Monday, December 7, 2009

What Copenhagen Means for Endangered Species

The fate of the world’s wildlife and wild places may rely on what comes out of the international climate change talks that begin today in Copenhagen. We’ll be watching closely at what actions the United States and other nations take at the talks and in the following months. Today, the Obama Administration announced that greenhouse gases pose a significant threat to public health and safety and the EPA will start to regulate carbon dioxide and other harmful global warming pollutants. These are good first steps, but as we noted in a previous post on Hopenhagen, we need to take immediate action to save people and wildlife that are already feeling the impacts of climate change.

Global warming is not on its way. It is not making a pit stop at the trucker’s outpost up the highway. It is not rounding the corner into the neighborhood. It isn’t even knocking at the front door. It is here. It is in the living room, having a boiling pot of tea. And we need to decide just how much we’re going to protect ourselves from getting scalded today.

While some of us are just beginning to feel the heat, others, such as low-lying communities, are already dangerously impacted. The same holds true for wildlife. For millions of years, species have adapted to each other and to the cycles of nature. Global warming introduces chaos into what has previously functioned like a finely tuned orchestra. It changes where species live, what is available for them to eat, and the makeup of their habitats. While all wildlife is experiencing the changes, some are particularly vulnerable. Endangered species, already on the brink of extinction, can scarcely afford another threat.

The Endangered Species Coalition released a report last week, America’s Hottest Species, on species impacted by climate change. As we covered in the report, global warming is disrupting nature’s timing and the life cycles of animals, birds, fish and plants suddenly do not synch. It is also causing species to shift further north or upslope. It spreads disease farther. It causes areas to become too wet or too dry. It increases the frequency of wildfires. And, it simply makes the world too hot. Global warming replaces nature’s essential harmony and rhythms with a disastrous cacophony.

And the death toll is rising. Several populations of a small mountain rabbit, the Pika, appear to have gone extinct, in search of higher ground. Approximately 4,000 young walruses were recently trampled to death because, with less sea ice available to them, they were forced to mass together on land. More than 200 whales and dolphins beached themselves in Tasmania possibly because changing ocean currents are moving food sources closer to shore. Gray whales with bony shoulder blades and protruding ribs are starving to death as their food supplies crash. Hundreds of Magellanic (Patagonian) penguins recently showed up dead or dying on the shores of Brazil, probably in search of food that is likely no longer where it used to be. Hundreds of puffins starved to death in the North Sea as their food disappeared. Ancient forest trees—pines, firs, and hemlocks—across the West have died. And so the catastrophes have begun.

According to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), 20 to 30 percent of the world’s species will be at an increased risk of extinction if global temperature rises above 1.5 to 2.5° C above pre-industrial levels. Driving this many species to extinction will result in a planet that has lost its beautiful diversity and many of the benefits that nature provides.

While some of us may throw our hands up in hopelessness at this news, there is a much better response—working for change. Our political leaders finally appear to be on the cusp of taking serious action to prevent the worst impacts of climate change. But, they won’t succeed without an outpouring of support from Americans for strong climate change legislation and strong international agreements. Please make your own voice heard.

The United States Congress needs to pass comprehensive climate change legislation that both significantly reduces the sources of global warming pollution and also addresses the impacts of global warming we are already seeing today.

Currently, the U.S. Congress is considering climate change legislation. To truly protect wildlife, legislation needs the following three policies: 1) planning and funding to help wildlife adapt to climate change, 2) CO2 emissions targets based on what the best available science indicates is needed to avoid the worst impacts of global warming, and 3) protection of existing environmental laws, such as the Clean Air Act and Endangered Species Act. (Check out our Congressional and Administrative policy recommendations)

The United States clearly needs to demonstrate leadership on climate change. Negotiating an effective and binding international agreement is essential. That’s why this announcement by the Obama Administration today is so important to show America’s commitment to addressing climate change. While there are additional benefits from Congress passing comprehensive legislation, it is important that the Obama administration prepare to use its already existing authority to address global warming pollution if Congress does not pass a final bill. We hope that this action will encourage the Senators who say that the issue can wait to now become part of the solution

Hopefully, America and the rest of the world will take action on climate change before it is too late to save polar bears, penguins, pikas, whales and the other species being pushed to brink of extinction.

To learn more about these issues, please visit www.StopExtinction.org, where you can also join ESC's Activist Network to receive updates and announcements about how you can help protect and restore America's wildlife, fish and plants.


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