A sea turtle pokes his head above water near Seal Beach in 2017. (Los Angeles Times Staff)

Opinion

Opinion: The real victims of climate change

Many animals have faced habitat loss, food insecurity and extinction as a result of climate change caused by humans.
<a href="https://highschool.latimes.com/author/lucaskim3811/" target="_self">Lucas Kim</a>

Lucas Kim

September 16, 2022
As droughts have become more common, spanning for wider durations in areas like California, Nevada, and Texas, many have also grown frustrated with the rising temperatures that climate change has brought on. Unhealthy air quality made conditions worse for people with asthma and other respiratory health issues. 

These circumstances may seem harsh to us, but they don’t even begin to compare to what some poor souls on Earth have to deal with. 

Rising temperatures are mainly precipitated by the destruction humans have caused to the natural habitats around us and the pollution we have created. This heat not only melt glaciers and ice sheets, eroding and destroying coastal habitats, but has also played a crucial role in the innumerable deaths of animals, ranging from the deep depths of the ocean to the lush tropical forests, once teeming with life.

Innocent, vulnerable creatures from turtles to jaguars are the real victims of the climate crisis. 

Less than half of the Earth’s coral reefs remain, according to Smithsonian Magazine.

With the pH/acidity of our water increasing, as a result of ocean acidification brought on by higher temperatures due to global warming, 91% of the Great Barrier Reef’s coral have undergone bleaching in 2022, according to CNN. Bleaching is a survival mechanism activated by coral in extreme temperatures that generally results in its death if the aforementioned issue persists. 

As environments go out of whack at record-breaking speeds, the Earth moves dangerously closer to a point of no sustainable return. As previously stated, coral reefs have taken a marked hit as a result of staggering CO₂ emission levels. The sea turtles that rely heavily on them as a source of food also face danger as a consequence.

Erosion of beaches from rising sea levels have severely harmed the group, as they are vital environments for turtles to lay eggs; without this land, they can’t reproduce. Moreover, sea turtle genders are dictated by the temperatures at which they hatch. Therefore, with boiling climates, 99% of young sea turtles are female, according to the Washington Post. This creates unsustainable conditions for future generations, according to a 2018 report in the journal Current Biology.  

In more recent years, unprecedented amounts of ice stored in glaciers and ice sheets have melted. Legions of arctic animals depend heavily on this ice for survival; seals bear the brunt of this devastation. They rely on this ice for just about everything from breeding and protecting pups to shedding and taking refuge from predators. If this weren’t enough, hotspots of biological life like the once-prosperous jungles the Earth has known, have deteriorated as of late.

Jaguars have faced similar habitat losses as a result of deforestation and urbanization. With forests growing smaller and smaller, jaguars become more vulnerable to illegal hunting. To make matters worse, many core components of the jaguar’s diet, like certain species of peccary, deer, and armadillo, also face endangerment because of climate change. 

The koala, essential to Australian wildlife, has taken devastating blows, too. Not only does it suffer immensely from deforestation in ways similar to the jaguar, but it is also malnourished from rising temperatures. Koalas have been known to hydrate through the water within leaves and stems, but now struggle to do so, as there appears to be less and less water within these plants each year. The plants that they have depended on for centuries are becoming more difficult to digest, as higher levels of carbon dioxide are also being absorbed.

Countless animals continue to die cruel, undeserved deaths as a result of the climate change that we humans continue to worsen. So as innocent creatures that don’t have any say in this continue to endure irreversible destruction to their precious habitats — what can we do to preserve these sacred spaces and animals within them? 

We can start by not contributing more to the plastic problem, as this plastic is ultimately what gets dumped into the ocean, and the sharp pieces rupture the internal organs of turtles and other creatures that unknowingly ingest them. Properly dispose of trash in garbage cans and recycling bins, and pick up any trash that you come across. Use less air conditioning by covering your windows with blinds or curtains to keep your house cool; turn off lights when unneeded, and unplug any appliance that is not in use. This will help reduce your carbon footprint or the carbon emissions generated solely by your own actions.

Perhaps the most impactful way that we can make a difference is to find alternatives to our dependency on fossil fuels and other activities that release carbon emissions. The emissions get absorbed by our oceans, accelerating its acidification, which creates a multitude of problems within a marine ecosystem as previously mentioned, having drastic consequences on ocean organisms. 

Granted, major change can really only happen when policy and law effectively enforce regulations that are committed to action for a safer and healthier environment. But it goes without saying that each of us still plays a vital role in the fight against global warming. We can help facilitate the transition to clean energy sources by cutting our needs for power.

Rather than relying on electricity from the grid, solar panels are an alternative. Overtime, it will not only reduce the demand for electricity, which is often created through methods that pollute the environment, but also help cut power bill costs as you are now creating your own electricity as opposed to purchasing it from the grid.

If you are able to generate a surplus of electricity through your own renewable sources, you can even make some money. Any electricity that you don’t need can be sent back to the grid, which your energy provider can pay you for at a flat rate.

Alternatively, planting trees or building a garden within your homes combats the damage done by deforestation and urbanization. It works wonders to maintain cool temperatures, filter the atmosphere to clean, safe air, and even doubles as a source of fresh produce. 

Without a fundamental understanding of this topic and its potential to destroy the Earth and the lives of future generations, many people fail to see the need to fight against it and will lack direction on how to do so. Education is essential for enacting change within legislation. Write to your local government officials and demand specific change to certain environmental injustices or propose practical solutions to these.

Here are some articles from the EPA and The United Nations that do a great job at explaining the basics. To volunteer or donate, learn about what organizations like The Environmental Defense Fund, Oceana, and The National Forest Foundation are doing to fight this crisis, and see what you can do to help and encourage others to do the same.