New York Times, The Washington Post, CNN. And next week, people were talking about something else. So as scientists, we are struggling to figure out how we can increase public awareness on this issue.
Pope Francis stirred up a lot of reaction last week to his papal encyclical on climate change in which he focused on climate change and over-consumption, especially by the advantaged countries, that were wrecking the environment. The pope, however, disingenuously gave overpopulation a pass. Mora disagrees. To him our population loading is already excessive.Well, it’s paramount because people need food. And the planet is limited in the amount of resources that it can produce. We already have calculated that the planet has on the order of 11 billion hectares that can be harvested in a sustainable manner. Of course we can increase the number by increasing technology, but that’s been happening for the last three decades. The worldwide population is 7 billion people, and we know that to sustain a human being you need on the order of two hectares per person. That means that the world human population every year consumes on the order of 14 billion hectares. The planet only has eleven to give to us.
This doesn't take into account the more recent research about global soil degradation and the mounting threat to food security. In March, the UN Food and Agriculture Organization released a report on the ongoing degradation of our stocks of arable land, warning that a lot of our topsoil over the next 60-years
will be ruined by intensive agriculture and the use of chemical fertilizers, herbicides and pesticides. Like Mora's research, the Living Planet Report, 2014
finding that we have lost half our wildlife
over the past 30 years, the UNFAO study was almost immediately flushed straight down the memory hole, completely forgotten.
Much of Mora's claims about overpopulation is borne out by research conducted by the NGO, Global Footprint Network
, which tracks the biomass deficit that has set in around the world (only a handful of countries, Canada being one, remain in a biomass surplus). From this the GFN issues an annual release to mark "Earth Overshoot Day," the date on which we exhaust a full year's supply of the planet's renewable resources. Just a few years ago, Overshoot fell in mid October. Now it has advanced to August. For the balance of the year we deplete Earth's resource reserves and the rate at which our over-consumption is accelerating is a warning that we're depleting those reserves rapidly too.
In 2014, Earth Overshoot Day fell on August 19. This year it will arrive on August 15. For more on that and GFN's take on the papal encyclical, you can go here
Professor Mora faults the environmental community, including the Inter Governmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), for deliberately ducking the overpopulation issue.Mora: It’s pure fear. It seems amazing, but friends of mine recommended to me not to publish that paper. They said, “This paper is going to be damaging to you. You don’t get it. You don’t need it.” What is remarkable, though, is that after the paper got published, I had multiple people calling me to endorse it.
e360: Did they endorse it publicly?
Mora: No, just to me. This is really the problem. But why we don’t take it on? I have no clue. Because the data are very clear. I guess the problem is that it can backfire. We have seen, historically, situations in which a scientist has taken on an issue and there are people who have been fired, or attacked by interest groups. So I guess the problem is fear of retaliation.
If he's right, if the scientific community is already too intimidated to address the issue of overpopulation, then we're genuinely screwed. The pope hit two of three - climate change and over-consumption - but if you can't address overpopulation, you have almost completely undermined your chances of effective action on the other two.
We're already seeing the impacts of climate change but doing little to prepare for what those early impacts tell us is coming. For now we're forestalling the consequences of ever increasing over-consumption by raiding the Earth's diminishing resource reserves. We have no collective will to even begin tackling overpopulation.
We comfort ourselves by talking in terms of what might happen by 2100. Oh hell, we'll all be gone by then anyway so, no big deal. But, if Mora's research is accurate, "climate departure" begins to set in by 2020 and then spreads across the world until every country is hit by 2047.