CLIMATE CHANGE & BIODIVERSITY LOSS: A DOUBLE CRISIS
Why do wildlife protectionists care about climate change?
Global temperatures have been rising for over a century, speeding up in the last few years, and are now the highest on record. We release carbon dioxide into the atmosphere by farming, destroying forests and burning fossil fuels for energy.
These carbon emissions are causing the greenhouse effect, trapping heat and making the earth warmer, much faster than could happen naturally. If current rates of warming continue, by 2030 average global temperatures are likely to increase by more than 1.5°C (2.7°F) compared to before the industrial revolution.
Hundreds of wild animals have become extinct since 1500, and a further 1 million species are thought to be at risk in the coming decades.
We are on the brink of the sixth mass extinction – and this one will be entirely our doing.
Driven by human economic activities and population increase – land use change, farming, unsustainable exploitation and killing – biodiversity decline has profound consequences for people and the ecosystems on which we depend.
Although climate change is gaining traction in the media and public consciousness, the threat of biodiversity loss is not widely understood.
The climate and biodiversity crises are interlinked, and they must be tackled together.
What are the impacts of climate change on nature?
In a human-dominated world, nature is already struggling to cling on. The rapid and devastating effects of climate change are further battering the world’s wildlife.
There are signs that rising temperatures are affecting biodiversity, while changing rainfall patterns, extreme weather events, and ocean acidification are piling on the pressure.
Wildlife is also suffering from an increase in the intensity and frequency of fires, storms and droughts, and ecosystems risk becoming altered over longer periods, affecting what can grow and live within them. Rising temperatures in the oceans affect marine organisms; corals are particularly vulnerable and ocean acidification bleaches them.
To survive, plants and animals confronted with such challenges need to adapt within their environment, but the rapidity of these climatic changes means they cannot adapt quickly enough. Some animals can move to new locations to reduce the risk of local extinction.
However, most plants, amphibians and reptiles cannot move quickly enough to keep up with these climatic changes. Even those species who can move, by modifying their ranges, are hindered from doing so because so little natural space remain for them to move through or into. In trying to move and adapt they may come into contact with people, and end up being persecuted.
If unchecked, the negative effects of our activities on nature and the climate could lead to the loss of almost 50% of species from the world’s most important natural areas, such as the Amazon and the Galapagos, where species could face local extinction by the turn of the century.
NATURE CAN HELP ADDRESS THE CLIMATE & ECOLOGICAL CRISES
All species have a role to play in their ecosystem, no matter how small or large they are, how long they live for, or what they eat. Carnivores keep herbivores in check, herbivores do the same with vegetation. Insects, mammals and birds pollinate trees and plants. Ecosystems are intricate and complex, and yet in perfect balance.
If ecosystems lose key species, or if they lose too much variety of living things, they cannot properly function. The loss of biodiversity – both in terms of wild animals and plants – as a result of unrelenting human pressures undermines the ability of ecosystems to provide their ‘ecosystem services’ – clean air, water, energy, food, materials, a regulated climate – that our societies are built upon and that we all rely on to survive on a daily basis.
These pressures, such as logging, unsustainable extraction and land conversion, are damaging nature’s ability to regulate greenhouse gases in the atmosphere and protect us against extreme weather impacts. This then further accelerates climate change and increases vulnerability to it.
On the flipside, thriving ecosystems have the capacity to help reduce the impacts of climate change. Natural habitats play an important role in regulating climate and can help to absorb and store carbon.
Mangroves and seagrasses are significant sinks for carbon – at the same time they protect coastlines from storm surges and erosion. Similarly, tropical forests are incredibly biodiverse, and store huge amounts of carbon while they help regulate local and global weather patterns, ensuring millions of people get the water they need to safeguard their livelihoods and survive.
Safeguarding these natural carbon sinks from further damage is an important part of limiting climate change. In this way, nature is an untapped solution.
Tropical forests can provide at least a third of the mitigation action needed to prevent the worst climate change scenarios. Conserving ecosystems is often more cost-effective than human-made interventions.
What is Born Free doing?
As a wildlife conservation charity, Born Free recognises these links. As an organisation based in the global north, we also appreciate the responsibility we have, as an organisation and as individuals, to do all we can to minimise any negative effects of our operations.
Born Free addresses the effects of the climate and ecological crises throughout our work, considering and mitigating the impacts on people, wildlife and habitats. Furthermore, we accept the role of communicating the overarching benefits of our wildlife conservation and protection work to a wider public.
Please refer to the sections below for further information on the issues identified across the regions in which we work, and the activities being carried out by Born Free to address them. You will also find some ideas below on how you – as an individual – can help.
BE PROACTIVE! SIMPLE ACTIONS YOU CAN TAKE
We need to cut man-made greenhouse gas emissions drastically, phase out fossil fuels and move to renewable energy. We need to use less energy and be more efficient in the energy that we do use, and we need to tackle deforestation, protect our precious wildlife, and eat less meat.
YOU can ‘Take Action’! We have compiled a list of things you can do, that can have an effect locally and globally, to help mitigate the impacts of the double crisis of climate change and biodiversity loss.
- Get informed – learn the facts (avoid the lies!) – see our links to resources and articles below
- Talk, talk, talk – inform others, tell them why this matters to you and should matter to them
- Consider your consumer choices – every choice matters: travel, food, shopping, home/utilities, recycling, etc. Avoid fast fashion, buy your groceries locally and switch to a renewable energy supplier. Try to minimise waste, including food, and also try keeping clothes and household devices for longer before replacing them. Walk and cycle more, drive less – it’s better for you too! Flying less and eating less meat are two of the most impactful changes that you can make, as a consumer
- Write to corporations – e.g., banks, supermarkets, energy suppliers and demand change
- Move your money – choose banks and pension schemes that have divested from fossil fuels
- Get involved in your local area to protect and restore wild areas and nature – more green spaces, native wildlife, wildlife friendly gardens and verges, etc.
- Write to your MP – identify local matters that interest you to urge our elected policymakers to do more to reduce emissions, and protect nature and wildlife
- Help protect yourself and your family from changing climate – e.g., encourage grass/plants rather than paving in the garden; let climbers grow up your walls; consider installing a heat pump in your home for carbon-neutral heating
- Get off the grid – consider installing solar panels on your home: not only will you be powering your home with renewable energy, but you will be avoiding the price hikes of soaring fossil fuel energy sources
- Consider taking direct action – link up with local groups, e.g., Friends of the Earth, Greenpeace, Extinction Rebellion, and consider joining non-violent protests.
Dr Nikki Tagg, Born Free's Head of Conservation
Society, in general, seems to have lost its connection to nature. Landscapes, wildlife and natural phenomena used to be inherent in people’s cultures, their learning and understanding, even their stories and languages. Today, so many people seem to strive for a different kind of wealth, for money, power, the latest and the best. Somehow, success in life has often come to mean having more, doing more, taking more. We forget that all these so-called riches depend on – and frequently degrade – the natural world within which we exist.