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At a glance - Can animals and plants adapt to global warming?

Posted on 6 June 2023 by John Mason, BaerbelW

On February 14, 2023 we announced our Rebuttal Update Project. This included an ask for feedback about the added "At a glance" section in the updated basic rebuttal versions. This weekly blog post series highlights this new section of one of the updated basic rebuttal versions and serves as a "bump" for our ask. This week features "Can animals and plants adapt to global warming?". More will follow in the upcoming weeks. Please follow the Further Reading link at the bottom to read the full rebuttal and to join the discussion in the comment thread there.

At a glance

Just like “the climate has changed before”, this is another vague and unsubstantiated talking point. It is essentially meaningless because again it omits details – and details matter. Yes, some plants and animals can adapt – think of invasive plants like Japanese knotweed or annoying pests like rats. They seem to get on just fine under a wide range of conditions.

Other species, however, have evolved to fit into much narrower ecological zones. Think of Alpine plants: in a warming climate they may be able to extend their natural range uphill as the permanent snow-line retreats, but where can they go once they've reached the mountain-top?

On average, species that can migrate are moving some six kilometres polewards a decade, but such movements are not necessarily successful. For example, a butterfly may attempt to extend its range polewards, but if its food-plants do not grow in the territory it migrates to, then its caterpillars will have nothing to eat. Is that a recipe for success? Finally, whilst some species are capable of quickly migrating to places with more favourable physical conditions, others are not. A coral reef cannot simply pack up and move, can it?

We can clearly see how we've also made things more difficult for many species to adapt. One only has to consider the combination of a warming climate, gradually shifting Earth's climatic belts toward the poles and the amount of alterations we've already made to the planet's surface. Species run short of options. They can either interact with us to a far greater extent or they dwindle away until they are gone.

Another unwanted consequence of such changes is the emergence of zoonotic pathogens. These are things like viruses that have evolved to jump from other animal species to humans, bringing an increasing risk of pandemics. These are details that the person saying or writing, "animals and plants can adapt", is omitting from the conversation. Details always matter.

Please use this form to provide feedback about this new "at a glance" section. Read a more technical version via the link below!

Click for Further details

In case you'd like to explore more of our recently updated rebuttals, here are the links to all of them:

Myths with link to rebuttal Short URLs
Ice age predicted in the 1970s
It hasn't warmed since 1998
Antarctica is gaining ice
CRU emails suggest conspiracy
What evidence is there for the hockey stick
CO2 lags temperature
Climate's changed before
It's the sun
Temperature records are unreliable
The greenhouse effect and the 2nd law of thermodynamics
We're heading into an ice age
Positives and negatives of global warming
Global cooling - Is global warming still happening?
How reliable are climate models?
Can animals and plants adapt to global warming?

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