When coal, gas and oil are burned, they produce carbon dioxide that builds up in the atmosphere and traps the sun’s heat. Much of this greenhouse gas released today remains in the atmosphere after even 100 years, trapping more and more heat.
Since the mid-1800s, emissions of carbon dioxide have skyrocketed, and subsequently global temperatures have risen by about 1 degree Fahrenheit in the last century. Earth has not experienced such a rapid change in temperature in thousands of years.
Unless we reduce the pollution that causes global warming, temperatures could climb between 2-10 degrees Fahrenheit this century. Such a rapid rise in temperature would fundamentally reshape the planet’s climate, forever changing the landscape and water resources people and wildlife depend upon.
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Wildlife and Global Warming
Global warming is the single most urgent threat to the future of wildlife and the natural systems that sustain both wildlife and people.
The 2007 Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report concluded that up to a third of plant and animal species worldwide are likely to be “committed to extinction” by 2050 if we do not take action to manage climate change. The IPCC is the forum for 2,500 of the world’s preeminent climate scientists representing more than 130 nations, including the United States.
Impacts of global warming on wildlife and wildlife habitats include:
– Major declines and extinctions in trout and salmon as water temperatures exceed their tolerance, and flows are altered by reduced mountain snowpack.
– Massive losses in forest habitats due to pest infestations and catastrophic fires. The number of major fires has quadrupled in the past two decades due to warming and drying of western forests.
– Substantial declines in the wetlands of the “prairie pothole” region of the northern Great Plains, where 50% of North America’s ducks are produced. Global warming is causing the prarie potholes to dry up, which could contribute to up to two-thirds of waterfowl disappearing from the region by the end of the century.
– Sea level rise of up to two feet, threatening people in heavily-populated coastal communities and wildlife-rich coastal habitats. Sport and commercial fisheries along the entire Atlantic seaboard are heavily dependent on coastal wetlands, which could be significantly impacted by sea level rise.
– Continued massive coral bleaching events and die-offs due to increasing water temperatures.