|Voice of the Jaabc Editors|
The Effects of Global Warming On Plants, Animals, and the Ecosystem
Recently, I came across a photograph by certain Mr. Dean Whyte with the caption: London 2023: City under Water. The implication was that due to global warming London would be submerged under water by the year 2023. The same photo was depicting the royal palace in water with two mounted horsemen riding over it. Somehow the picture sparked my imagination to search further the apocalypse of climate change portentously signifying the advent of a far-flung calamity surpassing that of the Black Death.
Fortunately, I found out that the question of global warming is still being hotly debated. Those who believe in global warming phenomenon, however, outnumber those who think the whole thing is a hoax to sell “green products” --another marketing ploy par excellence. The proponents maintain that there is little doubt left that climate change is real, and global warming effects are taking place around the planet and are fast becoming all too obvious to ignore. It would be easier to shelf the warning as a “hoax” and bury our heads in the sand. Naturally, it would be better to error on the safe side and to begin taking measures to protect plants, animals, and the ecosystems from the impending disasters. The preponderance of opinion, scientific and lay alike, maintains that global warming effects are leaving their mark on the planet as a whole, as well as on every plant, animal and ecosystem in various ways.
To avoid sheer speculation, let us discuss the most obvious effects of global warming on our environment. Let me summarize what I have so far found about this nightmarish forthcoming event: For global warming effects on climate, the global climate is likely to undergo the greatest increase in the temperature to occur over the polar region of Northern Hemisphere due to melting of sea ice and associated reduction in surface albedo (the light reflected by planet). There will be greater warming over lands than over the oceans.
Changes in climate patterns would usher in floods, droughts, heat waves, extreme winter cold and snow fall, tornadoes, extreme storms, tropical cyclones, hurricanes, and typhoons. Scientific evidence seems to support the statement that global warming is a major cause of change at work.
The global warming effect on the sea level predicts further increases are expected due to the melting of ice cover including Greenland and Antarctica. Complete melting of Greenland ice sheet would be caused by only an additional 2 degrees centigrade and would cause global sea level to rise by 5 to 6 meters.
The event would submerge a substantial number of islands and lowland regions. Among other regions, U.S. Gulf Coast and Eastern Seaboard (including the lower third of Florida), much of the Netherlands and Belgium, heavily populated tropical areas like Bangladesh, including world’s major cities such as Tokyo, New York, Mumbai, Shanghai, Dhaka will become the Venice of the future (covered by water). Those countries that are situated on high plateaus such as Iran, Turkey, Armenia, Afghanistan, etc. would not be affected by changes in sea level.
There is a real apprehension among some small island inhabitants that their lands may totally disappear under water because of rising sea levels caused by global warming. For instance, the government of the Maldives (an archipelago of almost 1,200 coral islands located in the Indian Ocean with most islands lying just 1.5 meters above the sea level) is contemplating the purchase of land elsewhere in the world for the relocation of its nation. The fear stems from the fact that these islands will be totally flooded by rising sea levels. As a sign of things to come, the tropical nation of the 33-island republic of Kiribati in the Pacific Ocean, with its 100,000 inhabitants, is vanishing due to rising seas. The country is fast becoming uninhabitable. The UN Environmental Program has reported that 40 percent of the world’s population lives in coastal areas less than 60 km from the shore.
Global warming effects on terrestrial ecosystem and habitats pose great dangers on forests and mountains. For instance, warmer climate encourages the growth of pests which destroy forests in unprecedented numbers. Pine beetle infestation of forests in British Columbia, Canada, which would have killed fifty percent of the pines within a few years of attack. Science is establishing a sound relationship between global warming and wildfires which contribute immensely to the greenhouse effect. Amazon, humanity’s lungs, is the biggest remaining tropical rainforest on the planet. By mid-century, increases in temperature and associated deceases in soil and water are projected to lead to gradual replacement of tropical forests by savanna in eastern Amazonia.
The global warming effects have also been noted on mountains. Mountains cover roughly 25 percent of the Earth’s surface and provide habitat for plants, animals, and people inhabiting these areas. It has been reported that rising global temperatures on rich biodiversity of tropical rainforests and other animal ecosystems are at an extremely high risk of disappearance. At danger of extinction are anywhere from 20 to 30 percent of species are highly at risk of extinction should the average warming exceed 1.5 to 2.5 degrees centigrade. If the temperature increase were to exceed 3.5 degrees centigrade, projections of extinction would rise to 40 to 70 percent of species around the globe.
Scientists have begun to witness many seasonal processes also affected by global warming. Here is a short list of the changes: earlier leaf production by trees (I personally noticed that on the trees in my orchard), earlier greening of vegetation, changed timing of egg-laying and hatching, changes in migration patterns of birds, fish and other animals, and reductions and re-distributions on populations of algae and plankton which threatens the existence of fish and other animals that heavily rely on algae and plankton for stable food.
Finally, let us briefly discuss the global warming effects on the Homo sapiens who are the top banana at the food chain and who are the prime culprit as changers of the physical appearance of the Earth.
In view of the most important areas from the standpoint of well-being, humans will be affected in terms of shortage of water supplies, food supplies, and human health. Water makes up 70 percent of the human body’s chemical composition. It is, therefore, a vital resource. Contrary to expectations that because of melting of ice, the dry areas of the world will get even drier and will suffer severe droughts, especially southern Africa, Middle East, Western North America, and Western Australia.
Agricultural food production will be further affected by extreme weather events such as droughts and floods. The warming of oceans will have a negative impact on commercial fisheries. Famine will increase around the globe due to shortage of food.
The water quality will also be negatively affected by heavy precipitation events which may contaminate drinking water supplies. Stagnant water pools will harbor all sorts of virus and bacteria harboring insects which eventually weaken the health of the human system around the globe. We have already seen an example of the damage caused by a heat-wave that hit Europe in 2003, claiming 35, 000 deaths. Floods, tropical cyclones, and other extreme events will be another major cause of human deaths.
Of all the debilitating effects of global warming is the expectation of infectious diseases to rise. It is a well-known fact that disease-carrying insects breed prodigiously in wet hot conditions, especially in tropical countries. Millions of people will suffer from malnutrition on account of shortages in food supply. This, in turn, will lead to weakened immune systems and general health deterioration of humans.
In sum, the human condition will deteriorate with the global warming effects. To survive under austere conditions, humans will resort to violence such as killing and war. Many people are not aware of the fact that it was global warming effects that lie at the very heart of the well-known, little understood, tragic ethnic conflict in Darfur, Sudan. The conflict that began in 2003 was preceded by decades of drought, desertification, and overpopulation in this African nation. This sad situation forced camel-herding nomads from the Arab Baggara tribes searching for water for their livestock to travel south, which was heavily populated by non-Arab farming communities. The fight ensued for scarce resources the country could provide its people. Violence erupted and many people perished.
This shows that global warming will affect every aspect of life on Earth and that we should be prepared to counter its negative effects on plants, animals, and humans because without these entities the Earth would be a dreary place just like the planet Mars.
Z. S. Demirdjian, Ph.D.
Senior Review Editor
California State University, Long Beach, CA