polar_bear_credit_joseph_c._filer_and_jason_w._filer
© Joseph C. Filer and Jason W. Filer

Combating Climate Change

Overview

Climate change is the single biggest threat facing our planet today. It affects us all: every person, every plant, every animal and every unique ecosystem.

Climate change is already having devastating effects. Extreme weather events like heat waves, intense storms and prolonged droughts are on the rise, taking scores of lives and causing billions of dollars in damage each year. In addition to the toll on our communities, wildlife and the habitats they depend on are facing new and intensified uncertainty.

Habitats across the world are beginning to shift, shrink, melt and even disappear entirely in the face of warming temperatures, changes to the growing season and periods of prolonged drought followed by intense rainfall and flooding.

The oceans are changing rapidly as well. High temperatures lead to the bleaching of coral reefs, which countless marine species depend on for food and shelter. Warmer waters also force changes in ocean currents are shifting feeding grounds and migration patterns that have been established for centuries. In addition, increased ocean acidification is expected to affect marine life with calcium shells, which threatens entire marine food chains from the tiniest plankton to shellfish, to iconic whales and sea otters.

Nowhere are the effects of a rapidly warming climate more apparent than in the Arctic. Arctic sea ice has been in a steep decline since 2002, and many global climate models to predict the Arctic will be ice free for at least part of the year by the end of the 21st century. The vanishing Arctic sea ice could have devastating effects for wildlife that depend on it like the polar bear, Pacific walrus, bearded, harp, spotted, ribbon and ringed seals, belugas, and several large cetaceans (bowhead, gray, North Pacific Right and killer whales), and seabirds. Permafrost is also beginning to melt causing challenges to wildlife and humans- for example ancient ice-cellars used to keep food cold are now filling with water. The loss of permafrost is doubly concerning because it serves as a massive carbon sink and as it thaws it is re-releasing large amounts of stored carbon back into the atmosphere.

Because of the wide variety and increasing impacts it has on the planet, climate change is the leading threat to wildlife and habitats.