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Reflection Paper on Field Notes from a Catastrophe

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Submitted By ryanburchett1
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Reflection of Field Notes from a Catastrophe

Elizabeth Kolbert’s Field Notes from a Catastrophe was my first in-depth look into climate change, global warming, and the contribution of humans to these things. Global warming was something I vaguely knew about before reading this book, but it never really caught my attention or seemed like a major issue in the world. After reading Field Notes from a Catastrophe, I realized that it is in fact a major issue that must be addressed by every community. In this essay I will argue that it is our job as the human race to do all that we can to take care of our planet and reduce the amount of global warming that humans are responsible for. This essay is significant because this is our world. Global warming may not be something that has a significant impact on our lives, but whether it is our grandchildren or great grandchildren, there will be consequences eventually for the human race and the other species that we share this planet with. While reading Kolbert’s book, there were a few chapters that stood out to me and got me thinking more in-depth about global warming in general. In chapter 4, Kolbert goes into details with a couple of scientists on the affects of global warming on a species of toad, several species of butterflies, and a species of mosquitoes. The golden toad was a bright, tangerine colored toad that could be found in the Monteverde Cloud Forest in north-central Costa Rica. This species of toad spends a majority of its life underground, only emerging above ground to reproduce. Once males mate with a female, she lays her eggs in small puddles that usually are no more than one inch deep. It only takes a few days for the tadpoles to emerge from the eggs, but it then requires four or five more weeks for metamorphosis to complete. During this whole period, the eggs and tadpoles are extremely dependant on the weather. Too much rain would wash them down the steep hillside, and too little rain would cause their puddles to dry up. These toads, once they were fully developed, were always found close to the area where they were originally discovered. In 1987, a biologist traveled to Costa Rica solely for the purpose of examining and studying these toads. When he got there, he took his original data and counted about fifteen hundred toads in the temporary breeding pools. Just the following spring, after what was a dry year, only eight males and two females were seen at the popular breeding sites. The next year, only one male was seen with no females. This was the last golden toad spotted as they are now believed to be extinct. The toad is just the beginning of how global warming can and will affect all types of living species on this planet. While Kolbert studied several different species of butterflies with the University of York biologist Chris Thomas, the main focus was on the Comma butterfly (Polygnia C-Album). The Comma butterfly is a European butterfly that is typically found in France, Germany, and the Netherlands. In 1984, there was a one-hundred-and-fifty-eight-page atlas that showed all the species of butterflies and how many times those certain species were spotted in a certain area. Just six years later, this atlas became out of date as the Comma was continually spotted in new areas. The expansion, in itself, is not completely out of the ordinary or unusual. However, the rate of the expansion is astonishing. The research showed that the Comma was expanding its area by at least fifty miles per decade. More research showed that the Comma was not alone in the butterfly species in extending its range. Scientists found that at least twenty-two species had shifted northwards. This is significant in that throughout history, as temperatures change, the inhabitants of these regions must either adapt to the temperature change, or relocate in order to find the temperatures that suit their living conditions. So essentially, the temperatures in Europe are rising and the Comma is moving northward to find the climate it is best suited for. Another example of global warming affecting a species that Kolbert touches on is the Wyeomyia smithii, which is a type of mosquito. This mosquito reproduces through a process called diapause which is essentially a form of hibernation. Wyeomyia smithii differ from most insect species in that it relies completely on light cues, instead of temperature, food availability, or any other factors while in its larvae state. The larvae stop growing and molting when they perceive that day length has dropped below a certain threshold but pick up where they left off once the day has lengthened enough. The exact timing of diapause is essential to the survival of these mosquitoes. The research that Kolbert used to relay the details of the effects of global warming on these mosquitoes was done by a couple named William Bradshaw and Christina Holzapfel. These evolutionary biologists found that from 1972 to 1996, the insect’s critical photoperiod had dropped nearly an hour in Macon County, North Carolina. After going through more of their research (ten other sites), it was discovered that at every single site, the critical photoperiod had declined. Since this mosquito is completely reliant on reading light during diapause, it was determined that the change being viewed is genetic. This finding was the first of its kind in stating that global warming had begun to drive evolution. The point of these examples Kolbert uses, is to show that whether we recognize it or not, global warming is happening and is affecting the world around us. Since reading her book, I have taken little steps myself to contribute as much as I can in helping control this problem. Simple things such as recycling, using less hot water, driving only when necessary, and making sure the electricity is off when I leave my house are just a few things I have adopted. Doing these things by myself will not be enough to get the global warming problem under control, but it is a start and I encourage all my neighbors and peers to partake in any of these things that they can.

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