The deadly and damaging effects of climate change are already being felt around the world in ways many people do not recognise, some of Australia’s top environment experts have revealed.
This week, Queensland scientists confirmed this year’s mass coral bleaching has resulted in the largest die-off of corals ever recorded, while a report warned that “megafires” in Australia will become increasingly common as the globe heats up.
Some experts even attributed a freak “thunderstorm asthma” event in Melbourne, which killed eight people, to climate change.
Around the world, bee populations across Europe declined, Israel experienced one of its worst bushfires and Siberia suffered an anthrax outbreak.
We asked experts to explain the serious consequences of some seemingly small changes to the environment.
A steadily warming climate, combined with habitat loss and the increased use of pesticides, is causing bee populations to collapse at an alarming rate.
There are over 20,000 known species of bees, many of which are not just crucial pollinators for wild plants but for the agriculture industry as well.
In Australia, it is estimated that around 65 per cent of agricultural production is dependent on pollination by European honeybees.
According to a 2015 study by Nature, rising temperatures near the southern parts of Europe and North America is causing the natural range of some bumblebee species to move north by as much as 300 km.
The World Health Organisation (WHO) predicts the transmission of infectious diseases is “a likely major consequence of climate change”.
Dr Peng Bi, and epidemiology and population health expert from the University of Adelaide, told The New Daily a warmer and more humid climate provided the ideal breeding conditions for mosquitoes, which can carry diseases such as malaria and dengue fever.
“A lot of issues we are being challenged at in terms of population health due to climate change.”
We are also seeing the re-emergence of diseases such as anthrax in Siberia, where thawing permafrost exposed anthrax-infected reindeer carcasses spread to the nomadic peoples who inhabit that region.
Food security failures could lead to war
Climate warming is making extreme drought conditions more common and as a result is having severe effects on crop yields, threatening global food security.
Professor Tim Flannery, the Climate Council’s chief councillor, says the quality and seasonality of crops are “increasingly being affected by climate change with Australia’s future food security under threat”.
“Australia’s food supply chain is highly exposed to disruption from increasing extreme weather events driven by climate change, with farmers already struggling to cope with more frequent and intense droughts and changing weather patterns,” he told The New Daily.
A United Nations report forecast that by 2050, the world may not be able to produce enough food for its growing population, which could lead to an increase in civil unrest, war and terrorism.
Ocean acidification is proving to be a major challenge for the fishing industry, with the potential to decimate shellfish populations.
In the US alone, about half of the $35 billion seafood industry hinges on sales of shellfish such as mussels and oysters.
Increased carbon dioxide (CO2) levels from a warming climate is causing oceans to become more acidic – as more atmospheric CO2 is absorbed by the world’s oceans, the pH level of seawater drops to make it more acidic.
This is bad for shellfish because it makes it harder for the organisms to grow and maintain their shells.
The Climate Council published a 2015 report that explained how climate change was causing natural disaster events such as bushfires and heatwaves to become “hotter, longer and more frequent”.
Mr Flannery explained that “record hot days have doubled in Australia in the last 50 years and 2016 is likely to be the hottest year on record globally for the third year in a row”.
“These longer, hotter and more intense heatwaves and more frequent and severe heatwaves are in turn driving up the likelihood of very high bushfire risk, particularly in southeast and southwest Australia,” Mr Flannery said.