Climate Change

9 unexpected side effects of climate change

The side effects of climate change are getting weirder.

From lightning strikes to louder frogs, climate change is making its mark on the natural world. Image: Unsplash/Yoav Aziz

Ian Shine
Senior Writer, Forum Agenda
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Climate Change

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This article was originally published on 22 December 2022. It was updated on 15 May 2023 and 8 November 2023.

  • Climate change is having some unusual effects around the world.
  • It is impacting everything from the sex and size of animals to the state of wine and coffee crops.
  • It’s also making flights a lot bumpier and lightning strikes more frequent.

Sex-changing lizards, shrinking goats and the worsening quality of wine were not top of the agenda at COP27, but as the consequences of climate change become more severe, we’re likely to see some unusual effects.

Consequences of climate change

Here are nine unexpected things that climate change is doing to our world:

Rising temperatures due to climate change are having some unexpected side effects.
Rising temperatures due to climate change are having some unexpected side effects. Image: US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration

1. Sex-changing lizards

The bearded dragon is a lizard that is native to Australia. As with some other reptiles, the sex of its embryos is affected by temperature. When it gets warmer, bearded dragon babies are more likely to be female, reports Smithsonian Magazine.

Eggs with male sex chromosomes end up developing as female if incubated in a nest at a temperature of 32°C or higher, says UK newspaper The Guardian.

Bearded dragon babies are more likely to be female due to climate change.
Bearded dragon babies are more likely to be female due to climate change. Image: Peter Jung/PublicDomainPictures.net

This is creating concern among scientists that the males could become increasingly rare as temperatures keep rising, leaving the entire species at risk of extinction. So-called temperature-dependent sex determination also effects all crocodiles, most turtles and many fish.

2. Shrinking goats

Warmer temperatures don’t make male goats become female, but they are making goats living in the Italian Alps smaller. The Alpine Chamois mountain goat now weighs an average of 25% less than in the 1980s, reports Science Daily.

Warm-blooded animals may lose body weight because higher temperatures mean they no longer need as much flesh to keep them warm, Bloomberg notes.

Why does this matter? It could have an impact on other natural systems, as smaller goats will need less food, and they could in general spend more time resting and less time foraging to try and avoid overheating, National Geographic points out. Goat populations may also change, as lighter goats are more likely to freeze to death in cold winters.

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3. Worse wine

Any wine lover knows that grapes are highly sensitive to temperature changes. They can rot or fail to ripen if the conditions aren’t right, and this is why bottles from some years taste better – and are more highly valued – than production from other years.

Wildfires have already destroyed vineyards in areas from Spain to California’s famous Napa Valley. But even when the grapes survive the heat, the way they taste is changing. “Wine quality … boils down to achieving balance between three broad aspects of berries: sugar, acid and secondary compounds,” a BBC report says. “At warmer temperatures, ripening is supercharged, leading to sweet, raisin-like flavour in grapes.”

Climate change means there could even be a 73% reduction in worldwide areas suitable for growing wine by 2050
Climate change means there could even be a 73% reduction in worldwide areas suitable for growing wine by 2050 Image: US Environmental Protection Agency

This can also increase the alcohol content of the resulting wine, leading to a burning taste and reducing the subtlety of the flavours and aromas. Climate change means there could even be a 73% reduction in worldwide areas suitable for growing wine by 2050, US science journal PNAS says.

4. Much less coffee

The world’s coffee and wine belts sit at totally different latitudes and do not overlap, but coffee crops are also being affected by climate change. Farmers in Brazil, the world’s biggest coffee exporter, have faced substantially lower yields of Arabica beans this year because of frosts and droughts, says Bloomberg.

A study published in the journal PLOS One models growing conditions for coffee, cashews and avocados over the next 30 years and found coffee to be “the most vulnerable, with negative climate impacts dominating in all main producing regions”.

It says there could be a 50% drop in the number of areas most highly suited to growing coffee by 2050, and a 31-41% decrease in areas that are moderately suitable.

