Civilization is at a place in history we’ve never been before. As our weather gets crazier, we are becoming painfully aware of the physical impacts of man-caused climate change from intense hurricanes, tornadoes, floods and fires. Meanwhile, what isn’t as obvious is the equally disastrous biological impact of climate change: accelerating species extinction.
As Idahoans, why should we care? Climate change is churning away at an accelerating pace, and ecosystems collapse along with the species in them. Over 7 billion people are dependent on the world’s ecosystems. Everyone. The Center for Biological Diversity reports that at the current rate of extinction, 30% to 50% of all species will be gone by 2050. In 30 years my grandsons will be in their 30s, and like everyone, doubtlessly overwhelmed by global disasters and not too concerned about extinction and collapsing ecosystems.
Sixty-six million years ago, 75% of Earth’s species went extinct, including the dinosaurs, most within days after a massive meteor struck north of the Yucatan Peninsula. Scientists maintain that the strike caused immediate climate change, and now humans are causing it, but more slowly. However, in both cases, there was, and is, insufficient time for species to adapt.
As for deteriorating ecosystems, in Idaho we are losing alpine meadows, coniferous forests and sagebrush grasslands, and some of the species within – the sage grouse, wolverine, Columbia spotted frog and certain lizards – all because of increased heat and drought, habitat loss, exotic species invasion, wildfire and disease. All of this is enhanced by climate change. Globally, the polar ecosystems, which include tundra, are being altered shockingly fast, and in the tropics, the Earth is losing rainforests and coral reefs, its diversity leaders.
What can we do as Idahoans and global citizens?
1) Be aware and get involved. Follow the life cycle of an endangered species and its status in Idaho and globally. Support a proactive group that advocates a sustainable planet.
2) Understand climate, and how and why climate changes. We understand weather because it affects us 24/7, and climate is the long-term average of weather. Extreme weather events are generally brief but can create historic catastrophes, such as Hurricanes Katrina, Sandy and Maria. In recent times, these extreme events have become manifestations of climate change.
3) Modify lifestyles to reduce our overall national ecological footprint. This helps our morale and our global image.
4) Elect genuine politicians who truly work for the people, the common good and the Earth. Climate change demands immediate political action in Washington and Boise.
5) Support common-sense legislation that places a price on burning fossil fuels and offers incentives for clean, renewable energy. Currently in Congress, H.R. 763, Energy Innovation and Carbon Dividend Act 2019, enthusiastically supported by Citizens Climate Lobby, is a first step to reducing CO2 levels.
The extinction crisis certainly saddens me, but I, along with millions, am trying to slow a runaway train. As Kim Stanley Robinson, the futurist writer, wrote: “There is No Planet B. There is absolutely no alternative to maintaining life on Earth.”
Dave Greegor, Ph.D., is a retired ecologist.