One Million Species Now in Jeopardy Due to Climate Crisis
By Joe Greenwell
Chances are you’ve never seen the Bramble Cay melomys. Now you can’t. Not in person.
This little Australian rodent lived on Bramble Cay off the coast of Papua New Guinea. Its claim to fame? The first mammal to go extinct due to climate change.
The cause? Rising sea levels due to global warming washed it off the map. In 2016, the IUCN added it to the Red List of Threatened Species.
Since then, the impact of climate change has only worsened. The IPBES published its Global Assessment Report in 2019. They found that nearly “1 million species already face extinction” from climate change. They estimate 25% of plant and animal species are under threat.
What Is Climate Change?
Climate change is different from weather and seasonal changes. Weather can differ from day to day, and the seasons bring expected weather changes.
Natural climate changes slow under normal conditions — as in thousands-of-years slow.
Slight changes in the position and distance of the earth to the sun cause these changes. They affect the amount of energy the earth receives. Thus the earth’s temperature changes.
Natural climate change is gradual. It gives nature time to adapt. But climate change endangering one million species? That’s unnatural. It contains a new factor — human activity.
Activities that burn fossil fuels emit carbon dioxide (CO2) and other greenhouse gases. These gases trap the sun’s heat against the earth. They insulate the earth and raise its temperature faster than normal. We call this the greenhouse effect. And it’s bad.
Plastic is a major producer of these greenhouse gases. Making plastic requires burning tons of fossil fuels every year. And burning fossil fuels emit CO2.
Every phase in the lifecycle of plastics pollutes our atmosphere.
● Extracting and refining crude oil and natural gas from the earth
● Molding the resin
● Transporting the finished product
Recycling after use — if recycled at all
A 2019 study in Nature Climate Change shows how much CO2 comes from plastic. In 2015, emissions from plastic created 1.8 billion metric tons of CO2.
That’s hard to fathom. But these emissions are increasing as more industries around the globe rely on plastic.
And carbon emissions aren’t the only issue with plastic. 79% of debris littering our beaches contain plastic.
That is why Ocean Blue Project’s mission is so important. To rid our beaches and waterways of plastic. To save our one world ocean.
What Are the Effects of Climate Change?
The impact of climate change is more complex than rising global temperatures. NASA’s Earth Science Communication Team lists these effects of climate change:
● Longer frost-free season and growing season
● Changed precipitation patterns;
● More droughts and heatwaves
● Stronger hurricanes
● Rising sea levels
● Melting Arctic ice
Think of the wide-ranging impacts these changes have on the planet. Or, just look around.
The drought and forest fires in California. More intense hurricanes and storms. Ocean acidification and coral bleaching. And, of course, rising sea levels and extinction of the Bramble Cay melomys. The effects of climate change are happening. And they will get worse.
How Does Climate Change Impact Species?
We often hear about the impact of climate change on people. Rising sea levels will displace hundreds of millions of people living in coastal regions. Droughts will cause water and food scarcity. More intense storms will cause extreme damage, property loss, and death.
That’s true. But humans are privileged. We can worry about what will happen.
But climate change is harming our species now.
Already, climate change is transforming ecosystems and the species within them.
1. Ecological changes cause migration to other ecosystems
2. Behavioral changes alter breeding times
3. Physiological changes affect egg incubation
4. Genetic changes cause interbreeding and hybridization
These might seem better than what happened to the Bramble Cay melomys. They might seem like adaptation. Actually, they resemble the changes in the Great Barrier Reef. 50% of its coral has died in only three decades.
These aren’t changes. They’re serious disturbances. They offset the food chain and introduce invasive species. They even change carbon sinks — oceans and forests that absorb CO2 — into carbon sources.
Such changes threaten our most vulnerable species first, but ecosystems are delicate. One small change has a ripple effect. And every member suffers.
These changes point to the collapse of entire ecosystems.
What Does “Endangered Species” Mean?
