June 16, 2008

Environmental Interplay

The world is growing increasingly flat, with advances in transportation and technology bridging the psychological and physical gaps between points.

So it is not so difficult to understand how climate change in one portion of the world could have a direct effect on the rest of us. An example that comes close to home is the link between the rain forests of Central America and the Great Lakes of North America.

The weather at home depends upon both the poles and tropics, as Lynda Schneekloth, a professor in the School of Architecture and Planning at the University at Buffalo, said. Schneekloth and her husband, Robert G. Shibley, also in the School of Architecture and Planning, run a study-abroad program at the Monteverde Institute, Costa Rica.

The clouds that have enveloped the forest atop the mountains in Monteverde have continued to settle higher and higher as temperatures rise, creating periods of dry weather to which amphibians are particularly sensitive. The golden toad, found in the Costa Rican rain forest, hasn't been seen for decades. And what's happening there is making an impact here.

The songbirds of Western New York, for example, are migrants to Costa Rica. Because of habitat being destroyed in both places, their numbers are decreasing. A thread runs through it all, and any break in that line could spell disaster for some species and, ultimately, others.

A change in thinking is required. The natural landscape that humans don't absolutely require must be made as connected as possible, so that instead of sporadic parks and green spaces amidst human landscapes, everything should be thought of as natural habitat in which humans reside in much smaller spaces, providing room both for agriculture and wildlife. It's a different mind-set, at least in this country. It's a recognition of responsibility.

Schneekloth, a member of Buffalo Niagara Riverkeeper, says that this area's direct responsibility is to be a steward of fresh water resources. The prediction is that fresh water resources will diminish and the Great Lakes will drop as a result of increased evaporation and less snowfall and ice on the lake. Hotter, drier weather increases the need for fresh water, and then the correlation between points on earth becomes even clearer.

Humans are feeling the effects of the rapidity of climate change, caused by humankind. It's up to humankind to figure out how to stabilize, or reverse, that problem. It has become a significant responsibility on our part to change course.

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