Nowhere to run


Guest post by chinadialogue intern Cao Jun

When George Osborne, the UK chancellor of the exchequer, tried to return to London from a recent New York trip aimed at rebuilding Wall Street’s confidence in the British market, he found himself stranded abroad. Back at home, Heathrow – the main international airport of London, the financial centre he was promoting – had become a chaotic camp of passengers going nowhere. Tens of thousands of people planning festive adventures or family reunions in this abnormally cold “white Christmas” season found their trips frozen at the airport.

This all reminded me of the spring festival in China two years ago. Blizzards paralysed the entire transportation system during Chinese New Year and trapped an army of two billion migrating passengers, the largest on earth. People yearning for their hometown after a year’s work away were stuck in the freezing temperatures.

Some victims of Britain’s bad weather lost more than a fun time. A few days ago, families visiting a park in northern England found several deer entombed in an icy lake. Children were especially shocked by the scene of hoof marks on the ice where the deer fell had fallen through and drowned. Unexpected snow had turned the entire area white, and the lake became a trap for the deer.

After the 2008 storm, Chinese scientists observed that 30% of golden snub-nosed monkeys, one of China’s most endangered species, had died in one study site in Hubei province. Expansion of human activities kept cornering these beautiful animals in their continuously shrinking habitats, and extreme weather – which could be linked to climate change — may well become the final straw.

In a recent symposium in China, experts from 40 countries gathered to discuss the biological consequences of climate change on wildlife. Apart from the impact on people, scientists believe that other biological issues of climate change have been overlooked. As more attention is given to the other residents of this planet, however, new questions are emerging — such as protection priority. In the US, for example, climate change may mean disaster for wolverines, but other species are a higher priority for government protection.

Must a choice be made between the wolverine and the polar bear? Or among the 250 other candidates for US federal protection? What animals should we save on a list of endangered species that keeps getting longer and longer?

Photo from fraznrach

And the clock is ticking. Mountain hares, which already live at very high elevations, have no colder places to which to migrate. Killer whalesorcas — can only swim as far north as the Arctic waters. No matter how hard animals try to adapt to dramatic changes in their environments, there is a “tipping point” for every species on earth. And it won’t be long before we find ourselves with nowhere to run.