Global warming has been among the most talked about environmental issues today most especially when it has been linked to the devastating intensities of hurricanes Katrina and Rita. Governments all over the world have also been engaging in talks and negotiations to adopt an international agreement that will address the problems posed by global warming. Global warming is said to have a tremendous impact on humans especially because of its economic and health implications but it also poses the same threats to the wildlife. Thus, it has been the objective of this paper to understand what global warming really is and what effects it has especially on the wildlife. In the hope of understanding the issue, global warming is herein discussed together with its impact on wildlife and its probable solutions.
What is Global Warming?
Global warming is the gradual increase of the temperature of the earth’s lower atmosphere as a result of the increase in greenhouse gases (“Global Warming”). Greenhouse gases reabsorb heat reflected from the Earth’s surface trapping the heat in our atmosphere in a naturally occurring process. This process is important for life on Earth because it regulates and maintains a temperature that is suitable to life. However, when increased, these gases become one of the major causes of global warming.
Causes of Global Warming
There are multiple possible causes to the increased concentration of the greenhouse gases, mainly carbon dioxide and methane in the Earth’s atmosphere including periodic changes
in solar output and variations in Earth’s tilt and orbit, but these are poorly understood (Hollander 64).These naturally-occurring cycles are said to contribute to greenhouse gases to build up and prevent additional thermal radiation from leaving the Earth, thereby trapping excess heat. There is however a consensus that what contributed to and aggravated global warming are man made activities including the operation of coal-burning power plants and use of automobiles which become sources of carbon dioxide, methane, nitrous oxide and ozone; the use of air-conditioning units and refrigerators that utilize chlorofluorocarbons; deforestation that creates more heat and increases the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere as trees play a significant role in removing carbon dioxide from the air; increased cattle production such that methane gas is released from animal waste; and the use of fossil fuels as the burning of fossil fuels is considered the largest source of emissions of carbon dioxide, one of the greenhouse gases that allows radiative forcing and contributes to global warming.
Effects on Wildlife
According to the conservation organization WWF, the speed with which global warming occurs is critically important for wildlife, and that the accelerating rates of warming that can be expected in the coming decades are likely to put large numbers of species at risk (“Speed Kills”) .
Increasing global temperature is critical to many animals and plant species because the warming temperature causes change in the timing of the seasons. Scientists found that spring now arrives six to eight days earlier across Europe than in the early 1970s and warmer temperatures have also delayed autumn by an average of three days in the past 30 years (Sample 12). The shift in the timing of the season caused by global warming is affecting plants and animals because some species do no easily adapt to the rate of season changes. For example, migratory birds that winter in Africa but return to Britain to breed are faring badly because they have not adapted to the earlier springs (Sample 12).
Increasing global temperature may also effect change in species especially those that cannot survive in warm regions. Mammals in many parts of the Arctic including polar bears, walrus and caribou are affected by reduced sea ice and warming tundra habitat because of the accelerated melting of glaciers and icecaps due to global warming. Species in the higher latitudes of the northern hemisphere where the warming will be greatest, may also have to migrate but forcing species out of their habitat may possibly lead to their extinction.
Global warming also brings about the warming of the seas which in turn affects sea wildlife. In 1998, for example, the combination of El Niño and global warming triggered the largest mass die-off of tropical corals destroying in some areas more than 70 percent of the reef-building creatures (Warrick AO3). Corals “bleach” when exposed to environmental changes such as increase in ocean surface temperatures and die when the condition persists. This is so because very warm sea temperatures stress corals, causing them to expel symbiotic micro-algae that live in their tissues and provide them with food, thus making the reefs appear bleached (Eilperin AO1). This threatens the oceans’ coral reefs that serve as home to the most productive and diverse ecosystems on earth. Coral reefs provide food and shelter for at least one million species of animals including fishes, plants and microbes, and bring humans food, medicines and tourism income (Warrick AO3)
Fishers are naturally affected due to the destruction of the coral reefs but global warming itself has a direct impact on the fishes. In Alaska, for example, salmon fishes are at risk because of melting permafrost that pours mud into rivers burying the gravel the fish need for spawning (Kluger 28). Warmer waters have also resulted to fishes and other aquatic animals like sea anemones and crabs to shift toward the poles which consequently result to starvation of other animals like sea birds as the abundance of their prey was dramatically reduced in the unusually warm waters (Mathews-Amos & Berntson).
As for the reptiles like turtles, majority of the world’s turtles have environmental sex determination (ESD) through which the incubation temperature of the eggs during the first trimester of development determines the sex of the hatchling (Lovich). Eggs that were incubated 30° C or above produce females while those below 30° C produce males. As such scientists suggest that the rise in global temperature can eliminate the production of male turtle offspring affecting the male- female specie ratio which can possibly result to the turtle’s extinction.
How to Mitigate Global Warming
There are numerous ways to address global warming. Power utilities should improve the energy efficiency of power plants, increase their use of renewable energy sources, and refrain from investing in coal plants and coal mining. Electricity consumers should invest in highly efficient, energy- saving appliances. They can also help in reducing the amount of greenhouse gases that accumulate in the atmosphere by planting trees such that trees absorb carbon dioxide, a greenhouse gas from the air. Policy makers on the other hand should consider passing legislations that will help combat global warming and encourage the development of new and alternative technologies.
It has been established that the effects and the consequences of the increasing heat in the earth’s atmosphere have dangerous implications on the wildlife. As such, it is best that efforts be taken to solve this problem because combating global warming is protecting the wildlife that has been entrusted to be taken care of man.
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