You may have noticed more wildfires, droughts, floods, and storms. It’s not your imagination. The climate is rapidly changing. In fact, since 1901, we have already experienced a global temperature increase of about 1.98 degrees Fahrenheit (1.1 degrees Celsius). That may not sound like much, but consider that raising the temperature just a degree or two above freezing is enough to melt ice. Small changes can make a big difference.
Despite these changes, however, we frequently think that the truly serious impacts of climate change will occur sometime in the distant future, beyond our lifetimes. That isn’t the case. Climate change is already occurring, and we should all be concerned about it. Here’s why today’s climate impact is more serious than you might think.
Our Planet Is Already Experiencing the Effects of Climate Change
When we talk about climate change, it’s important to understand our current status. According to scientists, we need to limit the change in global temperatures to a maximum of 2 degrees Celsius (3.6 degrees Fahrenheit). However, we have already experienced an increase of 1.1 degrees Celsius, and we are on track to hit 1.5 degrees Celsius (3 degrees Fahrenheit) within the next 30 years.
That increase in temperature has already led to the loss of 427 billion metric tons of ice sheets per year since 2002. Additionally, the area covered by arctic ice has diminished by at least 12.6% each decade since 1979. And since January 1993, melting ice combined with expanding water has led to an overall 4-inch rise in the sea level. Left unchecked, these trends will soon have catastrophic effects.
Without Taking Steps to Limit Climate Change, the Effects Will Continue To Amplify
According to the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), if we continue on our current trajectory, sea levels will continue to rise, reaching anywhere from one to eight feet (0.3 to 2.4 meters) by 2100. Additionally, by 2050, Arctic ice will likely disappear completely during the summer.
In addition to rising sea levels, we can expect more severe hurricanes, floods, heatwaves, and droughts. The wildfire season will lengthen, and so will the growing season. In just the past decade, we have already experienced the eight hottest years ever recorded, and global temperatures will only continue to rise.
In the future, there will be less available water for agriculture, and melting snowpack may no longer be a reliable source of water for communities that depend on it. Diseases and deaths will also increase due to extreme weather conditions, favorable conditions for pests and pathogens to spread, and chemical contamination during floods. Some communities will be below sea level. And species around the world will be challenged by vastly different environmental conditions.
Marginalized Groups Will Be Most Impacted
Climate change, like many crises, will not impact everyone equally. Marginalized groups, like women, the elderly, children, racial minorities, people with disabilities, and those living in poverty will bear the brunt of climate change. These groups are more vulnerable to the effects of climate change, more exposed to risk, and less able to access resources that could help them cope with the changing environment.
For example, children are more likely than adults to suffer from heat stroke. The elderly and people with disabilities are often harmed by power outages. And people of color disproportionately live in areas that are exposed to pollutants. Further, people living in poverty have few resources available to evacuate when necessary.
Often, women are expected to remain behind when disaster strikes, caring for others. As such, women are more likely than men to experience disease and death linked to climate change. They are also more likely to experience violence when attempting to leave areas impacted by disaster.
Additionally, the impact of climate change is not felt equally across the globe. Countries in the Global South, like the Philippines and Bangladesh, are disproportionately affected by climate change yet contribute little to the problem. Although they contribute only a tiny fraction of global carbon emissions, their citizens are on the front line of sea level rise and worsening storms.
Human-Animal Conflicts Are Likely To Increase
As climate change depletes our planet’s resources, humans and animals will increasingly come into conflict. Loss of habitat, extreme weather events, food and water scarcity, and the increased spread of disease all increase the potential for conflict between humans and wildlife. And we’ve already begun to experience increased human-animal conflicts due to climate change.
For example, warming sea waters have caused whales to follow their prey into cooler waters. This, in turn, has led to more whales coming into contact with fishing vessels and becoming entangled in nets.
Droughts similarly force animals into conflict with humans. As food becomes scarce, humans migrate in search of food, water, and arable land. Likewise, animals such as black bears and lions increasingly enter areas populated by humans to scavenge or prey on livestock. This inevitably leads to animals being killed by humans whose safety and livelihood are jeopardized.
Yet there are also clear cases in which killing predators also brings humans into conflict with other species. In the United States, for example, dwindling puma populations allowed deer populations to increase, along with the deer ticks that feed on them. This then resulted in an increase in Lyme disease among humans.
And in Africa, killing baboons’ natural predators led to a similar increase in baboon populations. As baboons increasingly strayed into human territory to search for food, children were forced to leave school to protect fields from baboon raids.
Climate Change Is Quickly Becoming the Number-One Threat to Wildlife
Some species, like the Bramble Cay melomys, have already gone extinct due to climate change, while many other species are threatened. In fact, many biologists believe that by 2050, we could lose 35% of all plant and animal species due to climate change. Further, the UN reports that climate change could cause up to 1 million species to go extinct.
Climate change threatens species in multiple ways. Habitat loss and food scarcity may force animals into human territories or leave them without any viable way to survive, particularly for species that depend on specific foods and climates. Some species will migrate to new areas, becoming invasive and threatening the survival of other species. And climate change even impacts the reproduction of some species, like sea turtles and North American tree swallows.
Ecosystems survive in a delicate balance. Climate change alters that balance, frequently impacting species at the bottom of the food chain and keystone species on which the entire ecosystem depends. Even small changes in temperature result in widespread ramifications.
Here are just some of the wildlife species we could lose if we don’t take steps to curb climate change.
Mountain gorillas once lived throughout mountain ranges in Rwanda, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, and Uganda. Today, they are critically endangered and live only in a handful of national parks. However, due to climate change causing necessary food sources to move higher up the mountains, Mountain Gorillas may need an expanded range in order to survive.
