Wildlife, kids vulnerable to climate change, advocates say

Trout, ducks, sea turtles and alligators stand to lose in a warming North Carolina, the National Wildlife Federation said Wednesday in a report on climate change and wildlife.

The young of those species would be especially affected, North Carolina Wildlife Federation CEO Tim Gestwicki said in releasing the report at the Charlotte Nature Museum.

Young brook trout can’t survive without cold water. Ducks that pass through North Carolina often hatched in the Midwestern prairie “potholes” that dry up in drought. Rising saltwater can kill newly born alligators. Sea turtle eggs incubated at temperatures above 88 degrees are more likely to be female, upsetting gender balances.

“Hunters, anglers and wildlife enthusiasts are out in the field,” Gestwicki said. “We are witnessing with our own eyes changes in wildlife habitats that threaten the places we hunt, fish and observe wildlife.”

The latest National Climate Assessment, released this month, predicted the Southeast will face rising sea levels, warming temperatures, more frequent extreme heat and increased competition for water. Average annual temperatures in the region have risen 2 degrees since 1970, it said.

The wildlife federation and other groups represented at the report’s Charlotte release say stricter limits are needed on emissions of carbon dioxide, the greenhouse gas linked to climate change. Power plants are major emitters.

Children are as likely to be affected by climate change as young wildlife, said Dr. Katherine Shea, a pediatrician from Chapel Hill. Shea has written about the health risks children face from environmental exposures.

“Climate change to me is the elephant in the room,” Shea said.

Children are more vulnerable to heatstroke and electrolyte imbalances than adults, she said.

Their still-developing lungs breathe in proportionately more pollutants such as ozone and airborne particles, leaving them more prone to asthma attacks and permanent lung damage.

More than 58,000 children in the Charlotte region have asthma, said June Blotnick of Clean Air Carolina.

“Our job as parents is to do more than make sure our kids can cross a street safely,” Blotnick said.