This year marks a decade since Al Gore’s An Inconvenient Truth was published. Ten years later, evidence of global warning is ubiquitous. You may have seen that tragic photo online of a skinny polar bear sitting on a tiny chunk of ice where there used to be an entire frozen land mass — and that’s just the tip of the proverbial global warming iceberg. Far from just being a human problem, global warming’s effects on animals will be equally — if not far more — devastating.
According to National Geographic, animals will need to change their lives to adapt to severe climate changes. One example is that birds have been migrating, breeding, and nesting earlier because warmer temperatures bring spring sooner. The most adaptable animals will be the ones to survive. (Versatile beings include weeds, pests, and invasive species like the Burmese python in Florida.) We risk losing animals that feed on specific foods and live in highly specific regions. For instance, koalas mostly eat eucalyptus, and will have little chance of survival in severe climate change. Vegetation and animals that live on secluded mountaintops are also in danger.
Harbingers of global warming on land include foxes moving north, reindeer migrating from their normal habitat, marmots ending their hibernation three weeks earlier than they did thirty years ago, and fish heading north for cooler water. In one study, 1,200 out of 1,500 observed species exhibited reactions to global warming.
The New England Aquarium says sea turtles, right whales, penguins, seals, lobsters, and cod are greatly affected by the warmer ocean temperatures.
Six species of turtles are endangered due to the temperature of the ocean affecting their egg incubation, the eroded beach reducing their nesting area and leaving them vulnerable to humans and egg-stealing animals, and warmer water making it more likely that the hatchlings will be female so the gender ratio is skewed. Sea turtles have survived 100 million years throughout ice ages, extreme sea level variations, and significant continent changes. Hopefully they will be able to adapt to global warming, too.
Turtle feeding is more difficult as the sea grass beds shrink. The turtles feed on coral reef, and the bleaching of coral is creating a drastic food shortage. Bleaching occurs when corals expel their algae because of the stress of warmer water. There are 130 species of corallivorous fishes that depend on coral for nutrients.
Similarly, right whales are losing food sources. They eat animals and very small plants that are affected by higher ocean temperatures, winds, and currents.
Penguins in Antarctica are trying to survive with forty percent less sea ice than they enjoyed twenty-five years ago. Projections show that in forty years the Southern Ocean’s emperor penguins may decrease by fifty percent and the Adelie Penguins could suffer a 75 percent loss. A World Wildlife Foundation report shows that emperor penguins have already been reduced by fifty percent. The Adelie Penguins are down sixty-five percent.
Those fuzzy white harp seal pups we often see photos of are being drowned and crushed as the “good” ice melts. The optimal ice for them is twelve to twenty-eight inches thick and covering sixty to ninety percent of the water. Their moms leave them on land while they join the males in the water to mate. The statistics are staggering and horrifying. In 2007 over seventy-five percent of the pups died. In 2010 hardly any lived.
The Arctic cod population has declined markedly, causing the polar bears and narwhals (a type of whale) to seek other food. Plant cycles have changed because of the warming, too. The summer bloom of marine plants under the sea is diminished and the cods have less to eat. When the cods don’t have enough food, the animals above them on the food chain also have a food shortage. Polar bears, whales, seals, salmon, Greenland halibut, and Arctic char all eat cod.
Speaking of polar bears, in Canada the ice is melting earlier in the spring and forming later in the autumn. That change affects the polar bears’ hunting season, when they dive into the ocean from the sea ice to catch seals and fish. They are now unable to eat enough to store energy for the warm season. Pregnant and nursing mothers can’t provide enough nutrients to their babies, so an increase of cub deaths has been observed.
Lobsters are now migrating north to colder water. They crawl along the ocean floor, where bacteria attacks them to eat their nutrition-dense shells (which the lobsters need for protection). Acidification in the water makes shell growing more challenging, as well. Evidence of the lobster migration is that the New York and Connecticut lobster industry has declined while fisherman in northern New England and Canada are experiencing a lobster boon from the population shift.
According to The World Wildlife Fund, the first land victims of global warning are pikas (adorable, little mammals in the rabbit family). They live on high mountains and do not travel much. Their fur is thick, but they don’t burrow in the ground to cool themselves. They are now highly stressed because of the heat and the change in vegetation.
People cause global warming, and it’s up to us to stop it before more animals go extinct—including humans. Here are some ways to halt the dangerous downward warming spiral: Spread awareness, because everyone needs to participate in saving the planet! Also contact government officials about supporting environmental protection legislation. Go solar or use wind energy by finding a utility company that employs those energy alternatives. Seal your home so heat and cold don’t seep in during their seasons, and buy appliances that don’t produce carbon dioxide—energy efficiency is key to reducing pollution. Don’t waste food, and eat less meat, which is a major contributor to climate change. Purchase those new energy saving light bulbs. Make your next car a hybrid or electric automobile — better yet, walk, bike or take public transportation. Research carbon offset companies to find the company that is best for the environment.
There’s only one Earth. We need to reverse this warming trend before we completely destroy the planet and all of its inhabitants.