At The Nature Conservancy, we have a saying – a tagline, if you will – that protecting nature means preserving life on earth – whether it’s people, plants, or animals. So as one of those marketing-blogger-writer-type people, I noticed that the needs of wildlife species, both today and in a climate-altered future, have been the brunt of some jokes lately….and that no one seems to get the fact that our future is directly linked to the fate of threatened animals and plants with which we share this planet.
This week, a segment on The Daily Show with Jon Stewart conveyed righteous outrage that birds seem to be getting more help than people in the historic black community of Turkey Creek near Gulfport, Mississippi, an area still recovering from hurricane damage five years after Katrina.
And last week, the Conservancy’s feathers were ruffled when an NPR host made joking comments about the president’s promise to help species adapt to climate change.
But for many living things, a changing world is presenting some very serious challenges to survival.
In other words, the environmental community better start showing why conservation isn’t just for the birds.
The Edge of Extinction
It’s not only polar bears that are in trouble. A massive die-off of plant and animal species – as many as 20 to 30 percent – may be in store if average global temperatures rise between 3.6 and 5.4 degrees Fahrenheit, many scientists believe.
As they are pushed up mountains seeking cool enough temperatures or forced closer to human civilization in search of the right prey, many species of birds, mammals, fish and amphibians face real threats. Climate change promises to further complicate the hurdles they already face from pollution; from development that carves up the land where they roam, nest and feed; and from dams and levees that divert the water where they swim and spawn.
Work is ongoing at The Nature Conservancy to figure out how we can promote human health, safety and prosperity, while also helping nature to recover and protect itself from all the changes we cause.
One approach proving to be efficient, is ecosystem-based adaptation, in which people can use the biological diversity of nature to gain benefits and protection from the disruptions of climate change.
From decades of work in preserves across the U.S. and around the world, the Conservancy has found that conservation often benefits people in the long run, by keeping natural systems (that supply fresh water, clean air and healthy soil) running smoothly. And in the short term, the continued survival of wildlife, fish and birds may depend on keeping some places natural and relatively wild.
Why Should We Care? (We have our own problems … )
There is a selfish aspect to caring about species: the gradual degradation of nature and all its component parts is likely to negatively affect the human population in ways we may not yet understand.
Some also see a moral responsibility to respect other creatures that share space on our planet. (This is why I work at The Nature Conservancy. Someone needs to speak for the critters that can’t.)
Lisa Hayden is climate change writer for The Nature Conservancy.
Photo by: Flickr® user kdee64 (A Canadian lynx – lynx Canadensis - approaching a frozen lake in southern Yukon; these nocturnal animals face threats from changing climate in parts of their U.S. range). Used under a Creative Commons license
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