THE BLOG
04/17/2014 06:05 pm ET Updated Jun 17, 2014

Reports Reveal Terrifying Climate Threat to Biodiversity

They're on the move, scrambling on paws and wings to find refuge from a planetary catastrophe.

No, I'm not talking about the computer-generated birds and beasts fleeing the flood in the blockbuster movie Noah.

As a scientist, I see many wonderful wildlife species in the real world -- from sea turtles whose nesting beaches are being flooded by rising seas to polar bears dying as sea ice vanishes -- struggling to survive man-made climate change.

That danger to our global web of life is highlighted by two new reports from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, authored by hundreds of scientists around the world.

The IPCC reports released over the past several weeks confirm that a large percentage of the world's species face an increased extinction risk unless we take bold action to reduce carbon pollution.

And President Obama and other world leaders must shift very quickly to cleaner energy sources, the panel's experts say, because emissions of planet-warming pollutants have risen so sharply over the last decade.

Changes like rising seas, hotter temperatures, and deepening droughts are already making life increasingly difficult for many plants and animals -- and, in many cases, threatening to push them off the planet.

Here in California, the San Bernardino flying squirrel -- which uses wingsuit-like flaps of skin to glide from tree to tree -- has found its forest habitat moving upslope as temperatures warm. Like many mountain-dwelling creatures, this amazing escape artist may soon have no place left to run.

Walrus mothers and babies in Alaska can no longer find sea ice they need for resting, and are forced into dangerous locations. Florida's tiny Key deer is seeing its island home being swallowed by rising seas.

What price will we pay for declining biodiversity? Some harms to human societies are obvious. The IPCC's experts say climate disruption threatens fisheries in the United States and many other parts of the world. Chinook salmon in the Pacific Northwest, for example, may decline as much as 50 percent in the coming decades.

Some crop yields have already been hurt by climate change. If warming continues unchecked, many countries will face growing food insecurity, according to the report. And rising temperatures and ocean acidification caused by carbon pollution are already harming coral reefs and their remarkable diversity of life, which threatens tourism.

But there's something more fundamental at stake -- something you can't put a price on. We're locking ourselves into a future in which a terrifying loss of biodiversity will fundamentally transform the Earth.

We risk leaving our children a lonelier planet -- a world where many animals and plants are just a memory.

The IPCC report's most important message, that we can avoid many climate dangers if we make ambitious cuts to carbon pollution, is a strong call to action. The bolder and quicker the cuts, the better the future for all life on this planet, including humans.

And there's still time to act. President Obama has started to wield the Clean Air Act against power plant pollution. He needs to move faster, make bigger cuts, and confront all big polluters from coal to the airline industry. He and other leaders need to make moves that match the scale of the danger.

In the end, no ark is big enough to protect wildlife, or ourselves, from climate change. What we need is our leaders, and everyday people, stepping up to take bold action to stem the flood of carbon pollution that threatens us all.