By Huck Fairman
Pretty much every day now reports in the news and publications document that humans are changing the natural world. The increased frequency of these reports attests to the growing severity, and spread, of these problems. The consequent question is: will we do what is necessary to preserve the habitats that have supported us?
As we warm the Earth, one, among a number of changes, is the reduction of snowfall, particularly in mountain ranges. This decrease impacts both ecosystems and economies. Melting glaciers reduce what had been normal water levels and flow, affecting water supplies and the flow in streams and rivers, but also tourism, hydropower, and food production.
A mere one or two degrees of warming can prevent snow from forming. Resulting from this warming and reduced snowfall, Alpine glaciers have lost two-thirds of their volume since 1850. If this continues, all or most glaciers there will disappear. The parallel melting of Himalaya glaciers, which provide water for millions, would be an incalculable catastrophe.
Some are attempting to preserve snow and glaciers by covering them and shielding them from sun, but it is unclear whether this will be effective.
Another part of our ecosystem that needs rescuing is, surprisingly, insects. While most of us would be initially happy to get rid of them, we need to remember that they are among the world’s great pollinators, without which we would have far fewer fruits and less coffee. We would also have fewer birds, and some animals, as they feed on them. And some insects help break down or decompose organic matter – necessary to fertilize new plant generations.
An important step needed to preserve insects is the elimination of harmful pesticides that have reduced bee and other insect populations.
A second step we can take is to expand and increase the number of preserved, green spaces, such as the D&R Greenway Land Trust and others have done, allowing the regeneration or planting of flowers and flowering trees. Increasing the use of composting and reducing sources of pollution will also help insects, whose viability helps ours. Community support for the education of farmers and other land owners can assist in the preservation of vegetation and insects, which benefit us.
On a larger scale, as we’ve seen in California and Colorado, is the growing frequency of wildfires. Australia and the Arctic have suffered devastating wildfires as well. Predictions warn that the numbers and range of wildfires could increase by over 50% by the end of the century.
What is increasingly recognized is the need for controlled or prescribed burning in order to prevent the uncontrolled, vast wildfires that have resulted from drought and lack of management. In Africa, the increased acreage devoted farming has reduced the areas devastated by wildfires. On the other hand, in Brazil, increased farming areas have been carved out of Amazon forests, which have been leaders in the absorption of carbon dioxide. Without them, global warming will likely increase.
The conclusion from these many and now frequent reports is that we live in a complex series of ecosystems which, it is becoming clear, we need to manage as knowledgeably and actively as possible.