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St. Louis experts highlight the impacts of climate change, immediate need for adjustment

Scott Schliebe | Wikimedia Commons
A Polar Bear mother and her cub.

Climate change is causing the Earth to change in drastic ways. Global temperatures are rising, oceans are warming, ice sheets are shrinking and the implications are vast for flora and fauna.

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change says “scientific evidence for warming of the climate system is unequivocal.”

Last night, in his Best Actor speech at the Oscars, Leonardo DiCaprio said that climate change is “the most urgent threat facing our entire species.”

Credit Kelly Moffitt | St. Louis Public Radio
Jack Fishman and Louise Bradshaw

  On Monday’s “St. Louis on the Air,” two experts joined contributor Steve Potter to talk about the implications of climate change.

  • Louise Bradshaw, Director of Education, Saint Louis Zoo
  • Jack Fishman, Professor, Department of Earth and Atmospheric Sciences, Saint Louis University and Director of SLU’s Center for Environmental Sciences

“Climate change really is huge,” said Bradshaw.  “It is affecting and impacting all the animals we care so deeply about in their life in the wild. It impacts humans too. We like to focus folks on the problems, certainly, but also the solutions.”
This Saturday marked International Polar Bear Day, highlighting the impacts of climate change on the bears, who are seeing their icy habitats shrink and food sources become scarce. Bradshaw said she thought the entire city of St. Louis was at the Zoo on Saturday to join in the day’s celebration of Kali, the three-year-old polar bear that makes his residence here.

Polar bears are not the only animal species impacted by climate change, although they are one of the most visible.

“It is a lot more than polar bears—I could start talking about Grevy’s Zebras in northern Kenya and southern Ethiopia, their population in the wild is somewhere around 2000,” said Bradshaw. “Historically, and this is the case with a lot of endangered species, some of the challenges may have been hunting or poaching or habitat loss, but when you add climate change and you add serious droughts, it is really hard for those mom zebras to really make it. I could go on about orangutans and the forests and fires in Indonesia. I could talk about Andean bears, whose habitat is shrinking as the climate warms.”

"Global change is more than just global warming or polar bears finding it difficult in certain habitats."

Food sources and vegetation are also impacted. There are decreases in yields of certain crops due to pollution. For soy beans, that is 10 percent.

“Global change is more than just global warming or polar bears finding it difficult in certain habitats,” said Fishman.

Fishman said that 2015 was a turning point in the American conversation about climate change and that more people are accepting it as fact rather than fiction. He said Pope Francis’ encyclical on climate change was a huge part of that.

Related: The ecological justice work of the Franciscan Sisters of Mary at West Lake landfill — and beyond

He thinks that Republican candidates do not address climate change enough.

“We all have a civic responsibility to let our civic leaders know how we feel about these issues,” said Bradshaw.

Have we reached the point of no return in regard to reversing the impacts of climate change?

“We’re starting to see some significant tipping points,” Bradshaw said. “I’ll talk about the Arctic sea ice, which has been for the past ten years, smaller and smaller and smaller. As that ice shrinks, what is that doing to water underneath? That’s a dark versus light surface. The light is absorbed by the dark and contributes to warming. We’re starting to see all these systems shift and change that have a lot of impact on local weather.”

Fishman said that humans need to accept the magnitude of what is happening to the climate right now, even if the warm has been this warm before.

“What’s happened with the development of civilization…human beings have only been on this planet for 160,000 years and the past 20,000 years have been conducive, the climate has been relatively warm,"
 Fishman said. “It has also been stable. The stable, relatively warm temperatures where the human society has blossomed and prospered are getting out of that comfort zone of temperature that humans have never experienced. The time scales of human society have never experienced these kinds of developments.”

St. Louis on the Air brings you the stories of St. Louis and the people who live, work and create in our region. St. Louis on the Air host Don Marsh and producers Mary EdwardsAlex Heuer and Kelly Moffitt give you the information you need to make informed decisions and stay in touch with our diverse and vibrant St. Louis region. 

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Alex is the executive producer of "St. Louis on the Air" at St. Louis Public Radio.
Kelly Moffitt joined St. Louis Public Radio in 2015 as an online producer for St. Louis Public Radio's talk shows St. Louis on the Air.
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