Why Net-Zero Matters for Chipmunks, Butterflies, Moose, Turtles, and You!

Alpine chipmunks are a little more extreme than their chipmunk cousins—those pudgy-cheeked relatives common to backyards across eastern and central North America. Living 7,800 feet up in California’s Sierra Nevada mountains, they have the highest altitude range of any chipmunk species, where they scurry across granite slopes and meadow edges, foraging for food (and, like all chipmunks, playing an important role in seed dispersal).

Problem is, their habitat is now too extreme. Rising temperatures have forced alpine chipmunks to retract their range by more than 1,600 feet upslope. A smaller range has led to decreased genetic diversity—a huge threat to this tiny creature.

Photo: Alpine Chipmunk by Zaigee/Flickr

The science is clear: The world must slash greenhouse gas emissions in half by 2030, and reach net-zero emissions by 2050. If we don’t? Expect severe temperature increases, more extreme weather, and increasingly catastrophic impacts on water security, food supply, human health, and more. And less and less habitat for the alpine chipmunk—and many other species.

Meeting the goal of reducing carbon emissions to net-zero would be a boon to wildlife. And there are many paths to get there. Here are just a few ways net-zero policies can also support wildlife.

1. Enhance natural carbon removal and sequestration

Natural sequestration pathways often offer the most cost-effective means of carbon removal—by using the natural ability of forests, grasslands, watersheds, and more to sequester carbon from the atmosphere. Plus, protecting and restoring these areas can reduce carbon emissions while improving, and preserving, wildlife habitat.

Warming temperatures and shorter winters driven by a changing climate are threatening moose populations in the northern United States. The changing climate has sparked skyrocketing tick populations; the ticks leave adults sick and weakened and can be deadly for calves. Photo: Cow and calf moose by Jim Peaco/NPS.

2. Invest in clean energy

Reaching net-zero is not possible without investments in clean energy, energy efficiency, and energy storage. Energy efficiency is one of the cheapest and most effective ways to drive down energy demand, and, in turn, climate pollution—helping improve the water and air quality wildlife depend on.

There are more than 50 species of turtles in the United States. These ancient creatures have survived climatic shifts before, but recent warming is happening so fast turtles are struggling to adapt. Research suggests that ranges for most North American turtle species are shifting or shrinking due to climate change. Photo: Common box turtle by Kevin Faccenda/Flickr

3. Prioritize climate-smart infrastructure

Smart investments in infrastructure can reduce emissions by more than 30%, and boost resilience to climate impacts for humans and wildlife alike. Natural infrastructure in particular (think floodplains, dunes, and wetlands) is cost-effective compared to “hard” infrastructure (like bridges or floodwalls) and can improve fish and wildlife habitat, water quality, and recreation opportunities.

Over the past century, the number of Karner blue butterflies has declined by at least 99% across their historic range, mostly due to habitat loss. Climate change is an emerging threat for these tiny butterflies; they’ve responded to warming temperatures with altered growth rates and reproductive patterns, which negatively impact populations. Photo: Karner blue butterfly by Jill Utrup/USFWS.

Now is the time to stand up for alpine chipmunks, and all wildlife, by urging your representatives in Congress to support investments in climate-fighting clean energy and measures to slash carbon pollution.

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Published: February 10, 2020