On Climate Change, Past and Present
Updated: Sep 6, 2018
The air-conditioner in my study appears to be leaking gas, and having turned it off I find myself slumping over my laptop in a damp shirt and foggy glasses. It has me thinking of climate change, a topical matter, particularly in the light of the latest worldwide wave of fires and floods. One aspect of climate change is the alteration in the habitats of various birds, beasts and insects. A few months ago, a rather remarkable creature landed on my balcony, just long enough for me to snap a photo of it before it rapidly fluttered away; a stunningly bright red beetle, which it appears, is the culprit of an unfortunate phenomenon that is now being experienced in many parts of the Eastern Mediterranean. The Red Palm Weevil (Rhynchophorus ferrugineus) is responsible for the hundreds of dead date palm trees in Jerusalem gardens (I recently saw the same leafless palm trunks in gardens in Nicosia), and more distressingly is a serious cause for concern for many plantation owners. Is the present infestation the result of climate change? It is certainly possible. The weevil originated in Asia and its advance northwest to the Mediterranean extended over several decades since the 1980s. Another example of changes in habitat is with a species of parrot, the lively and noisy rose-ringed or ring-necked parakeet (Psittacula krameri), an Afro-Asian bird that appeared in Israel in the 1980s, has since vastly increased in number, and is regarded today as invasive. In recent years these birds have spread through different parts of the globe, in London parks for example, where their numbers have grown significantly since they first appeared in the 1990s. The extensive distribution of the ring-necked parrot has generally been regarded as plausible evidence for global warming. Temperature change can have a profound effect on birds (as indeed on all wildlife), in some cases resulting in physical changes in the animal itself, as in Western Australia where with higher temperatures ring-necked parrots developed a longer wing-span, but mainly it has caused the invasion of new and formerly climatically unsuitable regions.
It is not a new phenomenon. In the crusader period a German pilgrim named Thietmar recorded having heard of (not apparently seen himself) the presence of parrots on the Mountains of Gilboa west of the Jordan Valley. Perhaps this was evidence of an earlier climatic event of which we are otherwise uninformed. So too perhaps is a fifth – sixth century mosaic, the so-called "Green Birds" mosaic showing some 41 ring-necked parrots found in Beth Shean (which, by the way, is where I first saw these invaders) that now greets the tired and mostly un-noticing arrivals descending the ramp at Ben Gurion Airport.