What is climate change?
We all hear about global heating and the climate emergency on the news. The world's climate is constantly changing, and in the past it has done so to dramatic extremes, but there is now clear evidence that human activities are contributing to climate change. The problem has to be tackled on a global scale, but there are little actions that we can all take to lessen our impact on the climate and our environment.
Climate change is the catch-all term for the shift in worldwide weather phenomena associated with an increase in global average temperatures. It's real and temperatures have been going up around the world for many decades.
Reliable temperature records began in 1850 and our world is now about one degree celcius hotter than it was in the period between 1850 and 1900 – commonly referred to as the "pre-industrial" average.
The change is even more visible over a shorter time period – compared to average temperatures between 1961 and 1990, 2017 was 0.68 degrees warmer, while 2016 was 0.8 degrees warmer, thanks to an extra boost from the naturally-occurring El Niño weather system.
While this temperature increase is more specifically referred to as global heating, the climate crisis is the term currently favoured by science communicators, as it explicitly includes not only Earth's increasing global average temperature, but also the climate effects caused by this increase.
Global efforts are now focussed on keeping temperatures from increasing more than two degrees above that pre-industrial average, and ideally no more than 1.5 degrees. That goal may still be possible if the international community pulls together.
At our AGM in October 2019, Shropshire Wildlife Trust members agreed the following 6 point plan to help tackle the climate crisis. We will:
1. Declare a climate emergency and biodiversity crisis. Our target is zero carbon by 2030 in relation to the CO2 emissions from fossil fuels in our activities and operations including energy purchases.
2. Ensure that any financial investments divest from companies with fossil fuel interests. This includes the pension scheme for SWT staff.
3. Comprehensively use and vigorously promote biodiversity net gain in all our advice and policies except where irreplaceable habitats are involved such as ancient woods, veteran trees, fens and bogs.
4. Provide sound advice about adaptation for the increasing effects of the rapidly changing climate. Resilient ecological networks are needed where habitats are joined up by green and blue corridors. These need to be extended for species to colonise new areas. Our mantra is ‘More, Bigger, Better, and Joined-up habitats’.
5. Create clear narratives to explain why dealing with both the climate emergency and the biodiversity crisis is critical to our future. Shropshire Wildlife magazine will contain regular articles about the climate emergency and the biodiversity crisis.
6. Report on progress to the AGM and to the Members’ Forum in future years.
What are the global impacts of the climate crisis?
The effects of climate crisis range from more frequent and severe droughts to snowstorms and extreme winter weather in temperate regions as a result of warming Arctic weather fronts.
It's not only humans that are affected. Warming ocean temperatures are increasing the frequency of coral reef bleaching; warmer, drier weather means that forests in some regions are no longer recovering from wildfires and wildlife habitats around the world are becoming less hospitable to animals.
The climate crisis is having economic and socio-political effects, too. Food security is already being impacted in a number of African countries and researchers are studying suggestive links between the changing climate and an increased likelihood of military conflict.
Will it impact us in Shropshire?
In short, yes. Our ability to grow crops to feed a growing population has depended on a relatively stable climate and seasons. Increasingly wet summers and warmer winters make land conditions unfavourable to many of the food types that farmers grow.
In the UK, we also depend heavily on the import of food from all over the world. In parts of Africa and Asia, droughts have become more regular and last longer, so we have to look to import from elsewhere. As the global demand increases, food prices will also increase, so Shropshire consumers are likely to feel the impact of climate change on their wallet as well as availability of a diverse array of food.
The climate crisis and wildlife
The changing climate puts more pressure on land for food, wildlife, recreation and development. Wildlife has adapted to a changing climate in the past but our modern and quickly-changing landscapes present a new challenge to species. There is strong evidence that climate change is already affecting our UK biodiversity with many species occurring further north and at higher altitudes (e.g. the Adonis blue butterfly) than in previous decades. Although a warmer climate will benefit some species, this is likely to be countered by extreme weather events and negative impacts on others.
- High spring rainfall can negatively impact on birds, causing reproductive failures and poor chick condition.
- Droughts can limit the growth rates of many UK trees; this has on occasion resulted in the death of trees, with beech and silver birch being particularly vulnerable. Bird populations can be affected, too, such as thrushes and golden plover, as well as mammals like badgers, moles and hedgehogs, all of which eat invertebrates that favour wetter weather. The same goes for many bat species. Reductions in frog and toad populations are consistent with low summer rainfall, alongside loss of suitable habitats. Because of the dependence of many migratory species on wetland habitats, they would be negatively affected by lower water tables, too.
- Migrant species may be especially vulnerable to changes in the timings of natural events. Migrations are carefully synchronised with food availability to give species the maximum chance of survival and as such the earlier peaks in availability of insects before species arrive at their breeding grounds can have a serious negative impact, whilst other species are arriving too early.
Is there a solution?
Carbon release into the atmosphere is a key factor in climate change. Our day-to-day activities add to carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere, but little steps can make a difference.
What are we doing to combat the crisis?
Our combined land stores 90,000 tonnes of carbon,
• restore damaged and fragmented areas of habitat;
• recreate habitats and natural corridors and stepping stones in the landscape; and
• reconnect these habitats, including linking them to the green space in our cities, towns and villages.
Our nature reserves protect sites that often have an undamaged soil and higher species diversity that other areas. The effects of climate change may change the species composition of these sites but their underlying value as protected 'reservoirs' of wildlife will not diminish and they will remain important sources of biodiversity.
Only by taking a strategic view, and involving local communities, will we be able to secure the survival of wildlife-rich places, and aid nature’s recovery in the face of pressures such as development and climate change.
Take action at home
Climate change is a global issue and can be overwhelming but we need to rally together and take positive action.
There is still time to make a difference and lots of small actions can, together, make a big impact. Here are some ideas:
- Support The Wildlife Trusts' campaign for a Wilder Future
- Tell your MP to speak up in Parliament and take action at a higher level
- Reduce, re-use and recycle – the less you consume, the smaller your carbon footprint
- Be water efficient: use less from the tap, capture more rainfall, and pour less down the drain
- Avoid single-use plastics and choose re-usable alternatives
- Go energy efficient – choose A+++ appliances
- Insulate your home to reduce the amount of time your spend heating it
- Switch to a renewable energy supplier- it is essential that the use of CO2 releasing fossil fuels is reduced
- Reduce the carbon footprint of your food by looking for locally grown/sourced options and eating seasonally-available foods
- Eat less meat and/or make sure it is locally sourced and grass-fed
- Plant a wildlife garden, and grow some of your own food
- Walk, cycle or take public transport instead of driving whenever you can
- Take fewer flights – and particularly short haul flights
- Support the work of Shropshire Wildlife Trust