This is my view of how climate change will affect wildlife – Maina
When world leaders discuss climate change, the picture that is in their minds is of people caught in drought and floods, melting snow and icecaps in the mountain ranges and polar regions, and the polar bear. Well, that is not the worst case scenario. Less obvious wildlife (as compared to the polar bear) will suffer too – and perhaps more than humans.
You see human kind – as a species – will survive this rapid change in climate better than wildlife. Humans, in short, will survive. But some non-human inhabitants of mother Earth will not. It’s a given that wild species of animals and plants survived the beginning and end of the Ice Age, but they did so naturally. The climate change then was not as rapid as the climate change we are witnessing today. We all know the reason why – humans had not invented the steam engine, hadn’t discovered coal and petroleum and industrialisation was not even a seed in the little mind our ancient ancestors.
Now greenhouse gas emissions and an opulent consumerism has renderd the natural systems weak and the pace at which global warming and other climate change factors are progressing is mind boggling – and wildlife cannot keep abreast.
Take the example of trees. In mountain ranges, there is a nice tiered arrangement of different dominant species of plants. From lowland forest trees to upland, bamboo, alpine glades, tundra etc. Two problems arise here. 1) Assuming the vegetation belts can quickly stay at pace with temperature rise, they will push each other up the mountain until they all have nowhere else to go then they go extinct. 2) In reality, they cannot keep up the pace so they will die on the way up.
The great Savannahs of Africa may look indestructible – but they are not. We are increasingly seeing irregular rain patterns which is disrupting vegetation growth resulting in mass deaths of the massive herds of charismatic and much loved large herbivores, and their attending predators iconically represented by lions, cheetah, leopard and the like.
In Kenya recently, prolonged drought – and we can not rule out the effects of climate change as the cause – first killed livestock, then pushed the livestock into wildlife habitats, then killed the wildlife. Now Kenya is – ironically – waiting for El Nino rains to settle in so that it can save people, their livestock and wildlife. But the El Nino could be made more severe by the effects of climate change. So more people, livestock and wildlife will die. Iregi Mwenja, a Kenyan bushmeat researcher posted pictures of the onset of the El Nino rains in Voi today. One of the casualties of the big water was a masai goat that died in the floods.
That is a look on the extreme weather conditions that climate change is making worse. The silent increase in temperature will have the most devastating impact on wildlife as habitats change. According to the BBC:
It is estimated 20-30% of plant and animal species will be at increased extinction if the temperature rises by more than 1.5 – 2.5C. Less snow in winter, warmer temperatures in summer and more winter rain will affect wildlife across the board. Sea level rises will reduce land area in some countries, which will instantly affect vegetation which is currently used for homes and foods by animals.
In Africa, most of traditional dispersal area for wildlife is now occupied by humans as population increases exponentially. When climate change takes full effect, wildlife will attempt to move to these areas and human-wildlife conflict will escallate. The result is that wildlife will be killed. From another perspective, humans, with the effects of climate change on their heels, will invade wildlife protection areas, killing wildlife to create room for themselves, and their ravenous progeny.
Lest you tell me that the earth is man’s home, and we don’t need the wildlife, let me remind you the intricate balance between biological systems, including bacteria! and the physical (rock) earth. The scientific author, Edward O Wilson, in his book “The Future of Life” talks of the earths biological system as a layer of living matter so thin you cannot see it sideways from space but absolutely neccessary for overall integrity of the planet as a whole (including energy flows). So there you have it: Without the biological system, there is no earth. Or in a language that you will understand, without the biological matter of old that became fossilized millenia ago, we would not have oil or coal = no fuel = no cars = no industrialization.
It is time to act. Our first wave of action is no doubt massive adjustment to our consumption patterns in order to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. This, if dully practiced, could slow down climate change. Talk, write, chant, wave placards at or do what you do best, but make your leader act on climate change. Tell them that when they get to Copenhagen on 7-18 December 2009, they have to come up with a climate deal that saves us and wildlife. And go over to TckTckTck and join the more than 2 million ‘planet earthians’ tell the world leaders that you are ready for a climate deal that works.
It is said that climate change is inevitable, but the pace will have to slow down. Climate change has occurred before, but not at this pace. Let us all change the way we live, slow climate change and give the other inhabitants of this planet a chance to take on climate change at their own pace. We cannot make them adapt at our pace…they were not made that way.
Let’s slow climate change. Lets save our wildlife.