David Attenborough asks “can we stop climate change?”
Sir David has become one of the world’s best-known naturalists and conservationists. In his recent BBC series, ‘The Green Planet’, he walked us through the different habitats of flora around the world, exploring the extraordinary ways plants have thrived in almost any environment. He broke them down into four “worlds”: the tropical worlds, the water worlds, the seasonal worlds and the desert worlds.
Every world has at least one coherent theme in common: being threatened by climate change.
Changing seasons have been directly linked to warmer global temperatures.
Even a slight change in temperature is enough to push back the spring thaw earlier and delay the onset of frost until later in the fall.
As a result, winters are shorter, spring comes earlier, summers are longer, and fall comes much later.
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This can have potentially devastating consequences for plants and animals in these environments.
The redwood – the tallest tree in the world – grows naturally only in a small strip on the planet: a 60-mile frost strip on the western slopes of California’s Sierra Nevada mountain range.
Visiting these gentle giants, which can reach nearly 100 meters high and 11 meters wide, Sir David looked like an ant among their broad trunks and needle-like leaves.
He noted that they are the oldest living things on Earth, with some having inhabited the woods for 3,000 years.
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But, to reach such an age and such a size, the sequoia needs special living conditions, those that are changing rapidly in the face of rising global temperatures.
He said, “A single giant sequoia in its lifetime can produce 100 million seeds.
“These, in my hand, from a single cone, are more than enough to start a whole new forest.
“But they can only do such a thing in a world where the seasons change with some reliability.
“Today our climate is changing, bringing an unprecedented level of unpredictability to the seasonal world.
“The question is: can we slow down climate change enough to ensure the continuity of the seasons?
“Only if we achieve this will the future of seasonal plants, including these magnificent trees, be secured.”
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Nature: Attenborough stood among the redwoods
Conservation: Researchers inspect a redwood in the Sierra Nevada
Not only does the redwood need energy from the sun, but more importantly, it also needs up to 4,000 liters of water per day, which means it depends almost entirely on seasonal snowmelt.
But recent years have brought longer, hotter summers, and their water source is becoming increasingly unreliable.
Scientists find that the redwood, once considered an indestructible giant, is now beginning to show signs of vulnerability.
Some are shedding their needles and branches to conserve precious water, but for others climate change has already taken its toll – ten percent of them have been lost in the past few years alone.
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Redwoods are currently classified as an endangered plant species, with their population rapidly declining.
Their natural habitat was recently ravaged by wildfires that engulfed approximately 2,569,009 acres across the state of California in 2021.
According to data collected by the U.S. National Park Service (NPS), more than 85 percent of all giant sequoia acreage in the Sierra Nevada burned in wildfires between 2015 and 2021.
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This is compared to only a quarter in the previous century.
It is estimated that thousands of large giant sequoias — those with trunks four feet in diameter or more — have been killed in six recent wildfires.
Based on aerial surveys from a helicopter, estimates of fire severity, and maps of redwood groves, an estimated 13-19% of the world’s tall redwoods died in the castle fire and of the KNP and Windy complex combined, i.e. 8,431 to 11,897 trees.
“The Green Planet” is available to stream on BBC iPlayer.