Climate change is here, scientists report, after decades of raising the alarm about the rise of greenhouse gasses.
You’ve likely heard of the many disastrous consequences of climate change for the planet: Glaciers are melting, storms are getting stronger and more frequent, and sea levels are rising. These threaten our very existence and disproportionately impact women and the poor.
But all across the globe, plenty of other changes are happening under the radar, too. These side effects of climate change may not get as much press as polar bears, but they do show just how extensive the climate crisis is beyond what the everyday person might notice — and what we can imagine.
At times wacky, inconvenient, or downright tragic, these side effects of climate change are on their way to becoming our new reality if world leaders don’t get their act together.
1. Lizard Sex Change
Yup, you read that one right.
Despite what some may believe, sex isn’t just a matter of one chromosome and a gender assigned at birth. Scientists have found that for some fish, amphibians, and reptiles, sex can change midway through their lifetimes.
For instance, research has observed curious patterns in the bearded dragon populations in Central Australia. Where temperatures were excessively hot, genetically male bearded dragons experience sex reversal and become female. These new female dragons could mate with male dragons and, in some cases, produce even more eggs than dragons born female.
Scientists have also found that when it gets warmer, baby bearded dragons are more likely to be female. With temperatures rising across the globe, this can cause a population imbalance among these lizards — affecting not just them, but the ecosystem they belong to as well.
The same problem is currently being faced by sea turtles. In places like Florida and Northern Australia, most hatchlings are turning out to be female due to warmer weather.
2. Shrinking Animals
For some mammals, like mountain goats and bison, warmer temperatures don’t bring about sex change; they mean smaller bodies.
Today’s Alpine Chamois mountain goats, for instance, now weigh 25% less than they used to in the 1980s. This is likely due to higher temperatures. With their habitats warming by 4° Celsius (or 7.2° Fahrenheit) over the last three decades, the Chamois no longer need as much flesh to keep themselves warm. They would also prefer to do less foraging in an effort to avoid overheating.
The catch? More extreme winters might cause these same goats to freeze to death.
Another mammal shrinking as a side effect of climate change is bison, the largest mammal in Northern America. Unlike goats, however, their smaller sizes aren’t an adaptation to warming temperatures.
Instead, it’s a result of what they eat: Grasses and other plants, which bison rely on for food, are getting less nutritious because of rising temperatures. Lower levels of protein in their food mean that the great North American bison are likely to be smaller in the decades to come.
3. Less Coffee
Coffee lovers, here’s a side effect of climate change you need to know: Rising temperatures and unpredictable weather are set to limit coffee supply.
Scientists have found that there could be a 50% decrease in areas best suited for coffee farming by 2050. Just last year, Arabica farmers in Brazil suffered record losses due to bad weather that resulted in lower yields. The same can be said for coffee farmers in Colombia, a country second only to Brazil in coffee exports.
But more than potentially higher prices at the grocery or your nearest café, this side effect of climate change is also a threat to the livelihoods of millions of coffee farmers and their families — many of whom live in poor countries.
4. Bad Wine
Another staple at risk as a side effect of climate change is wine.
Wine lovers know that growing grapes is a delicate process, as the crop is highly sensitive to changes in temperature. This is why the same type of grapes grown in the same vineyard by the same group of people might result in great-tasting wine bottles in some years, but not-so-good ones in other years.
With warmer temperatures, however, the way the grapes themselves ripen is also changing. Experts predict that climate change will cause “sweet, raisin-life flavor in grapes.”
Similar to coffee, the places in the world best suited for vineyards are set to decrease by 73% by 2050 because of our changing climate. Plus, these places are also threatened by wildfires. In the past couple of years alone, wildfires have destroyed large swathes of land in wine-producing places like Spain and Napa Valley.
5. Worse Allergies
My fellow allergy sufferers, break out the tissues. Climate change is making pollen seasons longer and more stressful.
Our rapidly warming earth is creating later winters and earlier springs. This means that pollen seasons are 20 days longer than what they were in the ‘90s, with conditions that boost pollen-producing weeds. Moreover, when small particles of air pollution combine with pollen grains, they can turn pollen into even tinier pieces that more easily launch themselves into our respiratory tract.
Already, today’s pollen seasons feature 21% more pollen than they did in the ‘90s. And it’s only bound to get worse: By 2040, scientists estimate that average pollen counts will be double what they were in 2000. This can have a profound impact on respiratory health, particularly for people who have allergies or asthma.
