Climate change: ‘Red alert’ from the natural world – leader comment

The capercaillie is an iconic bird of the Scottish Highlands
The capercaillie is an iconic bird of the Scottish Highlands
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Scotland must play its part in the fight against climate change amid increasing warning signs from the natural world.

Last year’s dramatic weather shifts – from the ‘Beast from the East’ to the hot, dry summer – may well have convinced some that our climate has indeed changed. For others, it may still feel like something far away in both time and space, a problem mainly for future generations and Arctic polar bears. But, according to conservation charity WWF Scotland and umbrella organisation Scottish Environmental Link, the natural world right on our doorstep is now coming under increasing pressure from changes in the weather.

In a report called “Scotland’s Nature on Red Alert”, they warn that birds such as the capercaillie, Arctic charr, kittiwake and golden plover are all in trouble, along with unique habitats like the fertile grassy machair – found only in northern Scotland and parts of Ireland. White-beaked dolphin may also find Scottish waters too warm and be forced to flee.

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While it may not sound like a huge increase, the rise in average global temperatures of about one degree Celsius over the last century is dramatic in terms of the Earth’s history. The fear is that the changes are happening too quickly for some species to adapt. Well-insulated dolphins will be able to swim away, birds may fly elsewhere, but land animals and plants have fewer avenues of escape. Habitats are also a complex interplay of a whole array of different life-forms. If a source of food disappears, the knock-on effects extend far beyond just the animals that eat it.

As WWF Scotland’s Sam Gardner said, “nature is on the frontline of climate change” and “we need to wake up to the fact it is increasingly under threat”. But humans would do well to remember that we are also part of the natural world and depend upon it entirely.

The warning signs from nature – the ability to take a cruise through the once notoriously impassible Northwest Passage from the Atlantic to Pacific because of the lack of sea ice is a fairly large one – are accompanied by increasingly desperate pleas from the world’s scientists to take the problem seriously.

Donald Trump and co aside, most global leaders are on board with the need to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. The problem has been in the implementation of measures to achieve the necessary cuts. This difficult task must be done sensibly – a crashed economy may lack the means to continue the process – but it must be done.

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