How climate change increases the risk of species extinction

‘Anthropogenic climate change is predicted to be a major cause of species extinctions in the next 100 years’Cahill et al. (2013)

The word anthropogenic refers to the geological epoch which we are currently in, for the last 12,000 years of human history we have lived through the Holocene epoch which signified our balance with nature and human life on Earth. When exactly the anthropogenic epoch started is still debated but what is certain is that the increase in human population and use of fossil fuels has created an era of uncertain instability.

This instability has resulted in many foreseen and unforeseen consequences, one of which is the decline of certain marine, animal and plant species. A famous report released by the UN in 2019 stated that over 1 million species are at risk of extinction which was supported by hundreds of renowned scientists. The different factors which decrease certain species population can be both isolated incidents and connected through the negative consequences of human accelerated climate change. Outlined below are some the ways humans are threatening many different organisms with extinction.

Deforestation

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The main causes of deforestation is often to make room for cattle farms, mining or illegal deforestation whereby people harvest exotic timbers for profit.

How deforestation decreases species populations is somewhat simple to understand. Forests are cut down leading to the loss of certain foods and shelter which animals rely on to survive. With the loss of habitats these animals either migrate or die due to their environment no longer being able to sustain them. Some struggle to adapt quick enough to a rapidly changing environment.

Deforestation also decreases the amount of biodiversity within that area, biodiversity is integral for wildlife to survive. With so many interconnected systems of plants, insects and mammals, without certain organisms able to survive others will die as a result.

Global warming

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With temperatures rising each year due to the amount of carbon emissions in our atmosphere, many different species are having to adapt to rising temperatures. However, evolution is a slow process and many species cannot keep up with the rapid advances in temperature.

Rising temperatures has also affected certain species in unpredictable ways. Since the 1990s rising temperatures has caused many coral reefs to die, turning white as a result. This coral bleaching means that they can no longer support local marine life which relied on these areas for sustainable survival.

This is troubling as we are already seeing the affects of species extinction in relation to current temperatures, with predicted temperatures being a lot more severe, this issue can only spiral if we continue on our current trajectory.

Overfishing

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One of the greatest threats to marine life is fishing, more specifically overfishing and illegal fishing. Not only do these hauls decrease populations massively, they disrupt other marine life dependable on those organisms to survive. Also, the practice of bottom trawling and the carbon emissions used to power these massive freighters damage the environment in numerous ways.

The integration of Marine Protected Areas (MPA) is not a quick fix to all problems involving marine life, especially when taking into account the livelihoods of local communities that rely on fishing as a main source of sustainability. However, with policies such as MPAs and sustainable fishing practices we can begin to repair the damage that has been done to marine life before it’s irreversible.

Monocrop agriculture

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The demand for multi-purpose crops such as soy or palm oil is profitable but involves a questionable practice known as monocropping agriculture. This practice being so profitable makes it very popular but can damage the environment in numerous ways.

Generally, monocrop agriculture causes soil degradation so farmers need to use fertilizer to sustain the nutrients in the soil. This can lead to pollution and desertification. As seen by examples in Brazil with soy and in Indonesia with palm oil plantations, monocrop agriculture can lead to mass deforestation and reduce biodiversity due to large areas of land only containing one species of crop. This causes certain species to desert areas or struggle for survival in what was once an abundance of biodiverse wild landscape.

Illegal wildlife trade

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How the illegal wildlife trade threatens species extinction is somewhat obvious, through the killing and trading of specific animals for ivory or exotic pelts reduces their numbers the more the demand for these materials increase. According the a report conducted by Interpol, the illegal wildlife trade is estimated to be worth approximately $20 billion, demonstrating the scale of the issue.

Water pollution

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Water pollutants is another way many species are being threatened with extinction. Whether it involves dumping toxic waste into the ocean or the amount of plastic that is being found in our oceans, these destructive actions are seriously threatening other species as well as the characteristics of the world around us.

