The expression “canary in a coal mine” refers to the caged birds miners used to take down into the mines as an early warning of danger.
Despite many known dangers, coal has become the world’s dominant fuel source for generating electricity; not to mention being the primary source of harmful greenhouse gas emissions such as methane and carbon dioxide. In a very real sense, the Earth’s entire atmosphere has now become the coal mine that we all live and work in.
But, in terms of an early warning mechanism, caged canaries aren’t going to help us today the way they once helped coal miners.
Fortunately, there are many other “canary-like” indicators of the dangers we face that scientists are increasingly trying to direct our attention to.
For example, many plants that one would expect to get larger from the increased availability of carbon dioxide are instead being stunted by rapid changes in temperature, humidity and available nutrients from the rise in global temperature.
Likewise, cold-blooded animals, including insects, reptiles and amphibians, are experiencing a 10 per cent increase in metabolism from every one-degree increase in average temperature.
These species have been unable to respond or adapt quickly enough to the rise in average global temperature occurring over the past century.
In other words, the canaries in our atmospheric coal mine are starting to keel over and that means it’s time for us to get out of the coal mine — literally.
We have to stop using coal to generate electricity and switch to clean and renewable energy sources on a massive global scale as quickly as possible before we, too, succumb to the dangers that coal carries with it as an energy source.