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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News: UK government announces funding for electric vehicles ahead of COP26 summit

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Before the COP26 summit which is being held in the UK from the 31st October to the 12th November, the UK have announced a new plan aimed at reducing carbon emissions. The main concentration being increased funding into the transportation industry aimed at transforming toward electrical vehicles. Whether this will be a considerable change in the right direction or just another empty promise is obviously yet to be determined.

Earlier in the year the UK had plans to open a new coal mine which is quite contradictory to the COP26 summit that they are hosting this year. As the agenda of government and business is always difficult to determine without direct involvement in these areas, hopefully we can see more urgency and action from the COP26 summit being held at the end of this month.

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The characteristics of a biodiverse ecosystem

Biodiversity is all the different kinds of life you’ll find in one area—the variety of animals, plants, fungi, and even microorganisms like bacteria that make up our natural world. Each of these species and organisms work together in ecosystems, like an intricate web, to maintain balance and support life. Biodiversity supports everything in nature that we need to survive: food, clean water, medicine, and shelter‘ – http://www.worldwildlife.org

Illegal deforestation and the consequences of global warming continue to destroy our planet, making biodiversity harder to find on Earth. The natural world is interconnected through millions of complex relationships which depend upon lots of different species. With less biodiverse landscapes these relationships become unstable, creating mass extinction events such as the one we are currently witnessing. However, rewilding projects strive to amend this issue by recreating natural and biodiverse landscapes to help stabilise what we have destroyed. Below I have outlined some of the characteristics that create a biodiverse landscape.

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Genetic diversity
This focuses on the variety of different genetic material within a species population. Greater genetic diversity means a population will have an easier time adapting to environmental issues. This characteristic, like others, being essential for endangered species and conservation efforts. Although, some argue that due to the unpredictable climate, species cannot adapt fast enough to keep up with the environmental pressures.

Ecosystem diversity This is essentially the different biomes across the planet which hold specific climates with species directly related to that climate. For example, a tropical climate might hold more insects and exotic plants compared to a colder climate such as Antarctica.


Species diversity
This is the variety of different species found in the area which is being researched or maintained. This can range from a species of bird to a certain species of tree. Establishing a balance is key to maintaining a biodiverse landscape, without this the ecosystem becomes unstable. For example, palm oil plantations in Indonesia are detrimental to the local ecosystem as they only consist of one species of tree which creates an imbalance of species diversity.

Functional diversity
Can be summarised as the biological and chemical processes needed for the survival of species and ecosystems. For example, the nitrogen cycle or the carbon cycle.

Some of the most biodiverse places on Earth will share all these characteristics to varying degree. Unfortunately, due to the state of the natural world caused by human behaviour over the last two centuries these rich natural environments are declining at unprecedented rates. Therefore, It is important we understand what is meant by biodiversity and why it is needed if we are to aim at repairing the natural world.

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News: Global temperatures reach record breaking intensity every year

Each year global temperatures are exceeding the previous years records, with this year being no exception. Demonstrating in the simplest way how we all are drastically changing the Earth’s climate and how the consequential issues extend much farther than just leaving your air conditioning on overnight.

Theses issues, I have talked about in previous posts consist of rising sea levels, increased risk of wildfire and much more. Additionally, recent rising temperatures in the United States are a perfect example of how bad this issue is becoming and how drastic action is needed much sooner than expected.

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Grassroots approach to climate change

When considering the issues surrounding climate change one can easily become overwhelmed and conclude that the solutions are out of reach and beyond their control. However, communities in the UK and US can be found which empower local communities and restore faith in the future. Aside from international movements such as FridaysForFuture, more local groups can be sourced if you know where to look.

If you live somewhere in the UK, websites like Climate Action can be a great source of finding a local group near you. Or if you would like to join a more national body, The Conservation Volunteers is a great way to get involved.

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If you live in the US, organisations such as Bioneers or OceansGlobal may be more for you. There are obviously a lot more groups out there, you may want to refer to the this list. However, being from an unreliable source you may want to take this list of recommendations with an eye of scrutiny.

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Unfortunately, local climate change groups was not easy to find for other countries based in places such as Asia or Africa. However, from a broader more international standpoint this website article was a great source for examining climate change in different areas of the world and also providing the names of the international bodies focused on climate change in those areas.

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News: Court rules Shell to cut emissions by 45% before 2030

This landmark court case, which took place in the Netherlands, came to the conclusion that the oil company Shell had to cut their CO2 emissions in half by 2030.

The main reason why this is so phenomenal is due to the fact that this is the first instance of a company being legally mandated to the environmental policies of the Paris Agreement.

‘The environmental group brought the case to court in 2019, alongside six other bodies and more than 17,000 Dutch citizens’ – BBC News

Although this only applies in the Netherlands, there is hope that this will now encourage more countries to legally hold big oil and gas companies responsible for their harmful environmental practices.

