The starving polar has been the face splashed on media platforms as the icon of climate change. This visual has a strong impact on us – we see the ribbed polar bear, helpless at sea – and our conscious tugs at our minds. But this visual has led us to externalise the notion of climate change, to think of it as something that happens at the far reaches of the earth.
According to a recent study in Nature Climate Change, climate change has already negatively impacted on 47% of mammals and 23% of bird species.
There is undeniable evidence that the climate is changing. The earth is warmer now than it has been in recent history, with 2015 being documented as the hottest year on record (National Geographic). The rate of warming over the last fifty years is at least double that of the previous fifty.
How does climate change impact wildlife?
This recent study has found that our rapidly changing climate has adverse effects on many species. This includes lifespan, diet and their ability to adapt.
“It is likely that many of these species have a high probability of being very negatively impacted by expected future changes in the climate,” said author Michela Pacifici of the Global Mammal Assessment Program at Sapienza University of Rome.
Smaller animals and burrowing rodents are less affected by the global rise in temperature. Instead, marsupials and primates living in the jungle or forested environments are vulnerable to rising temperature. This is compounded due to land degradation and deforestation. It also impacts on the animals, such as elephants, who have a long lifespan and take their time to reproduce.
Birds are even more sensitive to disturbance in climate and weather patterns. A warming climate affects the birds living in cold and high altitude areas, who cannot find a cooler environment. It also disturbs aquatic birds, because the ocean has been acting as a heat sink, storing heat and CO2. It has slowed the rapid progression of global warming in recent years, but the consequences of disturbing the equilibrium are still unknown.
Part of a global ecosystem
Predicting and accurately calculating the effects of climate change on wildlife and biodiversity. It is a complex ecosystem. Mark Lynas’ “Six Degrees” (2008) featured a rather apocalyptic view of climate change, stating that the human race has already gone too far, and done irreparable damage to the global ecosystem. This serious read shocks the viewer into realising how intricately interconnected all life is, and that a flap of a butterfly’s wing can cause a hurricane.
We live as part of the global ecosystem. We are not separate from it, as much as we would like to be. If we even lose on key species to the ecosystem – it could upset the balance. In one year, America lost 23.2% of their bees – which had a devastating knock-on effect on pollination and our food resources.
If we continue down the trajectory we are heading, consequences of climate change will catch in a quick, unstoppable change of events. But it is not just about looking into the future. biodiversity (and people) are being affected by the phenomenon now. We need to ask ourselves what we can do now.