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Climate Change and Its Effect on Ecosystems
Overview
As previously stated, one of the most misunderstood aspects of climate change
is not the rise in air temperature by a few degrees—it is the sheer havoc that
those few degreeswill wreak not only on human society, but on the natural
environment. One aspect of human nature is that if something is not directly
affecting us, it probably will not make a lasting impression. For instance, con-
sider this: Every time something upsets the balance in the Middle East and the
price of gas skyrockets at the pumps as a result, people complain and drive
less. They might put their SUVs up for sale, seriously consider buying a hybrid
and adopting a greener lifestyle, and talk about the environment and recy-
cling. Then, right after the prices fall again at the pump, people get comfort-
able in their “business as usualways and that is the end of it until the next
panic at the pumps. What percentage of the general public do you suppose
really takes it seriously and follows through for the environment?
If we had to trade places with someone or something that had to live with
the permanent consequences of climate change every day, perhaps that would
generate the interest and dedication necessary to make real and permanent
changes. Knowledge is power, and that is the purpose of this chapter: to pro-
vide a basic, fundamental understanding of exactly how climate change is
currently affecting—and will affect—the earths varied ecosystems.
This chapter will discuss six unique ecosystems and the effect that climate
change is currently having, what will happen as temperatures continue to rise,
and what the future will look like for the inhabitants of these areas. First it will
take a look at the worlds forests—the temperate, boreal (northern), and tropical—
so that you can get an idea of the destruction affecting these areas. Next it will
focus on the worlds grasslands and prairies. Following that, we will focus on the
earths most fragile ecosystemthe polar areas. Much of these areas are already
feeling the disastrous effects of the warming temperatures. From there, we will
travel to the worlds great deserts, then to mountain areas, and nally to the
diverse aquatic regions—lakes, oceans, and coastal areas—where many of the
worlds most heavily populated urban areas are located, so that you will see why
the problem is much more than just a few-degree rise in temperature.

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