Without significant new steps to reduce carbon pollution, our planet will warm by 7 to 11°F by the end of the century, with devastating consequences for wildlife.
Our nation’s plants, fish, and wildlife are already facing a climate crisis.
Pine trees in the Rocky Mountains are being jeopardized by beetle infestations, while new forests are encroaching on the Alaskan tundra. East coast beaches and marshes are succumbing to rising seas, especially in places where development prevents their natural migration landward. Polar bears, seals, and walrus are struggling to survive in a world of dwindling sea ice, which is their required habitat. Birds and butterflies have had to shift their breeding season and the timing of their seasonal migrations. Fish are dying by the thousands during intense and lengthy droughts and heat waves. Many plant and wildlife species are shifting their entire ranges to colder locales, in many cases two- to three-times faster than scientists anticipated.
Now is the time to confront the causes of climate change.
Without significant new steps to reduce carbon pollution, our planet will warm by 7 to 11 degrees Fahrenheit by the end of the century, with devastating consequences for wildlife. America must be a leader in taking swift, significant action to reduce pollution and restore the ability of farms, forests, and other natural lands to absorb and store carbon. This means rapidly deploying clean, renewable energy sources, such as wind, solar, geothermal and sustainable bioenergy, while curbing the use of dirty energy reserves. And it means reducing the carbon pollution from smokestacks that is driving the climate change harming wildlife.
Wildlife conservation requires preparing for and managing climate change impacts.
Because of the warming already underway and the time it will take to transform our energy systems, we will be unable to avoid many of the impacts of climate change. Our approaches to wildlife conservation and natural resource management need to account for the new challenges posed by climate change. 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.
Only by confronting the climate crisis can we sustain our conservation legacy.
The challenges that climate change poses for wildlife and people are daunting. Fortunately, we know what’s causing these changes and we know what needs to be done to chart a better course for the future. As we begin to see whole ecosystems transform before our very eyes, it is clear that we have no time to waste.
The National Wildlife Federation report covers eight regions of the U.S., from the Arctic to the Atlantic coast, and details concrete examples of wildlife struggling to adapt to the climate crisis:
- A recent study looked at 305 species of birds in North America and found that of those, more than half (177) have expanded their range northward by an average of 35 miles in the past four decades.
- Climate change is creating conditions fueling more mega-wildfires, which are having devastating impacts on fish and wildlife habitats and are putting people and property in harm’s way.
- Alaska has warmed about twice as much as the continental United States and warming is severely altering the Arctic landscape including melting permafrost. In the face of this unprecedented warming,many uniquely polar habitats—like the sea ice that polar bears, seals, and walrus require to hunt—are shrinking fast.
- As superstorm Sandy demonstrated, extreme weather fueled by climate change can turn coastal habitats upside down. Of the 72 National Wildlife Refuges along the Atlantic coast, 35 were temporarily closed because of the storm’s devastation, not to mention the widespread destruction of property and infrastructure.
The report recommends a four-pronged attack to confront the climate crisis’ threats to wildlife and communities:
- Address the underlying cause and cut carbon pollution 50 percent by 2030.
- Transition to cleaner, more secure sources of energy like offshore wind, solar power and next-generation biofuels while avoiding dirty energy choices like coal and tar sands oil.
- Safeguard wildlife and their habitats by promoting climate-smart approaches to conservation.
- Help communities prepare for and respond to the impacts of climate change such as rising sea levels, more extreme weather, and more severe droughts.
“We know what’s causing the climate changes Americans are seeing in their own backyards and we have the solutions to secure our climate and safeguard our wildlife for future generations,” said Larry Schweiger, president and CEO of the National Wildlife Federation. “What we need is the political leadership to make smart energy choices and wise investments in protecting our natural resources. We can’t leave this problem for our children and grandchildren to fix – they’ll judge us based on what we do now.”
NWF’s new report is “Wildlife in a Warming World.”