Changing Climates

I have been on the road with my job a fair bit this year and have been changing climate zones as often as I have been changing cities. In the space of a few hours I have transitioned from cool and damp to hot and dry; from hot and humid to cold and dry, and most manner of variations between them. I have been places where plant (and animal) life struggles due to not enough water, and places where the struggle is against too much water, and other places where the struggle is more about exposure in general than a specific element. I have also found myself in places where everything is balanced and both plants and animals thrive.

One of the strangest places of this summer was in a cave on a day off. The cave was more like a natural tunnel and was open on both ends, and park rangers led tours through it. Although not overly lit, there were some spotlights highlighting specific features of the cave and providing just enough ambient light to be able to make out the pathway. Since the cave was open and both mouths were surrounded by vegetation, there were enough wind-blown seeds and spores traveling in the system that by chance some fell in the pools of light. Supplied with enough natural moisture and provided with a light source these seeds and spores quite happily began to grow, leading to some rathar odd patches of small plants tentatively living in the pool of light. It reminded me of seeing fish in the separated pools of a nearly dry riverbed.

Tree growing in a pool of light inside a cave

 

When the scope is so focused, it is easy to see how a small change can make a major impact. Depending on which way you look at it, turning off the light in the cave would either restore the natural balance or destroy the population created by the presence of the light. Unfortunately, few things are so clear cut. For the example of the fish in the pools, it is not nearly as simple – are they in that situation because the river has natural cycles of flood and drought? Perhaps it always did have these cycles, but more water is being taken from the river upstream and so low flow periods have been replaced by no flow periods? Or are there other reasons, natural or artificial, which are combining to this result?

Climate Change has become a big-topic buzzword, with people on all sides of the issue raising it as either fact or hoax in order to further the perspective they are trying to push. One of the issues that often gets lost in these debates is that while we may or may not be directly contributing to the issue, we do have some level of impact based on our activities and location. It can be as clear-cut as installing electric lights in a cave and creating an environment allowing plants to grow where they otherwise could not, or it can be less obvious where there may not be a clear one parameter cause and effect relationship. Rathar than focusing on Climate Change as the topic, I think it is more important to focus on recognizing that our activities can have an impact and to try and minimize that impact as best we can.

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