Humans are not the only species struggling in the face of climate change. Many animals are experiencing firsthand the impacts as well. Human actions are only exacerbating these effects, which means we may partially be to blame for the collapse of ecosystems and extinction of certain species. But fear not! While all this sounds very heavy, learning more about the impacts you may have can make a difference! Let’s take a look at climate change and animals, and the changes you can make today for a better tomorrow for animals and humans alike.
The 1.5 Degrees Celsius Threshold
Global temperatures have increased at an average rate of 0.08 degrees Celsius per decade since 1880 but have started to increase at double that rate after 1981 (Lindsey & Dahlman, 2023). This is especially alarming as this means we may exceed the 1.5 degrees threshold set to limit the impacts of climate change (Buis, 2019). Already in many regions of the world, this threshold has been surpassed (Buis, 2019). But what exactly does this mean? For starters, at 1.5 degrees Celsius, about 14% of the world’s population will be exposed to severe heat waves at least once every 5 years (Buis, 2019). The hottest days will increase by 3 degrees, while the coldest nights will increase by 4.5 degrees (Buis, 2019). More people will be exposed to severe droughts and experience water stress, while others may suffer from heavy rainfall and flooding (Buis, 2019).
Regarding biodiversity, about 6% of insects, 4% of vertebrates, and 8% of plants will lose over 50% of their geographic range (Buis, 2019). Ecosystems will transform, and forest fires will become more common, as will invasive species, leading to more disease transmission (Buis, 2019). We will lose our rainforests and forests, sea levels will continue to rise while polar ice sheets melt, oceans will become more acidic decreasing oxygen levels, and the list goes on (Buis, 2019). So while 1.5 degrees may seem like a small number, it really actually isn’t.
Climate Change and Animals
There are a few main threats that climate change poses to animals.
The first is habitat loss. As temperatures have been increasing, vegetation, ecosystems, food sources, and access to water have also been changing (International Fund for Animal Welfare, 2022). For example, land that used to be there may now be flooded due to increasing water levels (International Fund for Animal Welfare, 2022). This forces animals to look for other habitats to survive (International Fund for Animal Welfare, 2022).
The second threat is natural disasters. Natural disasters cause catastrophic loss of ecosystems and death, again forcing animals to migrate to other areas outside their usual patterns (International Fund for Animal Welfare, 2022). Think about how much destruction natural disasters cause humans. This is the same for animals.
The third threat is human-wildlife contact. As climate change results in more extreme weather events, droughts, loss of habitat, and such, it’s not only animals that are being forced to move. The number of inhabitable spaces for both humans and animals is declining and coinciding, which usually results in more negative impacts for the animals involved as humans (International Fund for Animal Welfare, 2022). For instance, some animals like jaguars may prey on domestic animals kept by farmers, inciting retaliatory killings and further endangering this species (International Fund for Animal Welfare, 2022).
Finally, the biggest threat is extinction. Animals already endangered are the most vulnerable, and the combination of the threats above will only worsen their situation (International Fund for Animal Welfare, 2022). These species include polar bears, African elephants, mountain gorillas, giant pandas, green sea turtles, and more (World Wildlife Fund, 2015).
Changes You Can Make Today for a Better Tomorrow
Now that you know a little more about climate change and animals, it’s time to talk about changes you can make today for a better tomorrow. While the future may seem dark now, there are things you can do to brighten it! It is never too late to start, and better now than never. Let’s all work together so that our favorite animals can stay our favorite animals in the future!
- Learn about endangered species in your area. This is a great way to get passionate; by learning about the species and their importance (Endangered Species Coalition, n.d.). Raise awareness to your friends and family to get them involved as well (Endangered Species Coalition, n.d.)! If you’re interested in migratory birds in particular, we’ve got just the right article for you!
- Protect their habitats. One of the best ways to protect endangered species is by protecting where they live (Endangered Species Coalition, n.d.)! Volunteer at your local nature center or support open spaces in your community (Endangered Species Coalition, n.d.)!
- Don’t buy into the trend. Some souvenirs are made from species that are nearing extinction (Endangered Species Coalition, n.d.). Avoid supporting these markets and be careful of products made of crocodile skin, sea otters, polar bears, live birds, rhinos, and turtles (Endangered Species Coalition, n.d.).
- Slow down when driving. This can help you and animals living in developed areas avoid road accidents (Endangered Species Coalition, n.d.). Watch for signs and wildlife that may be trying to cross (Endangered Species Coalition, n.d.)!
- Refrain from herbicide and pesticide use. While these may keep your garden looking extra spiffy, they can take a long time to degrade, building up in the soil or in other animals through ingestion (Endangered Species Coalition, n.d.). Some species, like amphibians, are particularly sensitive to these chemicals, so it’s essential to be mindful of them (Endangered Species Coalition, n.d.)!
- And, of course, reduce, reuse, and recycle! It’s been said once; it’ll be said a million more times. Choosing sustainable, reusable products can bring about many benefits to the environment and is an easy way to get involved in wildlife conservation at home (Endangered Species Coalition, n.d.).
Buis, A. (2019). A Degree of Concern: Why Glocal Temperatures Matter. NASA Global Climate Change. Retrieved May 24, 2023 from: https://climate.nasa.gov/news/2865/a-degree-of-concern-why-global-temperatures-matter/#:~:text=If%20warming%20reaches%202%20degrees,on%20humans%20and%20ecological%20systems.
Endangered Species Coalition. (n.d.). 10 Easy Things You Can Do To Save Endangered Species. Endangered Species Coalition. Retrieved May 24, 2023 from: https://www.endangered.org/10-easy-things-you-can-do-to-save-endangered-species/
International Fund for Animal Welfare. (2022). the impact of climate change on our planet’s animals. Ifaw. Retrieved May 23, 2023 from: https://www.ifaw.org/journal/impact-climate-change-animals
Lindsey, R., & Dahlman, L. (2023). Climate Change: Global Temperature. Climate.gov. Retrieved May 24, 2023 from: https://www.climate.gov/news-features/understanding-climate/climate-change-global-temperature#:~:text=Earth%27s%20temperature%20has%20risen%20by,2°%20F%20in%20total.
World Wildlife Fund. (2015). Animals Affected by Climate Change. WWF. Retrieved May 23, 2023 from: https://www.worldwildlife.org/magazine/issues/fall-2015/articles/animals-affected-by-climate-change