Pine trees in the Rocky Mountains are being jeopardized by beetle infestations, while new forests are encroaching on the Alaskan tundra. East coast beaches and marshes are succumbing to rising seas, especially in places where development prevents their natural migration landward. Polar bears, seals, and walrus are struggling to survive in a world of dwindling sea ice, which is their required habitat. Birds and butterflies have had to shift their breeding season and the timing of their seasonal migrations. Fish are dying by the thousands during intense and lengthy droughts and heat waves. Many plant and wildlife species are shifting their entire ranges to colder locales, in many cases two- to three-times faster than scientists anticipated.
Without significant new steps to reduce carbon pollution, our planet will warm by 7 to 11 degrees Fahrenheit by the end of the century, with devastating consequences for wildlife. America must be a leader in taking swift, significant action to reduce pollution and restore the ability of farms, forests, and other natural lands to absorb and store carbon. This means rapidly deploying clean, renewable energy sources, such as wind, solar, geothermal and sustainable bioenergy, while curbing the use of dirty energy reserves. And it means reducing the carbon pollution from smokestacks that is driving the climate change harming wildlife.
Because of the warming already underway and the time it will take to transform our energy systems, we will be unable to avoid many of the impacts of climate change. Our approaches to wildlife conservation and natural resource management need to account for the new challenges posed by climate change. We must embrace forward- looking goals, take steps to make our ecosystems more resilient, and ensure that species are able to shift ranges in response to changing conditions. At the same time, we need to protect our communities from climate-fueled weather extremes by making smarter development investments, especially those that employ the natural benefits of resilient ecosystems.
The challenges that climate change poses for wildlife and people are daunting. Fortunately, we know what’s causing these changes and we know what needs to be done to chart a better course for the future. As we begin to see whole ecosystems transform before our very eyes, it is clear that we have no time to waste.
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The National Wildlife® Photo Contest celebrates the power of photography to advance conservation and connect people with wildlife and the outdoors.