In Brief
  • An international list of threatened species shows a sharp increase in the percentage of species negatively impacted by climate change.
  • While there are many who do not accept the realities of climate change, the survival of species on our planet depends on us.

A Heavier Threat

One of the more hidden and dangerous aspects of climate change denial is that many view it as a problem for another day. Even those who accept the reality of climate change don’t feel that we will see the effects for a long time. Sadly, that kind of thinking is as dangerous as flat out denial. Research currently shows that our most vulnerable species are already heavily burdened with the consequences of human activity and inaction.

A new analysis published in Nature Climate Change shows that a greater number of birds and mammals on the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) red list of threatened species are currently negatively impacted by climate change. 47 percent of mammals and 24.4 percent of birds on the list, amounting to around 700 species, are at an increased level of danger thanks to climate change. Previous analysis listed the impacted species at 7 and 4 percent for mammals and birds, respectively. That is a massive increase.

According to the paper’s co-author, Dr. James Watson of the University of Queensland and the Wildlife Conservation Society, “Many experts have got these climate assessments wrong – in some cases, massively so.”

“I think that’s a real problem with how the scientific community has communicated the issue, because people are always labeling it as a future threat. When you combine the evidence, the impact on species is already really dramatic,” said Watson.

U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service
Image Credit: U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service

Humans Must Help

Watson goes even further and states that the problem is likely even worse than his analysis shows since it only focused on birds and mammals. Species from other animal classes are likely in danger as well.

“These are the species that you’d hope we’d be most accurate on. Amphibians, reptiles, fish, plants – we are almost certainly out by a massive order of magnitude in our current assessments of vulnerability to climate change. We’ve got this wrong for birds and mammals, which are our most studied groups – what are we getting wrong for species we don’t know much about, like corals, bats, frogs, fungi?”

Governments need to take swift and decisive action against climate change. The progress of climate change is not slowing, and it will only continue to snowball out of control should the status quo should go unchallenged. We must demand that our governments work to curtail harmful emissions and actively work to at least slow down climate change. We must also work to correct the mistakes of our past actions.

Tools like the red list are helpful, but they are not a solution. The only hope for the future of these species lies within human action to counteract the damage humanity set in motion.