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Climate Changes All

If biodiversity – the proliferation of life on Earth, the totality of plants and animals and micro-organisms – is already being radically diminished through human activities, what impact will climate change have on ecosystems and species around the world?

There is growing agreement amongst conservation biologists and ecologists of the intimate connection between concerns about biodiversity loss and concerns about climate change.

To this point, habitat destruction, introduced species, over-population and consumption, pollution and over-exploitation have been the key culprits for loss of species world-wide.

According to Robert May (cited in Planet Earth: The Future (what the experts say)), these threats are now “being compounded by changes, not of our direct destruction of the habitat, but of global climate change… you can measure with good documentation bird ranges changing, fish distributions changing, flowering seasons changing” (2006, p58).

The climate change challenge for non-human species is that many organisms cannot move fast enough naturally to cope with climatic changes, whilst others are unable to move through intervening territories (read human intervention in the landscape) to sites of safe haven.

Robert May offers the Amazon as an example.

Large areas of the rainforest depend on high levels of precipitation to sustain the natural ecosystems. But if climate change alters those precipitation patterns, the Amazon is in even more trouble than already reeked through human activity. Such impacts in turn feedback to climate change, and so a vicious cycle of loss takes hold.

According to Thomas Lovejoy in Planet Earth (2006, p.58): “Climate change is probably a bigger threat than almost everything else we’re doing to life on Earth combined. If you really look at what happens under natural climate change and then try to imagine how it would happen today in these highly modified landscapes, which are basically obstacle courses, we’re setting up a huge wave of extinctions.”

In other words, humans have so radically altered the landscape that it prohibits the movement of creatures (from the Emerald Tree Boa to the harmless Sloth) attempting to adapt to climate change.

Even without the impacts of climate change, biodiversity loss can be a depressing topic to consider.

Personally, I’ve experienced the heart-ache, the deep gut-wrenching emotional pain that accompanies environmental grief. Climate change exacerbates the horror of an already distressing cycle of human greed and complacency. And it can be only too easy to fall into a state of unyielding despair. But for my own part, I’ve tried to convert that pain and grief into something constructive. Instead of getting stuck in a sense of hopelessness, I’ve endeavoured to transform the negative emotions into passion, an unrelenting commitment to help put right what is clearly wrong in the world.

Instinctively, I know that we cannot persuade people to change their behaviour by communicating through guilt and fear and anger. This simply does not work. Negativity can only take us so far – and that’s not very far at all.

As Jonathon Porrit says: “Ultimately, we have to find a way of connecting people into the positive energy behind sustainability, behind environmentalism. And that means that while we continue to pay witness to the terrible damage that we’re doing, we’ve got to turn people’s minds towards more positives images of the good that we can still do to help protect the natural world” (cited in Planet Earth, 2006, p.212)

So despite the challenges of climate change and the unthinking, unhelpful, unhinged things that human beings do within the natural world, we must look forward – with hope and passion and commitment – toward the personal and collective action that can heal our world and mend our broken hearts.

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