Sunday, May 26

Cutting off one’s nose to spite one’s face


Polar bear populations depend on sea ice to feed and breed, and today suffer food shortages.

MANKIND’S seeming lack of response to climate change through ignoring scientifically proven data showing that there is a global rise in annual temperature beggars belief. The Paris Climate Agreement (Paris Accord) of 2015 to reduce world temperature increases to 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels was signed by many nations, but some only pay lip service to this and need to meet their promises if plants, animals, fish, insects, birds and, indeed, humans are to survive. Carbon emissions must be seen to decline.

A recent joint study by the University of East Anglia (UK) and James Cook University (Australia) has revealed that 50 per cent of animal species in the world’s most diverse wildlife regions face destruction. This research explained the impact of rising global temperatures on over 80,000 amphibians, birds, mammals, plants, and reptiles.

Grim picture

Should world average temperatures exceed the Paris Accord figure of 2 degrees Celsius, which is the threshold point for hazardous climate change, the Amazon Basin could lose 25 per cent of its species by the end of this century. Twenty-five areas were researched in depth by this joint research project to include Amazonia, Southwest Australia, and a woodland area in South Africa.

These areas were most at risk from global warming. If a worst scenario of a 4.5-degree Celsius rise in temperature occurs by 2100, then all mammals in that part of South Africa would become extinct: Amazonia would lose nearly 70 per cent of its plants, and nearly 90 per cent of Australian amphibians would disappear for good.

Already, erratic downpours of rain could well become the norm in some parts of the world, as we are witnessing at present, whilst in other areas severe drought. An African elephant needs a daily input of 300 litres of water per day and is severely affected by drought conditions. The Sundarban tigers would see 96 per cent of their southern Bangladesh and West Bengal breeding grounds in the Ganges delta submerged by rising sea levels. The latter together with increasing hurricane force winds and storms would also affect marine turtles, whose eggs would be destroyed and warmer sand would see more female than male turtles hatch, thus creating a sexual imbalance in the species together with weaker hatchlings. However, if animal species can migrate and adapt to climate change, their losses could fall to 25 per cent.

Asian and Polar latitude animals

Male orangutans tend to live solitary lives, which allow them to move around when food sources fall. Females, by comparison, are essentially territorial bound, remaining in the same area. Should plant species fall in tropical rainforests, it is highly likely that reproduction rates, which are already low, would cease.

The habitat of snow leopards (a species particularly sensitive to climate change) would shrink by a fifth owing to increasing competition for scarce food resources as other carnivores move into their territories. Polar bear populations in the Hudson Bay area of Canada have already been reduced by 22 per cent in the last few years, as these animals depend on sea ice to feed and breed, and today suffer food shortages.

African lions

Currently, with only an estimated 20,000 wild lions in the whole of that vast continent, 165 million domestic cattle have gradually encroached into the lions’ savannah grassland territories. Human-animal conflicts, apart from poaching, have been relatively low, for the lions tend to occupy tsetse fly infected areas, which herders and ranchers avoid. Tsetse flies can infect cattle with bovine trypanosomiasis, annually killing three million animals and causing 70,000 animal cases of ‘sleeping sickness’.

By 2050, with increasing temperatures, the range of the tsetse fly will increase by a staggering 1.9 square km, thus driving away people and livestock. In other areas, the tsetse fly range is likely to shrink to between 5,000 and 715,000 square km. This will mean that cattle herders will move into new grazing lands currently occupied by some lion prides which, in turn, will lead to greater human-lion conflicts. In some parts of Eastern and Southern Africa this is resolved by capturing lions and releasing them into national parks or animal reserves.

Syrian refugees cross the border of Hungary and Austria on their way to Germany. – Photo by Mstyslav Chernov

Climate change on human migrations

Between 2000 and 2014, countries such as Afghanistan, Iraq, and Pakistan have provided European nations with an annual influx of 357,000 asylum applications. Granted, many of these people are political refugees from war-ridden areas of conflict. However, these exit countries also possess ever-growing extreme climates. Since the previously mentioned dates, when European countries received 13,000 asylum seekers from Somalia and another 12,000 from Nigeria, even more refugees from African countries are daily trying to make perilous and illegal boat trips, usually from the Libyan coast, across the Mediterranean Sea.

Whilst civil strife may promote this movement in search of a better life, there is also the influence of ever-increasing temperatures and droughts on crop failures. In Africa, the optimum temperature for the growth of the staple diet of mealies or maize is 20 degrees Celsius and where this is exceeded people are abandoning agriculture and heading northwards to cooler climes. Such migrants have perceptions of employment in better paid jobs and living conditions. A study of Syria from 2007 to 2010 found a strong link between global warming, which induced drought thus resulting in crop failures, and mass migration. Since 2011 this has been compounded there by civil unrest thus increasing instability.

Most regrettably the ‘Mediterranean mortality rate’ is rising daily as ill-equipped boats capsize or sink. Nations squabble over quotas of refugees and Italy is rightly asking for more financial support from the EU as that country is the first land that these illegal refugees hit. A new focus by EU countries on the impact of global warming may reduce this never-ending flow of migrants.

Wildlife migrations

The mass movements of species of animals, birds, insects and fish is the biggest for 25,000 years during the last Ice Age. Land based species are moving polewards by an average of 17km each decade and marine species by 72km per decade. People in Mediterranean countries are now affected by malaria as the mosquitos move northwards.

The arrival in European countries of ticks spreading Lyme disease has caused a tenfold rise in cases since 2001, as milder winters are becoming increasingly common.

Some crops will need to move to higher, cooler altitudes to survive. Such a crop is coffee. Brazilian coffee output has fallen through crop failure, caused by drought, hence the high coffee prices worldwide. In UK territorial waters, mackerel, once prevalent fish in the English and St George’s Channels, and along the North Sea coast, have migrated further north to Icelandic waters.

Mangroves in Australia have migrated southwards along the eastern coastline and northwards in the southern USA states, thus losing traditional fish nurseries and natural coastal protection in some states.

Certainly ‘citizen science’ can help botanists, zoologists and ornithologists map the changing patterns of shifting species of vegetation, animals and birds. We, too, should be equally worried about the ever increasing human mass migrations on Earth. Unchecked national carbon emissions certainly have contributed to these ever increasing trends.