By: Jonathan Chai
Tide pools are a common sight among the shores of California, scattered across the beaches and always teeming with life. When I look into these pools, I would often find juvenile fish hiding among brown fronds of seaweed and tentacles of green sea anemones waving in the currents, filtering prey out of the moving water (Sebens, 1982.) As the tides recede, the anemones curl into tight balls under the blazing sun and California gulls flock over to feast upon the exposed mussels. Tide pools are places of constant change, each of its phases are fleeting and unpredictable. As the conditions in these tide pools change rapidly throughout the day, creatures that live in association with the pools must be able to keep up with the pace of these changes to survive (Pasparakis et al., 2016). Each moment is precious and the loss of a moment could mean death. Despite these seemingly harsh conditions, many organisms successfully adapted to living in the tide pools and many are even able to flourish. As humans, we have much more time to prepare for changes in our world than the creatures of the tide pools, yet many of us are still not aware of the effects of climate change that are evident in everything that surrounds us, and thus unwilling to find solutions for climate change. We only notice when entire icebergs break off from glaciers, not when the cracks began to form in the blue artic ice. The tide pool teaches us to appreciate every moment and the life they carry. And we do not have to look far for a place where we can apply this appreciation for time. Not far from the California coast, years of fire suppression have taken a toll on the ponderosa pine forests and its intricate ecosystems. These fire suppression efforts are a result of our desire to “tame” our environment and are responsible for the devastating wildfires we see today. Perhaps by learning the preciousness of each moment from the tide pools, we can see that our desire to control everything is not the best use of our time in the age of climate change and that we should instead shift our focus towards solutions that focus on the long term well-being of our environment.
When you ask people about the action they could personally take to help fight climate change and the enSmall scale wildfires occur naturally in ponderosa pine forests and play a crucial role in maintaining the health of these forest ecosystems. Fires help prevent the pine forests from becoming too dense, which can shade out plants in the understory and young trees reaching towards the canopy (Allen et al., 2002). With seasonal fires, these forests are thinned out, allowing light to shine through the dense canopy and reach the forest floor below. With more light comes a window of opportunity for young plants that would typically perish under the heavy shade of the forest canopy to grow and flourish. Contrary to the common impression that forest fires always devastate the ecosystems they affect, in this case they actually bring life and diversity to the pine needle covered forest floor. Small scale forest fires also prevent massive and rapid spreading fires from occurring. In the absence of these low intensity forest fires, forests become very dense, allowing the flames to spread quickly from tree to tree and the fire can get out of control very quickly, putting many nearby communities in danger. In addition, long term fire suppression also enables vegetation to build up in large amounts, providing more fuel for the fires to burn on and the effects are only exacerbated by the changing weather patterns brought about by climate change (Williams et al., 2019).
We engage in these unsustainable practices because we think we are saving by time by taking control of our environment and choosing the shortcut, but in truth, time is only lost by relying on these short-term solutions that create a temporary “victory” for the humans. With the forceful suppression of naturally occurring fires, we will never witness the moment when the young pines reach for the canopy nor will we see the colorful wildflowers that carpet the forest floor after a fire has cleared the canopy, allowing light to penetrate. All that we will be left with is a blazing inferno that is almost unrecognizable from the natural small-scale fires that tended to the landscape. There is so much change happening every second in these forests and so much can be lost if we are not careful. We do not seek out long term solutions because we are not fully aware of what we are losing and what the effects of each second can add up to. a larger scale.
Although much can be lost in one moment, much can also be recovered in a moment. If we change as a society and begin to recognize the importance of long term solutions that rely less on the control of our environment, we can still reopen the many windows of opportunity for the plants of the forest floor as well as for ourselves to appreciate these amazing instants in our environment that are often overlooked. We prefer to take the short cuts not because we are fixated on the present, but more because of our societal mindset that claims the present for only ourselves. To stop both devastating forest fires and climate change, we must embrace the fact that the present is shared by all. In the time that it took us to drive to work, somewhere deep in the forest a wildflower may have unfurled its petals in the gentle morning sun and high in the branches a bird may have sung its song. The awareness of things that are not happening right before our eyes is critical to solving our environmental issues, since understanding all parts of each moment urges us to consider the future and the long term effects of our actions. In the case of the ponderosa pine forests, one way in which we can recover the time we have lost is through the use of human prescribed burns, which are meant to replicate the natural small scale forest fires that have been lost from the forest ecosystems due to fire suppression (Allen et al., 2002). The prescribed burns help prevent biomass from building up within the forests and therefore removes the fuel that destructive fires burn on. Such efforts may seem artificial at first, but they do gradually work towards the long term goal of withdrawing human control over our ecosystems and allowing these ecosystems to return to their original state.
Although we cannot afford to live only in the moment in the age of climate change, we can still live for the moments and appreciate all the things that take place in each.
- Allen, C. D., Savage, M., Falk, D. A., Suckling, K. F., Swetnam, T. W., Schulke, T., Stacey, P. B., Morgan, P., Hoffman, M., Klingel, J. T. 2002. Ecological Restoration of Southwestern Ponderosa Pine Ecosystems: A Broad Perspective. Ecological Applications 12: 1418-1433.
- Williams, A. P., Abatzoglou, J. T., Gershunov, A., Guzman‐Morales, J., Bishop, D. A., Balch, J. K., & Lettenmaier, D. P. 2019. Observed impacts of anthropogenic climate change on wildfire in California. Earth’s Future 7: 892–910.
- Sebens, K. P. 1982. Recruitment and habitat selection in the intertidal sea anemones, Anthopleura elegantissima (Brandt) and A. xanthogrammica (Brandt). Journal of Experimental Marine Biology and Ecology 59: 103-124.
- Pasparakis, C., Davis, B. E., Todgham, A. E. 2016. Role of sequential low‑tide‑period conditions on the thermal physiology of summer and winter laboratory‑acclimated fingered limpets, Lottia digitalis. Marine Biology 163: 23.