Reconciling and Addressing the Twin Climate Change-Extinction Crises

Andrew Burger

The climate and biological diversity challenges we face are not siloed in neat, separate packages. It's all interconnected, solving one problem means solving the other.

Major industry players in Canada are trying to forestall actions to avoid the worst of what leading natural scientists are calling The Sixth Great Extinction, adopting a time-tested, well proven political tactic by citing the uncertainty of climate change impacts on ecosystems and species and the associated need for more research needed before taking actions, the David Suzuki Foundation highlights in a recent essay.

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,” highlight David Suzuki and Boreal Plotkin, contributor and Boreal Project Manager.

Climate change impacts are just one, and not the primary or most direct, signs of the ecological changes that are under way and growing worldwide, however, Suzuki points out. Habitat loss and degradation are. Canadian birds, including swifts, swallows and nightjars, have declined 59 percent since 1970, according to the 2019 State of Canada's Birds report, for instance. It's a mistake to entirely conflate the two, however, Suzuki cautions.

"The extinction crisis is caused by a lack of sufficient limits to development, agricultural and resource-extraction activities. The climate crisis is cause by a lack of sufficient limits to greenhouse gases we release into the atmosphere," he wrote.

Reconciling inherent conflicts of interest between climate change and the Sixth Great Extinction

The conflicts of interests and differing views inherent in issues to do with climate change is especially prominent in Canada, where fossil-fuel energy and mineral resources extraction, processing and exports continue to be mainstays of the national economy. “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,” Suzuki highlights from Finding Common Ground, a Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society report.

“Reducing human-driven land use change in Canada’s ecosystems, especially wetlands, offers a potential treasure trove of emission reductions with significant biodiversity benefits.”

Scientific research already reveals that industrial activity has resulted in the degradation of 96 percent of the Little Smoky caribou range and 70-80 percent of the Chinchaga West Side Athabasca River, East Side Athabasca River, Cold Lake, Nipisi and Slave Lake boreal caribou ranges in Alberta, he points out. That has reduced the chances that resident caribou populations will persist to less than 20 percent.

Needless to say, significant changes would need to be made to rectify the situation, more specifically by limiting and better regulating the industrial footprints of the logging and oil and gas industry so as to facilitate an improvement in prospective at-risk species recovery and protection efforts.

Containing the negative ecosystem impacts of industrial development would convey another fundamental, long-lasting and profound benefit: it would contribute to global efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and avoid the worst prospective effects of climate change by storing carbon long-term, and in a manner that would avoid the negative consequences associated with conventional industrial solutions.

Such efforts extend beyond wild flora and fauna to encompass every aspect of human life, Suzuki notes. Some local community members and organizations are taking actions to bring that home. "Wildlife decline isn’t just an ecological issue," Suzuki highlights.

"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.


Living Planet