The Effects of Global Warming on Wildlife

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Effects of Global Warming

You probably learned a little bit about global warming from Al Gore’s popular documentary An Inconvenient Truth. And even though some of the evidence presented in his power point presentation has since been discredited, it doesn’t really undermine the fact that we are, in fact, deeply enmeshed in a global warming situation.

It’s not that our planet’s atmosphere is becoming super-heated (as some infer from the term “global warming”). The truth is that the greenhouse gases we spew en masse into the atmosphere have begun to affect our weather patterns, making them more extreme.

So yes, there are going to be times when the temperature climbs higher. Summers may be hotter and last longer. But winter temperatures could also be lower than normal, and rain, snow, and other types of storms (hurricanes, tornadoes, blizzards, etc.), could be longer-lasting, more intense, and occur more frequently; that’s the real result of global warming.

Effects of Global Warming: Polar Bears

But by and large, humans go unaffected by these changes (except maybe those that live along a coastline). The real victims of global warming are wild animals, and they are affected by extreme climate change in a number of ways.

Anyone who watches the Discovery Channel is likely aware of the plight of polar bears. As the summers increase in duration and intensity, the polar ice caps melt away more and more each year. The result is that polar bears lose the habitat they need to raise their young and they must travel farther in search of food. Not only do their hunting grounds decrease in size, but fish that rely on cold water for breeding (like salmon) begin to decline in number.

And these animals are not alone in this bleak fate.

Effects of Global Warming: Desert Wildlife

Wildlife species that live in deserts also face extreme weather conditions year-round, but now that weather patterns are changing, their lives are, too. Most of the wildlife in the Kalahari Desert of Africa, for example, relies on migration to oases throughout the year in order to find the food and water needed to survive in this hostile environment. But extreme rainfall may result in thick mud that makes their ages-old migratory routes impassable. Or extended heat waves may dry up watering holes faster than normal so that many species are left without the water sources they depend on to see them through each leg of their journey.

And in each case, there is not only the potential for animals to die, but also for breeding cycles to be interrupted. When an animal’s habitat is disrupted, it may have trouble conceiving. After all, if animals can’t find enough food or water for themselves, how will they support offspring? And many require specific conditions in which to raise their young, so if a habitat changes dramatically, conception may simply be out of the question.

Global warming is a real problem for all plant and animal species, humans included. We may be able to live with soaring (or plummeting) temperatures thanks to air conditioning and central heating, and we might even go for a good long while after certain crops begin to die. But just because we’re at the top of the food chain doesn’t mean we’re immune to the changes occurring on our planet. Animals may be the ones suffering today, but tomorrow it could be a different story if we don’t take steps to reverse the effect our pollution is having on the climate.

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This guest post is by Evan Fischer, a conservation writer who works with NRDC and other organizations to protect our health and environment against global warming.

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