The dumping of toxic waste is often a practice used by countries or large corporations as a cheaper method of disposing of their waste. Not only does this practice pollute waterways in developing countries but it can also affect local communities which live nearby.

Plastic pollution in our oceans is now well-known and everywhere we look. Examples like the great garbage patch in the Pacific ocean or the increase in plastic waste recently due to people wearing disposable masks during the current pandemic.

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Solutions to plastic pollution in the ocean

As I mentioned in my previous post, the scale of plastic pollution has now reached unprecedented levels. We now can identify some of the issues with plastic and microplastic. Simply, microplastic is a danger to aquatic life, human life and water filtration systems. One of the largest problems with microplastic is the abundance of it found in our oceans and our rivers. For example, the Great Pacific garbage patch demonstrates the amount of plastic and other waste which has accumulating in our oceans.

This already being common knowledge amongst environmental researchers and activists, some have already started cleaning the oceans in an effort to repair what we have damaged and help spread awareness of the problem.

The Ocean CleanUp is a non-profit organisation which aims to clean up 90% of plastic pollution from the ocean. They use different technologies to help rid our oceans of plastic pollution and have also started helping in river systems as well. One of their technologies is a U-shaped foam like barrier which traps plastic ready for it to be collected and recycled.

Ichthion is a technological company which specialises in delivering the first scalable solution to reducing plastic from our waterways. They are working towards building energy-generative systems that can be installed in rivers, coastal areas and oceans.

https://thegreatbubblebarrier.com/en/

The Great Bubble Barrier is a company which uses a current of bubbles in the water to prevent plastic from moving forward and trapping the waste. This is already an existing technology used to prevent oil spills from spreading and does not hinder fish or ships.

In summary, these are just a few examples of the different ways organisations are solving plastic pollution in our oceans and rivers. There are many more companies associated with these organisations and others which are doing similar work. With this movement where everyone takes responsibility for the planet and does not see it as someone else’s problem, a sustainable future will be all the more likely.

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How much waste do we produce?

During the 20th century where technological innovation was progressing faster at an unprecedented rate, the world witnessed a surge in commodities which helped life become more simple. However, now we understand that consumerism is one of the biggest problems which causes climate change. For example, in 2016 the UK generated approximately 41.1 million tonnes of commercial and industrial (C&I) waste. This is more alarming when looking at the scale of waste globally and the ways waste is produced.

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One way modern society produces so much waste is through fast fashion. The fashion industry greatly impacts the planet by the ways that textiles are made and the by-products which pollute the environment. It is stated that every second, the equivalent of one garbage truck of textiles is landfilled or burned. Fast fashion is also a humanitarian crisis as well, with textiles workers often forced to work long hours with little pay. This is an industry which is large in scale but also present large problems to us and the environment.

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Another way we produce so much waste is through the food industry. It is estimated that one-third of all food produced goes to waste. We not only waste food but also the energy and water used to make the food produced. As the global population continues to grow unprecedentedly, we need to figure out ways to feed people more sustainably.

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Finally, another way waste is produced is through the by-product of toxic waste caused by numerous activities such as manufacturing, farming and construction etc. It is estimated that in 2020 we have produced 355 million tonnes of toxic waste worldwide. Fortunately, toxic waste is more regulated than it once was but we still have large corporations and government dumping toxic waste illegally in the ocean or in developing countries. For example, Sir Lanka recently returned toxic waste which was imported to their country by the UK. Demonstrating the lack of international cooperation and consideration taken with the waste produced in developed countries.

In summary, we are living in a time of advance technological innovation but also a time where we produce the most waste without real thought or consideration for what this is doing to us and our planet. If we could spend more time looking toward sustainable solutions to the problems that we ourselves create and less time on industries such as fast fashion, maybe a healthier future may be all the more plausible.

