Transparency of product supply chains has become a key issue in recent years. Increasingly, we want to know what’s in a product, where it’s from, how it was made and by whom – just think the horsemeat scandal, stricter EU food labelling standards, and the creation of the UK National Food Crime Unit.
Alas! The season to be jolly Fa la la, la la la, la la is coming to an end. It is time to pack away our fantastically gaudy Christmas jumpers adorned with outlandish images of happy snowmen and dancing polar bears, our glittery reindeer antlers and eccentric penguin socks.
But will there always be good cheer and great tidings? Climate change is now jeopardizing many of the iconic symbols of our December celebration. (Please note, this is no way is related to the birth of baby Jesus, no religious connotations here!)
On Christmas Eve 2015 (somewhat fittingly), the IUCN changed the Rangifer tarandus – aka Dasher, Dancer, Prancer etc. – conservation status from “least concern” to “vulnerable”, skipping over the “near threatened” category. A 40% plummet in their population over 25 years was primarily due to warmer climates bringing in more rain than snow. This rain freezes on the ground creating an ice sheet up to 5 cm thick. Rudolph often cannot penetrate this ice-crust to reach his diet of grasses and herbs underneath and expels large amounts of energy attempting to; contributing towards reduced survival rates of Santa’s sleigh pulling ungulates.
Not only does climate change melt dreams of a white Christmas, research published in the journal of Forest Ecology and Management reveals that our Christmas trees could suffer too (dependant on tree origin). The iconic Norwegian Spruce will become increasingly vulnerable due to reduced snowpacks to the Boreal forests during winter, which can limit shoot growth in the following spring.
Could this get any worse?!
A generous dollop of cranberry sauce completes the Christmas lunch. However, cranberries are not compatible with extreme weathers brought about by climate change; heat waves and frosts & floods cause rotting and yield cuts respectfully. In 2012 in Massachusetts an early spring coupled with extreme heat, resulted in a drop of 23 million pounds in cranberry production; enough to leave a bitter taste in one’s mouth.
What’s more, polar bears have long been the face of the climate change movement. Listed as a threatened species since 2008, there are only 20,000 to 25,000 estimated to be living in the wild. Scientists warn that rising temperatures in the Arctic could reduce the polar bear population by a third over the next few decades. Of course, the loss of ice also threatens our other favourite charismatic species often pictured on our Christmas cards; penguins, artic fox and seals.
And finally, the great man himself. Father Christmas. Earth’s northern pole is drifting rapidly eastward, and scientists blame climate change. The rate of shift of the magnetic pole is on the increase and it seemed that in the past decade it had moved a distance close to the distance it moved in the past century. With the wandering magnetic pole and ice sheet melting, our fantasies of him reading our Christmas letters by the fire in a log cabin on the North Pole, could be lost within the century.
Whilst discussing such a sombre topic you may have noticed the images of this blog maintain humour and positivity; there’s no shocking pictures of reindeers starving nor graphs to map the extent of sea ice loss in the arctic. Partly because it is the season of good cheer, but also this is done to engage with our emotions. Sometimes, it is much easier to feel compelled to act upon something which we see and know and hold fondness towards, rather than see the negative images shown in the news. This blog will not discuss how we as individuals can mitigate the effects of climate change- there are plenty of articles which do that, rather this blog hopes for people to understand that we cannot take everyday happenings (or in this case, annual celebrations) for granted.
Do we ourselves bear some responsibility for climate change affecting Christmas? Maintaining our traditional usage of inordinate amounts of sellotape, ribbons and associated paraphernalia, we contribute directly, to non-degradable pollution in our terrestrial and marine environments. Maybe we need to re-think our traditions and stop creating an annual slap in the face for our planet.
And to President elect Trump and his army of climate change sceptics, it’s not only Christmas that is affected – our summer’s day fish and chips take away is in jeopardy too.
Sophie is an MSc student in Biodiversity, Conservation, and Management. She is particularly enticed by arts & the environment, science communication and conservation governance, and often likes to tweet about these things @sophierpierce
Place: Connaught Place, New Delhi. Time: Early morning hours. On my way to board the airport express metro train (revered as a top class facility in the world) I was caught by a pleasant surprise when I witnessed a middle-aged lady tossing several kilo of grains on the pavement for birds. This pleasure was short-lived as my eyes stumbled on a starving and shivering man on the other side of the same road. The elevated metro line gave me a snapshot of my historical national capital, rivalling the status of other mega cities, with “a large baggage” of its religiously inclined middle and lower class population surviving hand to mouth.
With 15.2% of its population undernourished, and 194.6 million people going hungry everyday, India has the largest undernourished and hungry population in the world
The same nation feeds several metric tonnes of grains, fruits, vegetables, etc. to feral animals in its cities, towns, and villages. Unlike the West, animal feeding in India is largely motivated by religious purposes, aimed to seek after life benefits, or to request relief from sins. An age-old compassion for animals (as forms of incarnations or vehicles of Hindu Gods), which essentially has aided the conservation success in a billion strong nation, shall have some serious considerations over the economic and ecological repercussions of many food offerings to our animal friends . Few snippets: Continue reading Misplaced compassion in a starving nation.
Worldwide, countless people depend on fishing for food, culture, and economic well-being. From local subsistence fishermen in small coastal communities to large industrial-sized operations, oceans contribute to societies and economies at all scales. To keep pace with demand, fishing rates have greatly accelerated, to the extent that over 77 billion kilograms of seafood are harvested each year.
At such high rates, many fish populations cannot reproduce quickly enough to replenish their depleted numbers, thereby classifying them as overfished. Currently, 90 percent of fisheries around the world are burdened with or on the brink of over-exploitation beyond sustainable yields. Continue reading Plenty of Fish in the Sea?
Understanding the effects of our Diets
Before moving to the UK, I had never really asked myself whether my diet was sustainable. I had always tried to eat healthy, but for personal reasons. However, upon learning that different types of food were linked to different volumes of carbon footprints, I realised that my eating habits were having a direct impact on climate change. Continue reading Is eating red meat sustainable?
The male moor frog turns from brown to blue during the mating season. The red-eyed tree frog has three eyelids. Marsupial frogs have their young developing in pouches. The goliath frog can weigh up to 3.25kg. Frogs exhibit an incredibly advanced level of parental care. In short, frogs are very cool.
Apart from being amazing, anurans (and generally, amphibians) are vital for the functioning of a healthy ecosystem. Being predators and prey, connecting land and water, they are a key part of the food chain and sustain a rich biodiversity. Amphibians are also natural pest controllers, eating insects that can be a problem for crops or cause widespread disease. Alarmingly, according to the IUCN “nearly one-third (32%) of the world’s amphibian species are known to be threatened or extinct” and “at least 42 % of all species are declining in population, indicating that the number of threatened species can be expected to rise in the future”. Continue reading From the cookbook to the Red List: the unsustainable tradition of frog consumption