In a careless moment The New York Times’ “The Morning” urged readers to “Bring these books to the park on your first warm day of spring” almost as though spring showing up was cause for celebration not panic. If you take the time to read, say, IPCC publications, you will learn that many scientists are concerned that humanity may face troubling consequences from a small amount of warming. But so far the general scientific position is that there’s little sign of significant disruption. Whereas if you rely on the popular press, politicians and polemicists, you’ll have the impression that we are already in the very hot soup and the return of spring, once welcomed as a sign of hope fulfilled, is now the trump of doom.
And in case spring showing up in mid-winter hasn’t been your experience despite stories about how “A historically warm winter across a wide swath of America has led to a surprising sight: plenty of flowers blooming in the early days of March”, we’d like to mention that here in Canada we are experiencing the “‘Tenaciousness of winter:’ Weather Network forecasts a delayed spring.” There’s still deep snow in the yard in Ottawa.
National Geographic seems to be having it both ways on whether we’re already in trouble or merely doomed, with a declaration that:
“Nature is out of sync – and that’s reshaping everything, everywhere/ Everything in nature – flowering, breeding, migration – lives and dies by a clock that is being recalibrated by climate change. We don’t yet know how severe the consequences may be.”
In fact if nature is out of sync everywhere in everything we have a pretty good idea how severe the consequences already are. Although this phrase “out of sync” again embodies the very odd notion that the supposedly harmonious balance of nature is a singularly static as well as singularly fragile one.
The reverse appears to be true. As the story concedes, after a description of swabbing marmots’ mouths that has one reaching for gauntlets lined with rubber:
“Marmots’ behavior is changing. Because of climate change, they now emerge from winter about a month earlier, which forces them to scrounge for food sooner. Yet most marmots, as researchers also would learn with Anchor, actually still wind up big and healthy.”
Arguably an early spring beats endless winter? Yup. “Early emergence gives them extra time to eat, which lets them get fatter and helps them produce more offspring.” So what seems to be the problem?
“Timing is everything in nature. From the opening notes of a songbird’s spring chorus to the seasonal percussion of snapping shrimp, every important ecological process lives and dies by a clock. Flowering. Egg laying. Breeding. Migration. It’s as true on the Mongolian steppe as it is in the Arabian Sea or a Costa Rican rainforest. Centuries of evolution honed these patterns. Now climate change is recalibrating them.”
Centuries? Dear me. Who writes this stuff? Evolution has been going on for billions of years, and the multicellular kind for over half a billion, and for instance the snapping shrimp alone appears to have been working on its particular specialization for about 150 million. During which period spring has moved around quite a bit without suppressing the din. And since temperatures now are arguably not back to the peak of the Medieval Warm Period, and certainly not the Minoan, the claim that nature is about to dissolve into grey goo or something is an imposture foisted on the public.