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The forefront of climate change research

Disclaimer: I am in no way sponsored or endorsed by any of these organisations, I am just trying to spread the awareness of information on climate change.

Recent research on climate change taken from credible sources outline what current research is focused on. Some studies I have already written about in my previous posts so they will not be included within this thread. The aim of this is to give people an idea of what direction climate change research is currently heading:

Side note: an interesting podcast mini-series from the University of Oxford on climate change and its research models, economic consequences and the issues surrounding the solutions. A great listen if you do not have the time to read.

Hopefully this helps broaden the awareness on current climate change issues and at the very least provides informative sources for you to refer to when needed.

Contribution is key

Inspired by a recent YouTube video, which I shall link below, I went on a cycling trip to try and help clean up my community.

I decided to load my bike with black rubbish bags and head off to see what I could find.

Living in a city, seeing litter has become somewhat normalised to a degree. As I started to look for it I began to realise it was everywhere. I travelled down a lane which leads to an old WW2 airfield. However, I didn’t make it 10 metres before my bags were full, I wasn’t even able to fit one of them back into the bag on the bike.

Unfortunately, I underestimated the amount of rubbish I would encounter. I spent approximately 40 minutes picking up all the little bits of rubbish. To just clear this lane would have taken days.

I proceeded to take the rubbish to some bins not too far from the lane. Altogether this only took around an hour and is a tiny step in the right direction. So next time you take a trip, it might be a good idea to pack a black rubbish bag and combined these small acts can eventually have a big impact.

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10 alternatives to everyday plastic

One of the most environmentally friendly ways to reduce the use of plastic is through biodegradable or compostable products. The distinguishing factor being that biodegradability consists of natural materials breaking down, whereas compostable items are a form of biodegradability that transforms organic waste which is more beneficial for the environment. In an effort to spread awareness, here are ten items that can help you avoid the use of plastic. (Disclaimer: I am not sponsored by any of these companies to endorse these products).

  1. Sandals made from algae

Scientists in California have manipulated natural organisms such as algae to create environmentally friendly footwear. Items such as sandals often wash up on coastlines and are mostly made of plastic and rubber which can damage the environment. This new alternative is one small step to helping the planet.

2. Banana leaf packaging

Supermarkets in Asia have started using banana leaves for packaging. This helps reduce plastic packaging and minimise the chances of plastic waste.

3. Plastic made from cactus

Mexican researcher, Sandra Pascoe Ortiz, has figured out a way to create plastic made from material extracted from cactus. Serving to be much more biodegradable than everyday plastic, it can degrade in just one month and only takes several days in water. Therefore, some useful items can retain the same durability as plastic without the negative consequences of damaging the environment.

4. Paper straws

Some businesses already use these and they are a great way to prevent using plastic by switching to a more biodegradable alternative.

5. Sea sponge

A shower sponge made from natural materials, making it biodegradable and environmentally friendly. A great alternative than sponges which use synthetic fibres and create more waste which damages the environment.

6. Ayate washcloth

A multi-purpose washcloth made from the agave plant which are easy drying. Another great alternative to washcloths made from synthetic fibres.

7. Compostable food packaging and cutlery

As people are slowly realising the harmful products which most people use everyday, a transition is emerging where more and more items are becoming biodegradable or compostable. Online you will find many items such as food packaging, cutlery and cups which are compostable and thus a healthy alternative to regular plastic items.

8. Compostable clear gloves

Clear gloves useful for many messy situations such as cooking or for those working in health care. Again, a healthy alternative to plastic gloves which are frequently used but damage the environment.

9. Biodegradable tampons

Specifically for the women (or men that want to buy their significant other a slightly weird gift) biodegradable tampons can be purchased online to help reduce the amount of plastic waste produced.

10. Bamboo products

Products made from bamboo such as sunglasses, toothbrushes and clothes can be found either online or in the shopping mall. This is a great way to avoid synthetic plastics and harmful waste by switching to a more environmentally friendly solution.

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