Global Warming in 5 steps: How does it affect Wildlife?
When it comes to global warming, humans have certainly felt the effects, and this year more than ever. With one weather disaster after another hammering the globe (there were a dozen in the U.S. alone that topped the billion-dollar mark for damages), there’s no denying that the natural course of the climate has been altered due to the many greenhouse gas emissions we spew into the air courtesy of industry and transport. And the results of our pollution are not only affecting us, but also the many species of wildlife that call this planet home. The question is: how is our negligent attitude towards the protection of the environment affecting wild animals?
- The warming trend. Warmer temperatures are only one part of the extreme weather conditions that global warming is responsible for, but they are a biggie. In the Arctic Circle, melting polar ice caps have taken away the hunting grounds that support polar bears as well as the cool waters that salmon depend on for breeding. Eventually, this could spell disaster for both species. And in the deserts of the world, nomadic animals like elephants that have trekked the same migratory paths for centuries are finding watering holes dried up thanks to higher temperatures and drought conditions.
- The cooling trend. Although climates near the equator are more likely to suffer from extreme heat, their neighbors to the far north and south are struggling with longer, colder winters that see animal populations dwindling. Thanks to plummeting temperatures and a surge in winter storms, many animals that can’t find adequate shelter are freezing while others starve due to winters that seem to last longer.
- Storms. Human have suffered not only monetary damages in the last year, but also a fairly high death toll thanks to extreme storms like tornadoes, hurricanes, blizzards, and fires (brought on by drought). Animals, too, have suffered. Many have lost their habitat, which means they have had to wander closer and closer to the dangers of human civilization in search of basic sustenance, breeding grounds, and a place to raise their young.
- Ocean acidification. This is a side effect of greenhouse gas pollution that few people have heard about, and although it isn’t directly linked to global warming, it is related to the same pollutants that cause climate change. When hydrocarbons are absorbed by the waters of the ocean, it causes the pH levels to drop, which affects bottom feeders like lobster, shrimp, and clams (not to mention corals). It renders them unable to form the hard outer shells (or exoskeletons) that they rely on for survival. The result is that these populations will begin to die out, followed by a chain reaction (up the food chain) that could deplete marine life across the globe.
- Overall. If you thought mining operations, mountaintop removal, and crop dusting were detrimental to surrounding ecosystems, multiply that damage by a thousand (and you still won’t come close to the destruction that continues to be wrought by global warming). Not only are animals all over the world finding themselves short of food and water, the situation is also upsetting migratory patterns and breeding cycles, which mean some species could be heading rapidly towards extinction.
Evan Fischer is a conservation writer who works with NRDC and other organizations to protect our health and environment.