Barring a Miracle, Extinctions are Forever

NWF   |   April 13, 2006

June 1963: A thirteen-year old boy stood stunned and disheartened on a Lake Erie beach. Once inviting beaches were blackened by slime and littered with decomposing fishes, broken bottles and cigarette butts. Flies swarmed over the washed-up remains. Stench from raw sewage invaded the boy’s nostrils as each churning breaker washed ashore releasing its anoxic cargo. Lake Erie was a dying lake, choked with sewage, over-fertilized with phosphorus and algae-ridden.

I know this story because I was that boy. I didn’t realize it at the time, but as I was witnessing the near-death of one of the world’s great fresh-water lakes. I also witnessed massive fishery die-offs that triggered the extinction of Lake Erie’s once-famed Blue Pike as they rotted in the surf. The loss of a single species still haunts me when I fish Lake Erie with my son-in-law Sheldon.

Remembering the loss of the blue Pike, I am deeply troubled by a recent study warning of a fast-approaching and grave threat to wildlife. A team of scientists led by Dr. Lee Malcolm of the University of Toronto looked at twenty-five areas of ecological richness where 44 percent of the plants and 35 percent of the vertebrates on the planet reside on 1 percent of the world’s landmass. Their goal was to determine the potential for global warming to impact the future of these species.

The key conclusion of this study, tens of thousands of species could go extinct in coming decades as a result of global warming.

This study reinforces a study published in Nature in January 2004 by another team of ecologists looking at six large eco-regions. A doubling of carbon dioxide concentrations will led to the extinction of 40 per cent of species in some of the hotspots – a potential loss of some 56,000 endemic plants and 3,700 endemic vertebrate species.

I fail to understand why the news media misses this terribly important story? Denial is a too-common human tendency especially around global warming. Failure to heed warnings will lead to major tragedies. When will we ever learn that barring a miracle, extinctions are forever?

Published: April 13, 2006