Think Penguin

By Mickey Friedman
December 22, 2017

Ever since Trumphoria descended over the land I’ve done a fairly lousy job as the volunteer Communications Director for Penguins United. But the time has come to dispense with Natalia Veselnitskaya and Donald Trump Jr. and their imaginary adoptees.

There are five species of penguins in the Antarctic. Approximately 5.7 million pairs do their nesting at about 660 sites along the continent. Unfortunately, the Antarctic is experiencing the climate crisis – and warming – faster than any area on Earth. And both West and East Antarctica have experienced collapses of ice sheets and glaciers.

As the Oceanites, Inc. State Of Antarctic Penguins (SOAP) Report notes: 
“The Antarctic Peninsula … has warmed considerably over more than six decades, year-round by 2˚ C. / 5˚ F. and in winter by 5˚ C. / 9˚ F., but the warming trend appears to have slowed, consistent with natural variability … Paralleling these differences, Antarctic Peninsula Adélie penguin populations have generally been declining, while in East Antarctica and the Ross Sea, they appear to be increasing. 

“No gentoo or chinstrap penguins appear to be breeding in East Antarctica or the Ross Sea. These two species breed in West Antarctica, but with different responses to the warmed, regional climate: gentoos increasing, while chinstraps appear to be declining, although many sites lack enough data to draw firm conclusions.”

Six decades and 2˚ C. rise in temperature year round. I, who don’t know nearly enough about complicated climate science, somehow remembered that the 2˚ C. figure was critical. John Sutter on November 24, 2015 had written for CNN: “2 degrees: The most important number you’ve never heard of.” Why? “If we humans warm the world more than 2 degrees Celsius (3.6 Fahrenheit), we greatly up the odds of climate catastrophes. Think super droughts, rising seas, mass extinctions and acidifying oceans.”

A 2˚ C rise. Look to the lands of ice. My penguin friends are already living and dying with the consequences of such a rise in their unique universe.

Michael Mann on April 2014 wrote in Scientific American: “if the world continues to burn fossil fuels at the current rate, global warming will rise to two degrees Celsius by 2036, crossing a threshold that will harm human civilization.” Then, he upped the ante from harm to ruin: “If the world keeps burning fossil fuels at the current rate, it will cross a threshold into environmental ruin by 2036.”

Michael Mann acknowledges that “destructive change has already arrived in some regions. In the Arctic, loss of sea ice and thawing permafrost are wreaking havoc on indigenous peoples and ecosystems. In low-lying island nations, land and freshwater are disappearing because of rising sea levels and erosion. For these regions, current warming, and the further warming (at least 0.5 degree C) guaranteed by CO2 already emitted, constitutes damaging climate change today.”

As our penguin friends know firsthand. French penguin scientist, Yan Ropert-Coudert, working at the Dumont D’Urville research station studying the Adélie colony, said the region was impacted by environmental changes linked to the breakup of the Mertz glacier.

The article noted: “Surviving mostly on a diet of krill—a small shrimp-like crustacean—Adelie penguins, slick and efficient swimmers, have been generally faring well in East Antarctica. 
But they have been declining in the Antarctic region more generally where climate change has taken its toll, with shifting ice reducing habitat while warming seas affect their prey.

“Four years ago, the same colony which numbered 20,196 pairs at the time, failed to produce a single chick. Heavy sea ice, combined with unusually warm weather and rain followed by a rapid drop in temperature, resulted in them becoming saturated and freezing to death. 

Then, as Ursula Ellenberg reminds us: “Over thousands of years, these keen-eyed seabirds have evolved to catch food in the depths, while avoiding natural predators such as seals and sharks. But they cannot see the superfine nylon fishing nets invented in the 1950s which fishers now set in penguin foraging areas.

“Less destructive fishing methods are available that do not cause penguin bycatch and the death of other protected species. But these more selective fishing methods would require fishers to change gear, which costs money. Currently, there is very little legal or commercial incentive for fishers to do anything about penguin bycatch.”

Meanwhile we learned of another threat: last year the Convention on the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources (CCAMLR) agreed to protect West Antarctica but failed to agree on a proposed protected area in East Antarctica where the penguins died. Rod Downie of the World Wildlife Fund stated: “The risk of opening up this area to exploratory krill fisheries, which would compete with the Adelie penguins for food as they recover from two catastrophic breeding failures in four years, is unthinkable.”

Think, please. Think Penguin. Then act to protect them.

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“Think Penguin” was first published in the December 14, 2017 issue of The Berkshire Record.

“2 degrees: The most important number you’ve never heard of”
John D. Sutter, November 24, 2015, CNN
https://www.cnn.com/2015/04/21/opinions/sutter-climate-two-degrees/index.html

“Earth Will Cross the Climate Danger Threshold by 2036”
Michael E. Mann April 1, 2014 Scientific American
https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/earth-will-cross-the-climate-danger-threshold-by-2036/

https://oceanites.org/wp-content/uploads/2017/04/Oceanites-SOAP-Report-4-25-17.pdf

“Thousands of penguin chicks starve in Antarctica”
October 13, 2017
https://phys.org/news/2017-10-thousands-penguin-chicks-starve-antarctica.html

Mickey Friedman’s Berkshire-based I Ching mysteries, “Danger” and “Folly”, as well as his non-fiction “A Red Family” are available on Amazon.com: https://www.amazon.com/Mickey-Friedman/e/B00R4S2MSE/. His films can be seen at https://www.youtube.com/user/bluehillfilms

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