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Climate disaster awaits our children unless all act now

Tracking climate change is like watching the opening scenes of a slow-motion disaster movie.

We witness Connecticut’s once-thriving lobster population now mostly vanished. Fewer monarch butterflies grace our summer gardens. Roads flood increasingly from violent storms.

The opening scenes of what may be Earth’s next great mass extinction are on display.

Human population surges are wreaking havoc on the plant and animal species we rely on for food, water, medicines and livelihood. That is the stark conclusion of a United Nations report on biodiversity released Monday. The report warns that “grave impacts on people around the world are now likely.”

As many as 1 million plant and animal species are at risk of extinction, the report states. Many are likely to die off within decades.

The Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services report was compiled by 450 writers and researchers from 50 nations. They analyzed 15,000 studies. A 39-page summary was approved by 132 countries including the United States.

More than 7 billion humans populate Earth, doubling since 1950. Forests and prairies are being replaced with farms or expanding cities. Wildlife habitats are destroyed for logging, mining or other commercial development.

“More than a third of the world’s land surface and nearly 75 percent of freshwater resources are now devoted to crop or livestock production,” the report states. Almost 85 percent of the Earth’s wetlands have disappeared.

The decline of bees puts the plant-based food supply at risk. “More than 75 percent of global food crop types, including fruits and vegetables and some of the most important cash crops such as coffee, cocoa and almonds, rely on animal pollination,” the report notes.

In the oceans, 33 percent of marine fish stocks are being harvested at unsustainable levels and are approaching collapse.

Pollution, global warming and increased ocean acidity are killing the coral reefs, further threatening commercial fisheries. Loss of the reefs also puts hundreds of millions of people at flood risk.

The report concludes that environmental damage to Earth is too far gone to be restored by incremental corrective action. It calls for urgent “transformative changes” involving the governments of all countries, including:

• Governments acting in coordination to enforce a more balanced global approach between economic development and environmental impact.

• Farmers and ranchers expanding food production using less land and less polluting methods.

• Consumers and corporations adhering to new global standards mandating less waste and more efficient use of natural resources.

This threat is the greatest test our species has ever faced. Success requires reprogramming human behavior for the last 250 years, since the dawn of the Industrial Revolution.

It will be impossible without global political leadership that is visionary, magnanimous and above nationalist ambitions. It will require a shared determination to impose on nations and corporations a discipline that outlaws exploiting our vanishing natural resources for political advantage and profit.

Wealthy developed countries must subsidize the developing nations to utilize green technology for food, water and energy production.

Venture capitalists must direct investment into new technologies and innovations that generate clean energy and food supply solutions.

The politics and disruption will be fierce. Business interests tied to fossil fuels will lobby hard against the effort. Conservatives will resist upending the status quo with more government intrusion into free-market capitalism.

Citizens will protest, as they have in France, against new taxes, rising costs of goods and reduced retail choices. Polls consistently show that while a significant majority of Americans believe there is climate change, an equally significant majority are unwilling to pay more to control it.

The costs could run into the trillions of dollars annually for decades. But those costs pale in comparison to the costs to future generations if we ruin the planet.

Nature is collapsing around us. Billions of human lives could be lost over the next century because of environmental upheaval, mass migrations, disease, war and famine.

Earth has survived five mass extinctions over its 4.5-billion-year history. The last mass extinction 66 million years ago exterminated the dinosaurs when an asteroid struck. This mass extinction has a slow-developing narrative. It is not nearly as cinematic as an asteroid.

However, the threat is clear and visible. Climate change, global warming, biodiversity are the challenges of our lives. If we don't address them now, the lives of our children and their children may be unimaginably dystopian. 

The Day editorial board meets regularly with political, business and community leaders and convenes weekly to formulate editorial viewpoints. It is composed of President and Publisher Tim Dwyer, Managing Editor Izaskun E. Larrañeta, staff writer Erica Moser and retired deputy managing editor Lisa McGinley. However, only the publisher and editorial page editor are responsible for developing the editorial opinions. The board operates independently from the Day newsroom.


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