Both red and giant pandas are threatened by climate change. Both species of panda depend on bamboo as their primary source of food. Yet rising temperatures cause bamboo to quickly flower and die, leaving pandas without a sufficient amount to eat. As a result, pandas must venture further and further away in search of food.
Elephants are sensitive to heat and need to consume large amounts of freshwater to survive, but climate change threatens freshwater supplies. Additionally, their food sources are becoming increasingly limited due to invasive plants. And elephants have been left with too little habitat to successfully migrate in search of food and water.
Like all species that live in coral reefs, the humphead wrasse may face extinction due to climate change. That’s because by 2030, 70% of all coral reefs are likely to be damaged by climate change if we do not take steps to intervene. Greenhouse gasses like carbon dioxide acidify the ocean and cause the coral reefs to break down. If we don’t reduce our greenhouse gas emissions, species like the humphead wrasse are unlikely to survive.
Many species of sea turtles, like leatherback turtles, hawksbill turtles, and green sea turtles are vulnerable to climate change. Sea turtle eggs are especially sensitive to temperature changes. When temperatures become too warm, many sea turtles die before hatching. And because temperature influences the sex of sea turtles, warmer temperatures have led to a disproportionate number of females hatching. In some areas, 99% of hatchlings are now female. This clearly presents a danger to the survival of the species.
Deforestation, rising temperatures, and new rainfall patterns have decreased habitat for Orangutans and changed where their food grows. Wildfires further threaten their habitat. And because these changes have led to food scarcity, reproductive rates among Orangutans have also dropped. Without intervention, we may soon lose this critically endangered species.
African Wild Dog
African wild dogs have been severely impacted by climate change, leading to their status as one of the most endangered species in the world. Their hunting methods require them to hunt during daylight, but increasing temperatures have caused a reduction in the number of hours per day the dogs can hunt without succumbing to adverse effects from the heat. And since they are unable to move to higher altitudes, African Wild Dogs have no way to escape the heat. Fewer and fewer pups are able to survive, making the species vulnerable to extinction.
Polar bears are particularly sensitive to the effects of climate change, since they spend most of their lives on sea ice and depend on it in order to hunt, migrate, and reproduce. Additionally, they prey mostly on animals like seals, which also need ice to survive. Polar bears typically fast until the ice returns, but since that is happening later and later, they increasingly roam into towns, increasing conflicts with humans. Without adequate nutrition, they also have trouble nursing their young. If climate change isn’t halted, polar bears may soon lose the ice they depend on altogether.
The sheer number of species threatened with extinction due to climate change prevents us from listing them all, but every species is important. We must make changes now if we are to stop climate change and save them from extinction.
Critically, the human impact on biodiversity is already so severe that we have ushered in a new geologic age, the Anthropocene, and are now experiencing the sixth mass extinction event in the history of the planet. Without intervention, 75% of the animal species alive today could be extinct within 300 years.
What Is Being Done to Help?
Thankfully, concerned citizens and governments around the world are paying attention and taking important steps to fight climate change. In 2015, world leaders attending the UN Climate Change Conference worked together to create an unprecedented treaty to fight climate change, the Paris Agreement. 193 states and the European Union have now signed the treaty, pledging to work to limit the global increase in temperature to 2 degrees Celsius and further aim to limit the global increase to 1.5 degrees Celsius.
In addition to this important commitment, scientists around the world are making efforts to help both humans and wildlife cope with the effects of climate change. For example, some scientists try to help species migrate to new locations as a last resort. Others focus on mitigation techniques to help humans and wildlife coexist. For instance, painting eyes on cattle has been found to decrease lion attacks. Still others are working to help communities survive climate change, adapt food production, manage forests, and plan for severe weather events.
How is WildAid Helping?
Here at WildAid, we recognize that we all have the power to make choices that reduce demand for products and services that harm the environment and contribute to climate change. As such, we have partnered with international ambassadors like Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, Lang Lang, and Wang Yibo to launch successful campaigns to educate consumers on how they can reduce their own contribution to climate change.
Our campaigns encourage individuals in the world’s highest emitting nations – China and the United States – to make choices that lower their carbon footprint, like reducing their use of non-electric cars for transportation, avoiding foods like meat that contribute to global warming, and lowering their energy use. We also use innovative approaches like social games and comic strips to creatively engage individuals and help them learn about steps they can take to prevent climate change.
Many organizations have expertise in lobbying and advocating government and big businesses to change their ways – and we support that approach wholeheartedly. However, our expertise lies in communicating complicated environmental topics to you, the individual consumer, and helping you effectively contribute to their solutions. Solving climate change will require an “all of the above” approach, and just as WildAid has found its role, we hope to help you find yours.
What Can You Do To Help?
Everyone can help fight climate change. And some steps you can take are pretty simple! For example, transportation is a huge contributor to climate change. So ride your bike, walk, or take public transportation.
Producing meat also generates a large amount (15%) of global greenhouse gasses. So try cutting back on your meat consumption to reduce overall demand.
Lowering your energy consumption is helpful, too! Set your thermostat a few degrees higher in the summer and lower in the winter. Switch to energy efficient appliances, and turn lights off when you aren’t using them.
You can also donate to organizations like WildAid. If we all work together, we can protect each other, our planet, and the species we share it with from climate change.
Stay in touch and get the latest WildAid updates.SIGN UP
WildAid is a non-profit organization with a mission to protect wildlife from illegal trade and other imminent threats. While most wildlife conservation groups focus on protecting animals from poaching, WildAid primarily works to reduce global consumption of wildlife products such as elephant ivory, rhino horn and shark fin soup. With an unrivaled portfolio of celebrity ambassadors and a global network of media partners, WildAid leverages more than $308 million in annual pro-bono media support with a simple message: When the Buying Stops, the Killing Can Too.
Journalists on deadline may email firstname.lastname@example.org