These 10 Imperiled Species in US Are Hanging by a Thread in Face of Climate Threat

George L. Heinrich / Center for Biological Diversity


A new report released Wednesday by the Endangered Species Coalition details the plight of 10 rapidly vanishing species in the United States that are already suffering the destructive consequences of the global climate emergency—characterized by rising temperatures that bring increasingly frequent, prolonged, and intense heatwaves, droughts, wildfires, storms, and floods.

"Without sufficient and vibrant biodiversity, we lose the resources... to support life."

Animals being "pushed to the edge of extinction in our warming world" include the Diamondback terrapin; Elkhorn coral; Florida Key deer; Maui parrotbill; Mexican long-nosed bat; Monarch butterfly; Sierra Nevada yellow-legged frog; and Western ridged mussel.

Plants that are increasingly at risk of being wiped off the face of the Earth due to extreme weather driven primarily by fossil fuel emissions include the Ka palupalu o Kanaloa and the Whitebark pine.

The 10 highly vulnerable species described in the report were selected by a committee of distinguished scientists, who reviewed nominations submitted by the Endangered Species Coalition's member groups.

"Scientists have long known about the impact of greenhouse gases and carbon pollution on the planet," Leda Huta, executive director of the Endangered Species Coalition, said in a statement. "Plants and wildlife are going extinct at an unprecedented rate, and it's way past time for our elected leaders to take bold action to protect our planet and all its inhabitants."

The report stresses that "biodiversity is the key to a healthy planet. Indeed, without sufficient and vibrant biodiversity, we lose the resources—think clean air and water, and sufficient food—to support life. And biodiversity is being hit hard by climate change."

Both issues, the report notes, "are inextricably linked with significant feedback loops: Climate change speeds biodiversity loss, and biodiversity loss, in turn, speeds climate change."

"We increasingly see this dynamic play out around the world," the authors point out. "When we destroy habitats, for example, we lose not only homes for species, but also nature's storehouses for carbon."

Citing the latest comprehensive report published by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change—described by United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres as a "code red for humanity"—the Endangered Species Coalition's new analysis emphasizes that "climate change will only be solved if governments address it concurrently with biodiversity loss. Biodiversity loss cannot remain the forgotten environmental crisis."

The coalition said in a statement that world leaders in 2021 "have finally begun to pay more attention to the twin crises of climate and biodiversity loss," although progressives have criticized U.S. President Joe Biden for failing to govern in a way that is commensurate with his rhetoric about the existential threats facing the planet.

A joint report published in June by the U.N.'s scientific agencies on climate change and biodiversity highlighted the interconnection between the two issues and warned that further destruction of biodiversity will exacerbate the climate crisis, and vice versa.

"We will be able to curb the worst consequences of climate change—if we act."

The U.N. has called on global policymakers to urgently pursue measures that can meaningfully address both problems simultaneously, including restoring terrestrial and marine ecosystems as well as expanding sustainable agriculture and forestry practices.

In mid-October, conservation advocates welcomed the adoption of the "Kunming Declaration"—which acknowledges that biodiversity destruction and the climate crisis "pose an existential threat to our society, our culture, our prosperity, and our planet"—during the first part of COP15, the U.N.'s Biodiversity Conference, while also demanding that words be matched with bold and concrete policies.

That pledge sets the stage for the development of a post-2020 global biodiversity framework, which governments are scheduled to negotiate further in January 2022 and adopt next May at part two of the U.N. Biodiversity Conference, hosted by China.

However, while diplomats from around the globe were debating how to update the Convention on Biological Diversity, Biden's delegates could only observe because the U.S. remains the only country in the world that has refused to ratify the international treaty meant to better protect the variety of life on Earth.

Domestically, Biden has also come under fire for perpetuating harmful "tactics so often employed during the Trump era," as one environmentalist put it earlier this week when responding to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service's plan to weaken or eliminate protections for several endangered species, including at least one discussed in the report—Florida's Key deer.

"We are at an urgent choice point," states the report. "We will be able to curb the worst consequences of climate change—if we act. We have the ability, the resources, the technology, and the talent and ingenuity to make meaningful change."

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