FacebookTwitterRedditEmail

What We Lose When We Lose Wildlife

Mexican wolf. Photo: Jeffrey St. Clair.

I grew up in Michigan — a place with many deer and very few wolves to keep their populations in-check.

Flawed wildlife management decisions caused our wolf numbers to plummet decades ago. While gray wolves are historically native to the state, the only place I’ve seen one is the Potter Park Zoo — a tiny park just outside my college campus in Lansing that cares for endangered species.

My experiences seeing wildlife are few and far between. It was only last October, years into my work at the Sierra Club, that I finally saw a Yellowstone grizzly bear in the wild. Even though I was thousands of yards away and watching with binoculars, I practically had tears in my eyes.

Yellowstone, Michigan, and Australia — where devastating bushfires have killed over a billion animals — couldn’t be farther apart in geography and ecology. Yet to me, these places share a huge piece of what connects us, and tragically what we stand to lose.

Near or far, whether we regularly see bears and bobcats in our backyards (like some of my coworkers) or make nostalgic visits to our local zoos and aquariums, people idealize and deeply care about our wildlife. Animals symbolize freedom from society’s complications, a retreat to simplicity and beauty.

That’s why it’s so painful to watch our changing climate threaten vulnerable wildlife, depriving younger generations of these transformative experiences.

Early this year, a picture of a koala clinging to a firefighter’s arms generated mass attention to the climate-fueled crisis in Australia. But as the news cycle slides from one issue to the next, I fear that our fast-paced society fails to truly comprehend the sheer loss to come with what alarmed biologists are calling “the sixth extinction.” 

The World Wildlife Fund reports that in the last 40 years, wildlife population numbers have declined by 60 percent due to climate change, loss of habitat, and other human-influenced environmental factors. The climate is changing at such a rapid rate that many species can’t adapt.

Humans certainly won’t be immune to that ourselves. Sea levels are rising, hurricanes and wildfires are wiping out homes, and pollution and disease are shortening many of our lives.

But the loss of our fellow species will harm us directly, too.

Communities that depend on tourism and outdoor recreation will lose out on the $145 billion U.S. residents spend on wildlife recreation annually. We will be deprived of the invaluable ecosystem services that wildlife provide us — like pollination, carbon sequestration, and pollution control.

But I still believe we have a fighting chance. Thanks to a strong grassroots movement, the majority of people in this country accept that climate change exists, that it is human-caused, and that inaction is no longer an option.

It is our moral responsibility to step in and find ways to contribute to the solution, and ensure the survival of threatened species that can’t do it on their own.

Scientists tell us “nature needs half” —  which means to preserve our communities, wildlife, and the environment, we must protect 50 percent of global lands by 2050. In the United States, the Sierra Club is a part of an ambitious mission to fight to protect at least 30 percent of American lands by 2030.

That means working with local communities on everything from stopping oil and gas development to protecting urban green space. It means fighting against the Trump administration’s detrimental rollbacks of Endangered Species Act protections. And it means supporting indigenous-led efforts efforts to achieve the strongest protections for animals.

These important fights will have enormous benefits for people. The climate and mass extinction crises are interwoven — but we are equipped with the solutions. It is a fight that is worth it, for today, and for generations to come.

Courtney Bourgoin is a communications coordinator for the Sierra Club’s Our Wild America campaign. She is based in Chicago.

More articles by:
Weekend Edition
August 07, 2020
Friday - Sunday
John Davis
The COVID Interregnum
Louis Yako
20 Postcard Notes From Iraq: With Love in the Age of COVID-19
Patrick Cockburn
War and Pandemic Journalism: the Truth Can Disappear Fast
Eve Ottenberg
Fixing the COVID Numbers
Jeffrey St. Clair
Roaming Charges: Every Which Way to Lose
Paul Street
Trump is Not Conceding: This is Happening Here
Robert Hunziker
The World on Fire
Rob Urie
Neoliberal Centrists and the American Left
John Laforge
USAF Vet Could Face ‘20 Days for 20 Bombs’ for Protest Against US H-Bombs Stationed in Germany
Andrew Levine
Clyburn’s Complaint
Kavaljit Singh
Revisiting the Idea of Pigou Wealth Tax in the Time of Covid-19
Paul Ryder
Here Come the 1968 Mistakes Again
T.J. Coles
Fighting Over Kashmir Could Blow Up the Planet
David Macaray
Haven’t We All Known Guys Who Were Exactly like Donald Trump?
Conn Hallinan
What’s Driving the Simmering Conflict Between India and China
Joseph Natoli
American Failures: August, 2020
Ramzy Baroud
Apartheid or One State: Has Jordan Broken a Political Taboo?
Bruce Hobson
The US Left Needs Humility to Understand Mexican Politics
David Rosen
Easy Targets: Trump’s Attacks on Transgendered People
Ben Debney
The Neoliberal Virus
Evelyn Leopold
Is Netanyahu Serious About Annexing Jordan Valley?
Nicky Reid
When the Chickens Came Home to Roost In Portlandistan
Irma A. Velásquez Nimatuj
The Power of the White Man and His Symbols is Being De-Mystified
Kathy Kelly
Reversal: Boeing’s Flow of Blood
Brian Kelly
Ireland and Slavery: Framing Irish Complicity in the Slave Trade
Ariela Ruiz Caro
South American Nations Adopt Different COVID-19 Stategies, With Different Results
Ron Jacobs
Exorcism at Boston’s Old West Church, All Hallows Eve 1971
J.P. Linstroth
Bolsonaro’s Continuous Follies
Thomas Klikauer – Nadine Campbell
Right-Wing Populism and the End of Democracy
Dean Baker
Trump’s Real Record on Unemployment in Two Graphs
Michael Welton
Listening, Conflict and Citizenship
Nick Pemberton
Donald Trump Is The Only One Who Should Be Going To School This Fall
John Feffer
America’s Multiple Infections
Kollibri terre Sonnenblume
Thinking Outside the Social Media Echo Chamber
Andrea Mazzarino
The Military is Sick
John Kendall Hawkins
How the Middle Half Lives
Graham Peebles
The Plight of Refugees and Migrant Workers under Covid
Robert P. Alvarez
The Next Coronavirus Bill Must Protect the 2020 Election
Greg Macdougall
Ottawa Bluesfest at Zibi: Development at Sacred Site Poses Questions of Responsibility
CounterPunch News Service
Tensions Escalate as Logging Work Commences Near Active Treesits in a Redwood Rainforest
Louis Proyect
The Low Magic of Charles Bukowski
Gloria Oladipo
Rural America Deserves a Real COVID-19 Response
Binoy Kampmark
Crossing the Creepy Line: Google, Deception and the ACCC
Marc Norton
Giants and Warriors Give Their Workers the Boot
David Yearsley
Celebration of Change
FacebookTwitterRedditEmail