The rat and the climate change denier. These are, not to put too fine a point on it, the only two groups of living organisms that can cast off the latest report on global warming with anything like a shrug. No evidence will convince the latter group that rising temperatures are caused by man, or present any grave danger. For the former – the various species of Rattus – this amalgamation of 12,000 scientific papers detailing the threats of global warming isn’t bad news at all: rather, they might sniff an opportunity.
The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) warned today that much of the world’s fauna faces an increased risk of extinction, as habitats change on fast-forward setting. There is, as yet, no evidence to suggest that the disappearance of any life-form was caused exclusively by climate change. But for some already-vanished creatures, like the golden toad of Central America, or the Monteverde harlequin frog, it has been cited as a contributing factor in their demise – alongside the kind of species invasion made possible by boats and planes, and other human-led incursions into the natural world.
Thousands more non-human heart-beats will stutter at the IPCC report. A stable sea temperature of 29.2C keeps turtle populations at a 50:50 male to female sex ratio; scientists fear the kind of warming already being witnessed may lead to that balance tilting in favour of the feminine. On top of that, the acidification of oceans threatens to bleach the remaining coral reefs – turning them from carnivals of colour and life to bone-white deserts. A recent report classified 83 per cent of birds and 66 per cent of amphibians as highly vulnerable to a warming environment.
All of which brings us back to the rat. The story of mankind is yoked to these rodents. Wherever we travel, they come too. As reported by Elizabeth Kolbert in her extraordinary The Sixth Extinction (2014), which suggests man is currently causing a mass extinction event to rival any other on the history of the planet, rats are seen by some as humankind’s natural successor. The geologist Jan Zalasiewicz, who spends his professional life looking millions of years into the past, believes their unique survival skills make them best placed to take advantage of the indelible effect man is having on the natural world. In short, we reshuffle the biosphere, and the rat gets a trump hand.
In pictures: Changing climate around the world
In pictures: Changing climate around the world
Calved icebergs from the nearby Twin Glaciers are seen floating on the water in Qaqortoq, Greenland
Oroumieh, one of the biggest saltwater lakes on Earth, has shrunk more than 80 percent to 1,000 square kilometers in the past decade. It shrinks mainly because of climate change, expanded irrigation for surrounding farms and the damming of rivers that feed the body of water
A boat navigates among calved icebergs from the nearby Twin Glaciers in Qaqortoq, Greenland. Boats are a crucial mode of transportation in the country that has few roads. As cities like Miami, New York and other vulnerable spots around the world strategize about how to respond to climate change, many Greenlanders simply do what theyve always done: adapt. 'Were used to change, said Greenlander Pilu Neilsen. 'We learn to adapt to whatever comes. If all the glaciers melt, well just get more land
The Svalbard Global Seed Vault is seen after being inaugurated in Longyearbyen, Norway. The 'doomsday' seed vault built to protect millions of food crops from climate change, wars and natural disasters opened deep within an Arctic mountain in the remote Norwegian archipelago of Svalbard
A technician preparing to drain a vast underground lake at the Tete Rousse glacier on the Mont Blanc Alpine mountain, to avert a potentially disatrous flood. Some 65,000 cubic metres (2.3 million cubic feet) of water have gathered in a cavity, dangerously raising the pressure beneath the mountain, a favourite spot for holiday makers in Saint-Gervais-les-Bains
Cracked mud is picture at sunrise in the dried shores of Lake Gruyere affected by continuous drought near the western Switzerland village of Avry-devant-Pont. A leading climate scientist warned that Europe should take action over increasing drought and floods, stressing that some climate change trends were clear despite variations in predictions
Cattle graze on grassland that remains dry and brown at the height of the rainy season in south of Bakersfield, California. Its third straight year of unprecedented drought, California is experiencing its driest year on record, dating back 119 years, and dating back as far as 500 years, according to some scientists who study tree rings
An aerial view shows tents of flood-displaced people surrounded by water in southern Sehwan town. United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) executive secretary Christiana Figueres met with people displaced by last year's devastating floods. Catastrophic monsoon rains that swept through the country in 2010 and affected some 20 million people, destroyed 1.7 million homes and damaged 5.4 million acres of arable land
An aerial view of flooding in North Wagga Wagga. Climate change is amplifying risks from drought, floods, storm and rising seas, threatening all countries but small island states, poor nations and arid regions in particular, UN experts warned
Damages caused by a landslide on the Pan-American highway near La Moramulca, 55 Km south of Tegucigalpa. International highways have been washed out, villages isolated and thousands of families have lost homes and crops in a region that the United Nations has classified as one of the most affected by climate change
A resident sprays water on a peatland fire in Pekanbaru district in Riau province on Indonesia's Sumatra island. Indonesia, an archipelago of 17,000 islands, is one of the world's biggest carbon emitters because of rampant deforestation. US Secretary of State John Kerry Sunday issued a clarion call for nations to do to more to combat climate change, calling it 'the world's largest weapon of mass destruction'
An excavator clearing a peatland forest area for a palm oil plantations in Trumon subdistrict, Aceh province, on Indonesia's Sumatra island. As Southeast Asia's largest economy grows rapidly, swathes of biodiverse forests across the archipelago of 17,000 islands have been cleared to make way for paper and palm oil plantations, as well as for mining and agriculture. The destruction has ravaged biodiversity, placing animals such as orangutans and Sumatran tigers in danger of extinction, while also leading to the release of vast amounts of climate change-causing carbon dioxide
Stagnant rain water with tannery waste make the Hazaribagh area in Old Dhaka as well as Buriganga River the most polluted. Each year during the seven-month long dry season between October and April the Buriganga River becomes totally stagnant with its upstream region drying up and becoming polluted from toxic waste from city industries
Waste water from Dhaka city drained to the River Buriganga contributes to its pollutions. On the World Water Day observed in 2007 under the theme Coping with Water Scarcity, under the leadership of the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, DrikNEWS explores some of the images of the river. UN-Water has identified coping with water scarcity as part of the strategic issues and priorities requiring joint UN action. The theme highlights the significance of cooperation and importance of an integrated approach to water resource management of water at international, national and local levels
Heavy smog has been lingering in northern and eastern parts of China, disturbing the traffic, worsening air pollution and forcing the closure of schools. China's Environment Ministry said it will send inspection teams to provinces and cities most seriously affected by smog to ensure rules on fighting air pollution are being enforced
It would perhaps be naïve to say that, at this point in time, climate change is the most important impact man is having on the life-expectancies of other species. The surge in our numbers and monoculture farming make a strong case. And though humans will survive a long time yet, the climate-related suffering that will be felt in the near future by, say, Bangladeshis, who are responsible for just 0.3 per cent of global emissions, should urge action. But how about this as an extra incentive to follow the IPCC’s advice on mitigation: unless we change our approach to the natural world, homo sapiens may go down in the fossil record as midwife to the era of the rat.Reuse content