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Climate mitigation and adaptation

When discussing ways to reduce the speed at which the climate is changing in order to stabilise the planet as a whole, many look to various methods and solutions with little to no success. Due to the complexity of climate change and the plethora of issues it presents us with, others have looked toward more broad and encompassing framework to help tackle this crucial time period that we are all apart of today.

Climate mitigation focuses on reducing the output of greenhouse gases or increasing the potential to absorb these harmful gases from the atmosphere in order to reduce global warming. Although easy to explain, in practice this can be quite difficult. In order to achieve this approach, we need to internationally transition from using fossil fuels and focus more on renewable energy. We need to halt deforestation and start rewilding the planet, these solutions thus eliminate the source of harmful gases whilst increasing the rate at which the planet can absorb them.

Climate adaptation can be defined as adapting in different ways to a changing climate and preparing for future adaptation as the climate continues to change. Adaptive solutions often vary depending of geography, are difficult to predict and come with trade-offs. Examples of solutions include diversifying crops to withstand warmer or wetter conditions, helping communities reduce the risk of flooding and adapting infrastructure in order to withstand extreme weather.

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Although these approaches offer solutions and goals to tackle the different aspects of a changing climate, they are far from equal with varying outcomes. This disparity is due to one reason: climate justice.

From a policymaker’s perspective, adaptation is a local, private good with often clear and immediate benefits.  On the other, mitigation is a global, public good with far-away benefits‘ – http://www.climaterealityproject.org

In summary, both these approaches are necessary, however, as we have chosen to focus less on mitigation, the more adaptation we will need later. As a result, less wealthy countries will continue to fall behind as some already struggle to adapt to the climate change issues of today.

Sources:

https://climate.nasa.gov/solutions/adaptation-mitigation/

https://www.worldwildlife.org/stories/what-s-the-difference-between-climate-change-mitigation-and-adaptation

https://www.climaterealityproject.org/blog/climate-adaptation-vs-mitigation-why-does-it-matter

News: Global agreements help mitigate climate change

A recent article published by Nature has demonstrated that global agreements surrounding climate change can accelerate the rate at which we can mitigate environmental issues.

The best case scenario for global agreements would be ‘climate negotiations is a legally binding global agreement targeting < 2 °C warming by 2100 and incorporates sanctions’. However, due to various factors this may not be entirely possible, thus researchers suggest creating groups where nations or representatives are involved in a common goal with shared interests or geography. This can better enable global leaders to mitigate climate change issues whilst investing in local problems with other nations.

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https://www.nature.com/articles/s41467-021-23056-5

News: Solar panels used over canal systems

In recent news, researchers have been studying the idea of installing solar panels over the top of canal systems. In short, this can help reduce evaporation of water, help plant growth and be used as a space for renewable energy. An article published in the Nature journal also argued that the idea of installing solar panels over canal systems outweigh the ecological and financial alternatives of installing them elsewhere; concluding that this method produces 20%-50% more solar power than conventional methods.

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The benefits of Marine Protected Areas

Marine protected areas or no-take zones are areas designated by government where no extractive activity is allowed by law. Such activity includes hunting, fishing, logging, mining and drilling. These zones do not just apply to areas of water on certain oceans but also to bodies of water on land such as certain lakes or rivers. Unfortunately, these zones are often rare as sporting or commercial fishing often make up a large percentage of industry for coastal areas. No-take zones are often used to protect the spawning grounds for different marine life to prevent population extinction and conserve wildlife.

Due to current issues such as overfishing, the surreal amount of plastic in the ocean and decaying coral reefs; the importance of these protected areas are becoming more necessary as we progress through the 21st century. Therefore, it is integral that the benefits of these zones are understood so that we can increase their use and help protect marine life from further degradation.

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One of the major benefits of marine protected areas is obviously the increase in population size for all marine life. With nature allowed to reinstate itself, a healthy ecosystem is allowed to reform for the most part. These pockets of sustainable life help repair an ocean which is currently being riddled with plastic and overfished.

Some may feel that this is a considerable loss for the fishing industry or unfair to isolated fishing villages with no other source of livelihood. However, this is not the case at all. In time, as the population sizes grow in these marine protected areas, spill over occurs where different populations of marine life start to migrate. Therefore, allowing the continued fishing of these different species in the non-protected areas whilst also allowing a sustainable area to thrive.

Currently, only 2.7% of the ocean globally is protected. Protected areas are sporadically increasing however, with areas such as the Great Barrier Reef to smaller areas consisting in and around the United Kingdom. An atlas overview of the different areas can be found here.

In summary, as information on climate change continues to spread, one thing that is certain is that we need to start living more cooperatively with nature because if we continue to progress destructively without thought for other life then this will ultimately be the very thing which stops our progression altogether.

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