Coffee grows best in areas where temperatures are stable day and night, as well as throughout the year. This means changing climate conditions could not only lead to coffee shortages, but also threaten the incomes of millions of people – mainly in developing countries.

Largest coffee producers in the world. Coffee production is being impacted by climate change
Coffee production is being impacted by climate change Image: International Coffee Organization/IDB
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5. Bumpier plane trips

Air circulation patterns are becoming less predictable because of climate change, leading to much bumpier flights – so much so that turbulence has become the most common cause of airline accidents, the US National Transportation Safety Board’s (NTSB) Bruce Landsberg told Bloomberg last year.

More than 65% of severe injuries on aeroplanes recorded by US accident investigators in 2017-20 were a result of planes entering choppy skies.

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Air patterns are becoming less predictable because of a rise in “clear-air turbulence”, the occurrence of which is expected to increase two or three times in the coming decades. Clear-air turbulence is caused by erratic air currents. As the name suggests, it occurs in clear air, rather than in clouds, making it harder to detect by eye, or even with radar equipment, aviation news website Simple Flying says.

Flight crew had no warnings ahead of 28% of turbulence-related accidents between 2009 and 2018, according to the NTSB. "We have flight attendants who have been thrown into the ceiling and then back down several times, resulting in broken limbs,” US Association of Flight Attendants President, Sara Nelson, told CNN Travel. “In the aisle, with unannounced turbulence, we had people who lost toes, or lost the ability to work, or sustained injuries that kept them off the job for years.”

6. More lightning

Lightning strikes hit the Earth around 8 million times a day, but that number could rise significantly as global warming accelerates. One study has estimated that each 1°C of warming could lead to a 12% rise in lightning strikes.

“Climate change is making the air warmer, which allows it to hold more moisture, and both of those factors can boost the chance of thunderstorms,” the website Inside Climate News says.

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This means damage from lightning is likely to increase. The potential effects include more forest fires, as lightning can cause fires among dry vegetation, and extensive damage to electrical equipment and power grids.

7. Volcanoes erupting

Many glaciers cover the sides of active volcanoes. As these glaciers melt, the reduction in pressure on the Earth’s surface could alter the movement of volcanic magma and lead to more eruptions.

Scientists who have compared historic volcanic records with glacial coverage saw that the number of eruptions fell significantly as the climate cooled and ice levels expanded.

More studies are underway to improve the understanding of the links between glaciers and volcanic activity. But even away from colder regions, shifting weather patterns are potentially triggering eruptions.

A December 2021 eruption at one of Indonesia’s most active volcanoes was caused by several days of heavy rain destabilizing the dome of lava in the volcano’s summit crater, according to local authorities. “This led to the dome collapsing, which reduced pressure on the magma below and triggered an eruption,” according to PreventionWeb, a knowledge-sharing platform for disaster risk reduction and resilience.

8. Louder frogs

The coquí frog of Puerto Rico is named after the loud call the males make at night as they attempt to attract a mate. Those calls appear to be getting louder, but it's not because of mating season – it's down to global heating, scientists say.

Amphibians are highly sensitive to temperature changes, and if temperatures keep rising the entire coquí frog species could be under threat, scientists add.

9. More jellyfish?

Animals migrate to find more suitable living conditions and to maintain access to food sources when weather patterns change. But as climate change unsettles the traditional seasonal cycle, species migration is showing signs of becoming unsettled too.

Overall jellyfish sightings were up by a third on the year between October 2022 and September 2023. This included some rare types that specifically prefer warmer waters – presumably drawn to the area following a marine heatwave in the UK in mid-2023 that pushed water temperatures up to 5°C above average.

Numerous marine species – from turtles to sharks – are likely to alter their movement and migration patterns because of rising water temperatures and freshwater discharge from melting ice sheets, according to Zoological Society of London research for the UNEP Convention on Migratory Species.

Did you know that "failure to mitigate climate change" features among the top 10 risks facing the world? Read 2023's Global Risks Report to know more.

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