I work to combat the extinction crisis, fighting for a future in which elephants and giraffes as well as monarchs and northern long-eared bats still roam in nature. I do it because we’re at risk of losing 1 million species to extinction, many in the coming decades. I don’t want to live in that lonely world or leave it for future generations.
Later this week I’m going to New York City to join the March to End Fossil Fuels, because we can’t save biodiversity without halting the climate crisis. And we can’t truly curb climate change without healthy biodiversity. That work starts by transitioning off fossil fuels and ramping up clean, renewable energy.
Every fraction of a degree of global heating matters for people, nature, and a livable future. It’s all tied together.
One example: Like the Amazon basin, the rainforests of west and central Africa are key for sequestering carbon and saving biodiversity. But if those ecosystems lose critically endangered forest elephants – a keystone species – they’ll sequester 6 to 9 per cent less carbon. That’s because elephants are amazing gardeners. They consume low-carbon weeds for food and disperse and plant high-carbon seeds.
When nature is intact and functioning, it can help us all.
Elephants are far from the only species at risk. We’re losing the animals and plants that pollinate our food, clean our water, and bring us joy. These are the species that inspired our myths and stories, and each loss further unravels the fabric of life upon which we all depend. Each day wildlife like sage grouse and lizards are threatened as we raze their habitats in our quest for more fossil fuels.
While habitat loss and exploitation are currently driving biodiversity loss, climate change will overtake them unless we make drastic, systemic changes. If we fail, the species and ecosystems we desperately need to reduce the harm from generations of fossil fuel use will vanish forever. And if we continue to yank on the string of species extinctions in this manner, the fabric of life as we know it will simply cease to exist.
This isn’t a distant crisis. As this summer of deadly fossil fuel-charged climate disasters has shown, the climate emergency is here at home, and it’s not going away. The East Coast was engulfed in smoke from wildfires this summer, provoking empathy for Western populations that now routinely live with the effects of climate-induced burning landscapes.
Heat domes, atmospheric rivers, and other climate-related events are becoming part of our vernacular as we struggle to cope with what our continued reliance on fossil fuels is doing to our planet. We’ve brushed ash from our plants and watched mountain glaciers retreat and wondered what will happen to the fish in our rivers, the birds in the sky, and our own families – as well as the frontline communities who first face climate-induced destruction of their homes.
But there are so many hopeful signs, here and across the world. Methane gas is being banned for new construction in many US cities. More heat pumps, electric vehicles, and rooftop solar panels are popping up all over the United States. There’s a growing market for induction cooktops – now we’re cooking with magnets, not coal or gas. It’s the wave of the future.
Of course, there’s still so much to do. It shouldn’t take three days to get from the West Coast to New York by train. Changes like a nationwide high-speed rail network will fuel the renewable economy and renewable energy transition we so urgently need.
I also have hope because we are starting to wake up to how interconnected our world truly is. My organization is working to restore sea otters to more of the Pacific coast. Amazing in their own right, sea otters also help the ocean’s kelp forests thrive, which in turn help the ocean sequester carbon and cope with our changing climate.
None of this will matter if we don’t rapidly and justly phase out fossil fuels. For that, we need President Joe Biden to be a true climate leader, declare a national climate emergency, and speed the end of the fossil fuel era using his ordinary executive and emergency powers.
Excerpted: ‘How Elephants, Climate Change, and Hope Connect at a New York City March’.