rabble blogs are the personal pages of some of Canada's most insightful progressive activists and commentators. All opinions belong to the writer; however, writers are expected to adhere to our guidelines. We welcome new bloggers -- contact us for details.

Connecting the dots between the climate and biodiversity crises

Please chip in to support more articles like this. Support rabble.ca today for as little as $1 per month!

Image: NASA/Flickr

The polar bear has become the poster child for climate change impacts in the Arctic. Sea ice, which the bears depend on for hunting, is melting at an ever-expanding rate.

For other species, climate impacts are not as direct. The 2019 State of Canada's Birds report found aerial insectivores like swifts, swallows, and nightjars have declined by 59 per cent since 1970. The report cites climate change as one of several threats, as severe weather limits insect availability.

Similarly, according to Lauren Meads, director of the Burrowing Owl Conservation Society of B.C., extreme weather events linked to climate change have affected habitat where captive rehabilitated burrowing owls are released, affecting their ability to return to breeding grounds the following year.

For those working to help species recover, addressing the primary cause of decline is key. Although climate disruption is exacerbating the plight of many species, the polar bear and its Arctic neighbours stand (or swim or fly) alone to some extent. The primary cause of decline for most at-risk species in Canada is habitat loss and degradation.

Some industries are trying to use the ever-evolving climate crisis to stall habitat protection and recovery. When the forestry industry called for a delay in much-needed recovery measures, citing the need to explore climate change impacts on caribou populations, some leading caribou scientists wrote, "There is little evidence to suggest that climate change brought caribou populations to their current threatened condition, nor does climate change explain the rapid rates of decline and range recession that are continuing today in many locations."

Although they intersect, the ecological emergency driving species imperilment and the climate crisis can't be entirely conflated. The extinction crisis is caused by a lack of sufficient limits to development, agricultural, and resource-extraction activities. The climate crisis is caused by a lack of sufficient limits to greenhouse gases we release into the atmosphere.

That isn't to say that there isn't significant overlap, in causes and solutions.

A Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society report says, "Human activity, including industrial farming, logging, mining, hydro-electric development, and oil and gas exploration, have caused these twin ecological crises, which are closely interrelated." Finding Common Ground finds, "Reducing human-driven land use change in Canada's ecosystems, especially wetlands, offers a potential treasure trove of emission reductions with significant biodiversity benefits."

This is especially true in Alberta and northeastern B.C., where oil and gas development have devastated caribou habitat and imperilled wildlife and the Indigenous communities that depend on it. Industrial activity has disturbed 96 per cent of the Little Smoky caribou range and 70 to 80 per cent of the Chinchaga, West Side Athabasca River, East Side Athabasca River, Cold Lake, Nipisi, and Slave Lake boreal caribou ranges.

These high disturbance levels reduce caribou populations' chances of persistence to less than 20 per cent. To increase their chances, significant changes are needed to contain the logging and oil and gas footprint and initiate aggressive restoration.

Protecting habitat such as the boreal forest, rich with peatlands, would also serve as a means of sequestering carbon.

Wildlife decline isn't just an ecological issue. In B.C.'s Peace River Valley, more than three-quarters of Blueberry River First Nations traditional territory is within a few minutes' walk of industrial disturbance. In May 2019, Blueberry took the province to court, arguing that the cumulative impacts of industrial activities -- primarily oil and gas -- have significantly affected the lands and wildlife within their traditional territory and, accordingly, their treaty rights to hunt and fish.

Although there are different ways to mend and mitigate the two crises, the root causes -- avoiding our duties to repair what we have fractured, neglecting to set limits to human activities, stalling direly needed actions -- are the same, as are the broad solutions: recognizing our impacts on the planet, taking responsibility for them and coming together to take immediate, meaningful action. As the CPAWS report says, protecting and restoring forests, peatlands, grasslands, and wetlands can advance biodiversity and climate goals.

As daunting as both crises are, we can't look away. We must face them and change course.

All living things depend on a stable climate and functioning ecosystems. Our planet is the only one with badgers and dragonflies -- and chocolate! It's worth fighting for.

David Suzuki is a scientist, broadcaster, author and co-founder of the David Suzuki Foundation. Written with contributions from David Suzuki Foundation boreal project manager Rachel Plotkin. Learn more at www.davidsuzuki.org

Image: NASA/Flickr

Thank you for reading this story…

More people are reading rabble.ca than ever and unlike many news organizations, we have never put up a paywall – at rabble we’ve always believed in making our reporting and analysis free to all, while striving to make it sustainable as well. Media isn’t free to produce. rabble’s total budget is likely less than what big corporate media spend on photocopying (we kid you not!) and we do not have any major foundation, sponsor or angel investor. Our main supporters are people and organizations -- like you. This is why we need your help. You are what keep us sustainable.

rabble.ca has staked its existence on you. We live or die on community support -- your support! We get hundreds of thousands of visitors and we believe in them. We believe in you. We believe people will put in what they can for the greater good. We call that sustainable.

So what is the easy answer for us? Depend on a community of visitors who care passionately about media that amplifies the voices of people struggling for change and justice. It really is that simple. When the people who visit rabble care enough to contribute a bit then it works for everyone.

And so we’re asking you if you could make a donation, right now, to help us carry forward on our mission. Make a donation today.

Comments

We welcome your comments! rabble.ca embraces a pro-human rights, pro-feminist, anti-racist, queer-positive, anti-imperialist and pro-labour stance, and encourages discussions which develop progressive thought. Our full comment policy can be found here. Learn more about Disqus on rabble.ca and your privacy here. Please keep in mind:

Do

  • Tell the truth and avoid rumours.
  • Add context and background.
  • Report typos and logical fallacies.
  • Be respectful.
  • Respect copyright - link to articles.
  • Stay focused. Bring in-depth commentary to our discussion forum, babble.

Don't

  • Use oppressive/offensive language.
  • Libel or defame.
  • Bully or troll.
  • Post spam.
  • Engage trolls. Flag suspect activity instead.