The white lemuroid possum (Hemibelideus lemuroides), an Australian marsupial that lives only in the higher altitude rainforests of far north Queensland, may be the first species of mammal to go extinct because of global warming. This animal resembles a furry, snow-white lemur, with a prehensile tail and large eyes for nocturnal vision, and cannot survive sustained temperatures above 86 degrees Fahrenheit. It has not been spotted since a heat wave in 2005 struck the cloud forests of the Mount Lewis forest reserve.
Left unchecked, by 2050 global warming will have committed about one-third of all species to extinction. Global warming-related diseases have already caused the extinction of dozens of species of cloud-forest-dwelling amphibians. A third of all corals are today threatened with extinction by the changes to the world’s oceans — toxic pollution, rising waters, warming temperatures, and increasing acidification.
To limit further damage and prevent an ecological catastrophe, developing nations — home to the world’s greatest reserves of biodiversity — “are calling for industrialized nations to agree to cuts of more than 40 per cent below 1990 levels by 2020 and more than 95 per cent by 2050” of greenhouse gas emissions, far greater than President-elect Obama’s commitment to cut U.S. emissions to 1990 levels by 2020. Yesterday, the U.S. Energy Information Administration reported that 2007 U.S. emissions were 17% greater than 1990 levels.