While Newsweek is wandering off into pseudoscientific climate denial, Time continues to do the best science-based global warming coverage of any major national magazine.
I don’t spend a lot of time on species extinction here, since so many others do such a great job on that subject. But the cover story, “The new age of extinction” is an excellent popular overview which I highly recommend.
In 2007, the IPCC warned that as global average temperature increase exceeds about 3.5°C [relative to 1980 to 1999], model projections suggest significant extinctions (40-70% of species assessed) around the globe. That is a temperature rise over pre-industrial levels of a bit more than 4.0°C. Since we are facing a much greater warming than that (see “M.I.T. joins climate realists, doubles its projection of global warming by 2100 to 5.1°C” and “Hadley Center: “Catastrophic” 5-7°C warming by 2100 on current emissions path“), we are presumably facing extinctions beyond the high end of that range.
Time focuses on what is happening right now. Here are some notable, quotable excerpts:
There have been five extinction waves in the planet’s history “” including the Permian extinction 250 million years ago, when an estimated 70% of all terrestrial animals and 96% of all marine creatures vanished, and, most recently, the Cretaceous event 65 million years ago, which ended the reign of the dinosaurs. Though scientists have directly assessed the viability of fewer than 3% of the world’s described species, the sample polling of animal populations so far suggests that we may have entered what will be the planet’s sixth great extinction wave. And this time the cause isn’t an errant asteroid or megavolcanoes. It’s us.
When we pollute and deforest and make a mess of the ecological web, we’re taking out mortgages on the Earth that we can’t pay back “” and those loans will come due. Then there are the undiscovered organisms and animals that could serve as the basis of needed medicines “” as the original ingredients of aspirin were derived from the herb meadowsweet “” unless we unwittingly destroy them first. “We have plenty of stories about how the loss of biodiversity creates problems for people,” says Carter Roberts, WWF’s president.
Forests razed can grow back, polluted air and water can be cleaned “” but extinction is forever. And we’re not talking about losing just a few species. In fact, conservationists quietly acknowledge that we’ve entered an age of triage, when we might have to decide which species can truly be saved. The worst-case scenarios of habitat loss and climate change “” and that’s the pathway we seem to be on “” show the planet losing hundreds of thousands to millions of species, many of which we haven’t even discovered yet. The result could be a virtual genocide of much of the animal world and an irreversible impoverishment of our planet. Humans would survive, but we would have doomed ourselves to what naturalist E.O. Wilson calls the Eremozoic Era “” the Age of Loneliness.
So if you care about tigers and tamarins, rhinos and orangutans, if you believe Earth is more than just a home for 6.7 billion human beings and counting, then you should be scared.
Time explains why so many conservation groups have begun to focus on global warming:
What good is a nature reserve “” fought for, paid for and protected “” if global warming renders it unlivable? “Climate change could undermine the conservation work of whole generations,” says Larry Schweiger, president of the National Wildlife Federation. “It turns out you can’t save species without saving the sky.”
This is a terrific article from the national media. I have only one tiny bone to pick over one word in the final sentence:
“We live on a very special planet “” the only planet that we know has life,” says Mittermeier. “For me, conservation is ultimately a moral obligation and simply the right thing to do.” That leaves us a choice. We can save life on this special planet, or be its unwitting executioner.
At this point, I think it’s hard to say that we are “unwitting.” Opinion makers and policymakers know what we’re doing — as do most people, especially given the coverage in Time and elsewhere. Right now, the better word is “uncaring.”