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.
Spring is the most important time of renewal—when buds burst, plants bloom, insects wake from their dormancy, and animals pair off producing young. The timing and locations need to be just right for plants to be pollinated, seeds to be dispersed, and food to be available for animals waking from their hibernation or migrating from their wintering habitats or growing from their larval stages into adults. Yet, spring is arriving earlier in every ocean and on every major continent save one. Global warming is disrupting nature’s timing and the life cycles of animals, birds, fish and plants suddenly do not synch.
Global warming 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. Our policy recommendations at the end of this report describe the priority areas we are concerned about. Please make your own voice heard.