It's an attitude I suspect we've all fallen into at one point or another: hearing that climate change has lead to a one-degree temperature rise in a local water body, or that the sea has risen in our area by an inch or two, or that the local river now runs lower in summer months, we've thought it over, shrugged, and moved on.
In our more rational moments, of course, we know that small changes in big systems lead to drastic impacts. But we forget. Jane Kay's excellent piece, A Warming World is one of the best journalistic reminders I've seen recently. Surveying recent biological research on the California coast, Kay reminds us just how calamitous tiny shifts in global climate can be for species long-adapted to stable local conditions:
"At low tide in the dawn light, John Pearse, a retired professor of biology at UC Santa Cruz, kneeled in the water in hip-high waders examining sunburst anemones. He found pink barnacles encrusting rocks, and the hard white shells of worm snails. Those invertebrates normally are more common in warmer southern waters. But over decades, they have increased in numbers here. Invertebrates that do well in colder water, such as giant green sea anemones and porcelain crabs, have declined. Central California has become more like Southern California.
"Those who know where to look can see that a few degrees increase in the temperature of the Pacific and a couple of inches rise in sea level have already changed life in Monterey Bay's fragile tide pools."
(via Dateline Earth.)