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Wednesday, January 30, 2013

NWF Report: Climate change happening much faster than wildlife able to respond

A new study by the National Wildlife Federation (NWF) says animals - already stressed from the effects of pollution and habitat loss - are struggling to adapt to global climate disruption - "the biggest threat wildlife will face this century."

NWF’s Wildlife in a Warming World says that while animals have adapted to natural climate variation since the beginning of time, now, with the climate warming rapidly, many animal and plant species are shifting their ranges to colder areas - at a rate two to three times faster than scientists anticipated.  But the climate changes are happening much faster than they are able to respond:

"The underlying climatic conditions to which species have been accustomed for thousands of years are rapidly changing, and we are already witnessing the impacts…Already there is evidence that climate change is causing declines in species populations and localized extinctions…Exactly how many species go extinct will depend on how much the planet warms during the coming decades, with much higher extinction rates projected for higher temperature increases."

Consider the impact of an almost unimaginable 11 degrees of warming by 2100.

The report says:

We must embrace forward-looking goals, take steps to make our ecosystems more resilient, and ensure that species are able to shift ranges in response to changing conditions. At the same time, we need to protect our communities from climate-fueled weather extremes by making smarter development investments, especially those that employ the natural benefits of resilient ecosystems.

It recommends a four-pronged approach:
  1. Cut carbon pollution 50 percent by 2030;
  2. Transition to cleaner, more secure sources of energy like offshore wind, solar power and next-generation biofuels;
  3. Safeguard wildlife and their habitats by promoting climate-smart approaches to conservation; and
  4. Help communities prepare for and respond to the impacts of climate change such as rising sea levels, more extreme weather, and more severe droughts.
There is an economic cost to this unfolding catastrophe. Wildlife contributes "hundreds of billions of dollars and millions of jobs each year to the U.S. economy.  Bats, for example, contribute up to $3 billion of pest control services each year – $250 million of that in Pennsylvania alone.

But this issue goes vastly beyond economics.  Mankind is conducting the largest uncontrolled chemistry experiment in history – changing the chemical composition of the atmosphere - what Peter Gleick has aptly described as “a thin film…around the planet only ~10 miles high.”

The decimation of wildlife from climate disruption is fundamentally and profoundly a moral issue. What will our response be?

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