Photo by Uriel Sinai / Getty Images
A melt water lake seen under a glacier. September 3, 2007, East of Kangerlussuaq, Greenland. Scientists believe that Greenland, with its melting ice caps and disappearing glaciers, is an accurate thermometer of global warming.
What is it about climate change that makes it so insurmountable? First is its global nature. We're seeing impacts of current warming on every continent and in every ocean. We're seeing its effects in every type of plant and animal that has been studied---from butterflies in Finland to fish in the North Sea, from foxes in Canada to trees in Sweden, from birds in Antarctica to starfish in Monterrey Bay, California.
Second, climate change is conducting the most massive relocation of species since the last ice age. Forty percent of wild species are showing changes in their distributions---shifting their ranges north and south towards the poles and up mountains. An astonishing 62 percent are showing changes in their seasonal timing: spring is earlier and fall is later. Birds arriving for their spring migration, butterflies emerging from wintering, trees leafing out after winter dormancy, and flowers blooming for the first time are all about two weeks earlier than they were thirty years ago across the northern hemisphere. Globally, we have estimated that recent, human-driven climate change has affected half of all wild plants and animals in some form or another.
...The most obvious action available would actually alleviate many of the impending ethical dilemmas---to reduce greenhouse-gas emissions drastically and prevent the worst-case scenario from becoming a reality. ... Having participated in ten years of meetings, reports, and policy sessions (all with similar recommendations), followed by pathetically slow changes in governmental policy and even less real reduction in emissions, I'm pessimistic that drastic emission reductions will come in time.
Camille Parmesan 2008 Where the wild things were. Daedalus 137(2):31-38. Used with permission.