|BUENOS AIRES - To witness the impact of a warming planet, one need not make a costly trip to the melting Arctic ice cap. Proof of climate change is right there in most people's backyards, scientists said on Tuesday.|
There, plants, birds, insects, mammals and fish are rapidly responding to changes in the climate. Flowering may happen earlier, while birds may not survive extreme temperatures.
"Widespread ecological impacts of climate change are already visible in every part of the world and in every ecosystem, even your backyard," said Arnold Van Vliet, a scientist who studied extreme weather and nature's response for environmental group World Wide Fund for Nature or WWF.
On the sidelines of the UN conference on climate change, WWF said it wants to use the study to push top negotiators to act more swiftly to stop global warming caused mostly by industry and the burning of fossil fuels.
"The environmental ministers arrive today and there is an incredible lack of urgency in the hallways," said Jennifer Morgan, director of WWF's climate change program.
Warm winters, hot summers, excessive precipitation and extended droughts are all blamed for changing what goes on outside our windows.
The study shows that plants, for example, are now flowering up to 30 days earlier and at dates never documented in the last two centuries.
In the backyards in the Netherlands, the start of the pollen season advanced up to 22 days between 1969 and 2000. In Boston, plants flowered eight days earlier at the end of last century when compared to the beginning.
Some species have shown a dramatic increase in range area, like the Mountain Pine Beetle, which has spread over millions of hectares (acres) in North America.
Butterflies that migrate to the Netherlands from Southern Europe used to arrive in May, but the recent warm years have produced first sightings in January.
In the last 100 years, northern Europe has become 10 to 40 percent wetter and southern Europe up to 20 percent drier.
Residents of the conference host city Buenos Aires also are quick to tell how climate change has affected them: It hasn't snowed in the Argentine capital since the 1940s and old-timers tell how they used to wear scarves and mittens all winter.
The world's average temperatures have already risen nearly one degree Celsius (2 F) since the pre-industrial era and the European Union and many environmental groups say it should not exceed 2 degrees.
But Van Vliet, a professor at Wageningen University, said his findings have made him even more cautious.
"We recommend a ceiling of 1.5 degrees Celsius (3 F). Two degrees is far too high."
Story by Juana Ines Casas
REUTERS NEWS SERVICE