Climate change and biodiversity
We hear much talking about climate change – and we experience changes in our local weather, probably resulting from the global changes. The other actual and global problem, loss of biodiversity, gets less attention, but may be more severe in the future: many organisms – and certainly humans – can adapt to changes and survive maybe, but species getting extinct, are lost forever. It is very difficult to predict the consequences of species disappearing. Ecosystems are so complicated, that we cannot know when they will collapse.
What is the connection between these big problems of our time?
That our climate is changing we can see in many ways, depending on where you live: hotter summers, less rain, or more, rising sea level, melting glaciers, etc. Some of these things can be pleasant, but others are catastrophic now already.
That the hotter climate will cause serious problems in the future is slowly getting into people’s mind. Politicians tried to make rules to limit climate change (Paris Agreement, 2015). On this site you can find information and material for lessons about climate change and the consequences;
Mostr people are much less interested in the fact that biodiversity is diminishing and species are getting extinct as a result of human activity – and that this is an equally serious problem –or maybe more so1. It is better to pay more attention to this problem and to learn why this happens, what the consequences are, and especially what we can do about it.
‘ A century ago only 15% of the surface of the earth was in use for agriculture and animal husbandry. Now more than 77% of the land (excluding Antarctica) and 87% of the oceans is changed by human activities
Between 1993 and 2009 an area of wild nature bigger than India (3.3 square kilometer) disappeared by building houses and factories, agriculture, mining and other processes. In the oceans in fact only in the polar regions you can find areas that are not yet affected by industrial fisheries, pollution and shipping.’
Why biodiversity is so important you can read on this page:
1 That the higher percentage of CO2 in the atmosphere, the cause of climate change, also makes the ocean water more acid is rarely mentioned. but this can have serious consequenses causing extinction of many species, which means diminish the biodiversity.
We have known it already for a long time:
Biodiversity is more important than you think (for us)
The President of the European Commission (2004-2014), José Manuel Barroso, wrote about the relation between Climate Change and Biodiversity in an open letter in connection with the World Food Conference in 2005 in Rome
“So I am convinced that we should raise the profile of biodiversity in tackling climate change and food insecurity, and that we need more high-level attention to this subject “
What is the connection between these problems of our time?
Working for biodiversity is not only important for ethical reasons, but crucial for the entire society to make sure that ecosystems can deliver their products and services to mankind, among them buffering and curbing effects on climate change.
(source: IPBES/7/10/Add.1 )
Climate change and decreasing biodiversity are (partly) caused by the same things,
The climate is changing faster than would be possible from natural causes, mainly through CO2 and methane produced by industry, traffic etc. CO2 dissolves in water making carbonic acid. In more acid water many organisms cannot survive.
Can climate change be the cause of extinctions?
Climate change can cause the decrease of biodiversity when species have no possibility to adapt or migrate to cooler places.(For instance: in the mountains species can migrate to higher, cooler places, but when at the top they cannot go further up.)
Coral reefs dy when the water gets too warm, many species are not able to migrate to cooler seas
Can climate change be caused by decreasing biodiversity?
Deforestation plays a role in the warming up of the climate, it is not clear if there is a connection with the number of species in the forests.
Fighting climate change can be bad for biodiversity
(If done the wrong way) When fast growing trees are being planted on a big scale to fight climate change, and this happens where naturally would be mixed forests with slow growing trees or grassland with lots of flowering species, (like natural prairies) this will harm the biodiversity.
In the mean time there is also good news:
Biodiversity is disappearing nearly everywhere, but in some spots it is preserved in a small scale by activities working for very different purposes, making local recovery possible:
Even in the modern world in which more than half of mankind lives in cities a great diversity of plants and animals can be preserved if people take the right measures:
In urbanized regions the biodiversity can be greater than in the agricultural areas around the city.
Some species in the human environment experience an accelerated evolution making them more poison proof and able to survive in places where others cannot: http://sustainablefootprint.org/how-cities-reshape-the-evolutionary-path-of-urban-wildlife/?
Other species live longer in the city: http://sustainablefootprint.org/do-city-birds-outlive-country-birds/ and/or get smarter:
Nothing new under the sun
Unlike what is often said, the decline of biodiversity caused by humans is nothing new:
But there were never so many people as today and the industrial development has been speeding up enormously during the last two centuries
By the way, even the early agriculture has caused climate change already. Without that influence we would be on our way to the next Ice Age already:
And humans have earlier experienced rising sea levels and learned lessons from it:
Of course you know that during the Ice Age the sea level was much lower than today, you could walk from England to the continent – or more exactlyEngland was part of the continent…
Even longer time ago, possibly 1 million years back from now, ancestors of modern humans could reach the Indonesian islands on foot (not the eastern part of the archipelago). The first inhabitants of the Americas came from north eastern Asia over land to Alaska, probably around 16.000 years ago. (See for instance https://www.britannica.com/topic/Peopling-of-the-Americas-The-20372 . ) From there they could people the western hemisphere.
What is in fact new?
What is new is the fact that extinction and climate change now happen much quicker than usual in geological history. And the fact that we have possibilities to try to slow down the processes.
There have been great extinctions in which many species disappeared in a short period, caused by a global catastrophe like the great meteor hitting the earth some 66 million years ago, killing the dinosaurs and many other species. And during the history of our planet it happens regularly that species disappear and new species appear. Nowadays the extinction happens on a big scale, tens or hundreds times faster than normal – and we hardly see any new species appearing.
Also the global climate getting warmer has happened many times before , but the process would normally happen over tens of thousands or even millions of years, now it happens within one generation.
The question is: what can we do to stop these processes, of anyway make them slow down. Is it still possible?
N.B. This is a very broad theme. Therefore it seems best to split it up in smaller themes, and split up the class in small groups, who can each work on a subtheme. In that case it is necessary to ask each group to make a presentation for the class, so that everybody learns about the connections
- They say: “It is humans’ (our) fault” Is someone, or everyone, guilty?
- Are both problems (climate change and deminishing biodiversity) caused by the same things, the same people?
- Barroso spoke during a conference on food. How can the change of climate be a factor in problems with feeding mankind?
- And how can diminishing biodiversity become a problem for the food supply in the future?
- It is said: “Preserving the biodiversity is necessary for ethical reasons” Why ‘ethical reasons’? In other words: Do we have to protect biodiversity? Do we have to protect species?
- Name three human activities that play a role in climate change – that we should stop or in any case do less.
- And three human activities that play a role in diminishing biodiversity – that we should stop or do less, or differently.
- Are they the same or different activities?
- Extinction of species will maybe be worse in tropical regions. Why is it more dangerous when hot areas get hotter than when areas with a moderate climate get warmer?
- In places with a moderate climate biodiversity can increase when the climate warms up. How come? Is this good news or not? Why?
- In many countries there a laws telling that nature must be compensated when people build houses or roads etc in existing nature. Somewhere else they must “give back to nature” an equal area. Is that a good way to protect biodiversity Why or why niot?
- And finally: what can we do to stop these processes? Of course each of us has only very little influence, but all great changes in human society (like ending slavery and the right to vote for everybody) have started in small groups. And about climate and biodiversity already much is happening all over the world. Find inspiring examples, and get active yourself! Or invent something completely new!