I have spent some time talking about the impacts of climate change on human populations but what about the animal population? We mostly think of animals in two categories: wildlife and livestock. Rising sea-levels and drought induced food and water shortage can lead to extinction for some species.
With all large scale changes there are going to be winners and losers. In this case the losers will not be able to adapt fast enough to the changing climate to avoid extinction. The winners will be those species that are highly adaptable and can thrive in warm temperatures. The species noted as highly endangered by climate change are Polar Bears. They rely heavily on sea ice for food and safety. Global warming is greatly decreasing the available sea ice forcing polar bears to remain on land with little to no food resources. Polar bears typically leave land and swim between sea ice platforms in search of food. The increasing distance between these sea ice platforms is increasing with the rising temperatures. Swimming farther for food resources puts polar bears in danger of drowning. USGS predicts that by 2050 two-thirds of the polar bear population will have died off. This prediction is backed by data gathered from Hudson Bay. In the last 20 years the ice-free period has increased by an average of 20 days. This may seem like a small change but it cuts the seal hunting season down by 3 weeks. Imagine what missing three weeks of meals would feel like to you. This decreased hunting season has lead to the average bear weight being down by 15% and also decreasing reproduction and cub survival.
Another weather extreme is drought. The lack of available water and increasing temperatures will have severe impacts on the African wildlife populations. Typically animals migrate in the wildlife to areas where food and water are available throughout the year. As these watering holes and rivers dry up so will the food sources. The less adaptable populations that die off first will mean less food for those higher up on the food chain. Thus creating a dying chain. The Kenyan drought beginning around 2009 saw the loss of 40 elephants. Elephants typically migrate to feed their daily need of 52 gallons of water and nearly 600 pounds of grass, leaves, and twigs. Although these African elephants are not in danger of extinction they could be soon as the climate changes.
The earth’s warming is not a lose-lose match for all species. Some will thrive in warmer conditions. Species that are on the opposite end of the spectrum include pests and cold-sensitive, invasive specifies like the Burmese python in Florida.
Many of the animals that I have mentioned are animals we only see when we go to the zoo. We don’t have an attachment to them but they are pretty to look at. How do these same changes impact our food sources? Let’s not forget that America thrives on beef, poultry and pork. As the earth’s temperature rises and drought becomes an everyday and every year norm will the world be able to sustain its current population? These are things we need to think about. Notice I said think about and not panic! We need to plan ahead for these types of events because they will definitely make an appearance. Will the government be able to bailout the cattle industry when drought in Texas slows the production of beef? We have to think farther than increased food prices. We would like to think that we can pay increased food prices but what happens when there just no supply available for purchase? How long can we sustain ourselves without productive planning and action when our main staple items become endangered to extinct?