6. More Lightning
Every day, lightning strikes the Earth around 8 million times — a number that is set to rise as a side effect of climate change. According to a 2014 study, each additional 1° Celsius in average temperature can generate an additional 12% more lightning strikes.
Lightning happens when the negative electrical charges building up in a cloud are attracted to the positive electrical charge on the ground. And as the air becomes warmer, it’s able to hold more moisture that, in turn, boosts the chances of lightning striking the Earth.
Though this does raise your chances of actually being struck by lightning, the more worrying bit about this side effect of climate change is that many lightning strikes might hit dry vegetation and start wildfires. With climate change already making droughts worse, this means that not only are grass and trees drying out to become perfect kindling but fighting wildfires would also become even harder.
7. Volcanic Activity
Many of us know that melting glaciers are leading to a massive loss of habitat, the rise of sea levels, and the potential reawakening of ancient bacteria and viruses. But few know that glacial melt is also helping cause more volcanic activity.
Exactly how this happens is still being studied in more detail, but historically, the number of volcanic eruptions had dropped in periods when the Earth’s climate cooled and ice expanded. Conversely, more volcanoes erupted in periods when the Earth’s average temperatures increased.
The working theory is that the massive amounts of ice in glaciers weigh down on the Earth’s surface. When glaciers melt (which they are doing, and very quickly at that), this immense pressure lifts and the flow of magma then shifts underneath the Earth’s crust and causes more volcano eruptions.
And unless we stop global warming soon, we’re going to find out how this theory happens in real life — the hard way.
8. Murky Waters
Melting glaciers and increased rainfall means that more organic matter and sediments are making their way into our oceans. As a result, their waters are becoming murkier.
Though this side effect of climate change doesn’t sound too worrisome at first, it does pose a huge problem for birds and fish, especially those that feed around estuaries and coastal zones.
Murkier waters mean that it’ll be harder for birds and fish to see their prey. This would be a good thing for the prey fish… except that the murkier waters are also letting jellyfish, a mostly sightless predator, thrive because they’re no longer competing as intensely for food.
Overall, it’s hard to tell how (and how much) this change in environment would impact entire ecosystems.
9. Disappearing Places
Climate change isn’t just threatening animals — it’s also rapidly destroying both man-made and natural wonders.
Warmer and more acidic waters are wreaking havoc on the Great Barrier Reef and the Mesoamerican Barrier Reef. Meanwhile, rising sea levels are pushing saltwater into Florida’s Everglades, and heat waves have all but destroyed Lebanon’s Biblical cedar forests.
All these changes brought about by the climate crisis also have an impact on ancient artifacts and structures, many of which were designed by our ancestors for eternity and have indeed survived millennia since.
For instance, rising humidity has led to the rapid deterioration of the Chinchorro mummies, the oldest man-made mummies in the world. Left behind by the Chinchorro, a fishing society that lived in the coastal areas of present-day Peru and Chile, these mummies have lasted an impressive 7,000 years, but are in critical danger today.
As a side effect of climate change, prolonged heat waves, higher temperatures, and intense flooding are also threatening countless tombs, temples, monuments, and palaces in places like Egypt, Greece, and Iraq.
10. Poorer Mental Health
Last but definitely not least on the list of side effects of climate change is poorer mental health.
We often think of climate change and mental health problems as two separate crises. But in a rapidly warming globe, it’s understandable that many of us today are experiencing a range of negative emotions — including fear, tension, distress, and rage — and this is especially true among young people.
In a study published in 2021, researchers surveyed a total of 10,000 people aged 16 to 25 across 10 countries about how they felt about climate change. 3 in 5 felt “very worried” and “extremely worried,” while many associated climate change with sadness, fear, anxiety, anger, and powerlessness. Moreover, 45% of participants expressed that these feelings have a profound impact on their day-to-day lives.
Being “very” or “extremely worried” about the climate crisis is more common in countries like the Philippines (84%), India (68%), and Brazil (67%), where climate change has taken a heavy toll on lives and livelihoods. Among the youth, 65% think that governments are failing young people.
Dealing With the Many Side Effects of Climate Change
We can reuse, reduce, recycle and buy “green” all we want, but the fact of the matter is that saving our planet from the climate crisis is largely out of our hands — it’s in the hands of world leaders. The same leaders who have gathered in 27 UN Climate Change Conferences (the latest of which was attended by over 600 oil and gas lobbyists), but have failed to meet the goals they set for themselves.