An Introduction to Climate Change
Updated: Dec 13, 2020
The climate is changing. It’s a problem that implicates the long-term weather and physical environmental aspects of given areas, and it’s largely influenced by human behaviour. Excess fuel burning leads to the release of greenhouse gases that trap the sun’s rays in the atmosphere and causes a global increase in temperature. This doesn’t look the same across the world - in polar regions, we have ice sheets melting and breaking into the water, causing sea level rise. In other areas, we have drought. In some areas, we have torrential rains. La Nina and El Nino oscillations are more difficult to predict than ever, with evidence suggesting that climate change has altered their patterns, leading to more severe rains, droughts, and temperature swings.
Many scientists are working incredibly hard but lack media attention, funding, and time to demonstrate their findings. Recently, more than 4 million children around the world took to the streets to protest the lack of action adults have taken on climate change. When teenaged Greta Thurnberg addressed the U.N. back in September, she called out society. Memorably, she said, “We are in the beginning of a mass extinction, and all you can talk about is money and fairy tales of eternal economic growth. How dare you!”
The words hurt, but she’s right. While many of us as individuals may truly care and are doing the best we can - many people linger on the edge -- waiting for more ‘evidence’, even though the evidence is plentiful; or dismiss it entirely. We live in an age of increasing science denialism; it’s unthinkable. But it’s happening.
In 2009, authors at Yale created a study called “Global Warming’s Six Americas” that explored the attitudes surrounding climate change around the U.S. They regularly perform follow-up studies, and updated their primary infographic in 2018, illustrating that 76% of people in the U.S. were either cautious, concerned, or alarmed about global warming. 23% were either disengaged, doubtful, or dismissive, and therefore - least concerned, and least motivated or likely to try and do anything about the problem.
While it’s great that most people are at least somewhat concerned, almost 1 out of 4 people don’t perceive it to be a problem. That’s bad. While most emissions come from large-scale factories, our participation in petitioning the government, attending protests, engaging in ethical consumption where we are able to and changing our behavior when possible are all fundamentally important to mitigating the risks associated with climate change. It’s not a time where we can stay passive - we need to speak up.
As wildlife rehabilitators, we have a responsibility to release our healed and recovered charges into a world that we believe they will survive in.
That world is sort of a mess. With fewer protections for endangered species, decreased fuel-efficiency standards, increased suburban sprawl, and one record-breaking summer after another, we have less evidence than in prior years that their world is going to encourage their survival.
Additionally, climate change may promote the expansion of disease ranges among wildlife, along with tick and mosquito range expansion, and altered migration patterns among wildlife, creating potential that zoonotic diseases will spread beyond their regular scope. Moreover, researchers are scrambling to understand new, emerging infectious diseases - whose effects we do not yet understand. Climate change influences the physical environment as well - changing plant growth, hosting invasive species, and creating environments unsuitable to support native wildlife, leading to population reduction and even extinction.
The topic is broad, and there’s a lot of ground to cover. Stay tuned to learn how climate change involves each of those topics. There’s a lot to discuss.