The U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service has a clear definition of what it means to be an endangered species. They say endangered species are ones that could face extinction soon. This could be in a significant part or all of its range. A species is “threatened” when it is at risk of becoming endangered.
In the U.S., a species must meet one of five factors for protection under the Endangered Species Act of 1973:
1. Habitat or range threatened with destruction or change
2. Species exploited for commercial, recreational, scientific, or educational purposes
3. Disease or increase in the number of predators
4. Poor regulations
5. Other natural or unnatural factors affect its existence
Climate change can cause or amplify these factors. And it does.
The most endangered species take the brunt of climate change.
What Are the Most Endangered Species Due to Climate Change?
Scroll through the World Wildlife Federation’s Species Directory. You’ll see many well-known endangered species. Leopards, rhinos, orangutans, gorillas, sea turtles, elephants, tigers, vaquitas, and porpoises.
These are the poster-animals of endangered species. They have been on the list and in the public eye for years. Organizations have taken great pains to save them.
But while climate change plays a role in their endangerment, it’s not always the main culprit.
According to the IUCN Red List, the top six endangered animals in 2020 due to climate change are:
1. European eel
3. Malaysian Giant Turtle
4. Black-and-white Ruffed Lemur
5. Spotted Handfish
6. Common Hamster
Climate change impacts these species through:
2. Habitat shifting and alteration
3. Temperature extremes
4. Storms and flooding
What Are the Most Endangered Species in North America?
For an American audience, these creatures may seem distant. But animals across North America are critically endangered as well.
Since 2018, the IUCN has added eight species to the Red List as in critical danger of extinction:
1. Nassau Grouper
2. Spoon-billed Sandpiper
3. Ivory-billed Woodpecker
4. Akekee (bird)
5. Poweshiek Skipperling (insect)
6. Flying Earwig Hawaiian Damselfly
7. Akikiki (bird)
8. Newell’s Shearwater (bird)
These North American creatures are withering away due to climate change. The time to save them is dwindling, as well.
Please note: I’ve only listed animal species above. But in 2020, the IUCN added 22 species of the Plant Kingdom endemic to North America to the Red List.
How to Check Endangered Species in Your State?
The U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service website allows you to find endangered species in your state.
For example, I learned Oregon has three endangered species no other regions share:
1. Fender’s blue butterfly
2. Taylor’s Checkerspot, or Whulge Checkerspot, butterfly
3. Snake River physa snail
Try searching your state to see which creatures you can help.
What Can You Do to Help?
Every species is important — the polar bear as much as the Bramble Cay melomys. Each creature has an intrinsic value. Each creature deserves our help.
But if that’s not enough, then understand this. A threat to nature is a threat to humanity.
Our oceans and forests are our greatest allies against global warming. How? They act as carbon sinks. They absorb tons of our carbon emissions from our factories, farms, and automobiles.
Cutting down our forests and polluting our oceans cripples their ability to reduce the CO2 in the atmosphere. Meanwhile, we continue to emit more CO2.
That’s double damage.
That means more CO2 in the atmosphere. More greenhouse gases holding in more heat. Higher global temperatures. More casualties of climate change. Less biodiversity.
It’s a vicious cycle that will only continue to speed up. So it’s important to act now.
Here are a few ways you can stand up for our vulnerable species, our planet, and our future:
● LEARN: Subscribe to the Ocean Blue Newsletter and check out 7 Ways To Protect The Ocean
● TEACH: Integrate Blue School K-12 curriculum into your child’s education
● ACT: Decrease your carbon footprint — find apps to help reduce yours
● SHARE: Promote Ocean Blue Environmental Blog posts on social media. That way you can increase awareness among your circle of friends.
● FOLLOW: Ocean Blue Project on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, YouTube, and LinkedIn
Author Bio: Joe Greenwell is a copywriter living in Northeast Ohio. He’s passionate about great literature, and he loves learning. You can spot him with his wife hiking in the Cuyahoga Valley National Park, or on the street pretending to enjoy running.