A new report depicts a failing planet. A new book has solutions

by OLIVIA DESMIT


A UN report released today paints a sobering picture of the natural world — and the blame for the damage lies solely at humanity’s feet. Almost 1 million species face extinction; essential crops are under threat; our oceans are overfished.

What’s making it worse: climate change (and we’re the cause of that, too).

A new book, “Biodiversity and Climate Change: Transforming the Biosphere,” edited by renowned scientists Lee Hannah of Conservation International and Thomas Lovejoy, senior fellow at the UN Foundation, examines the rapid warming, catastrophic storms and record-breaking droughts that will upend life as we know it. In this interview, Hannah discusses the science behind the findings in their book, culled from recent research by dozens of leading scientists over the past 10 years on the intersection between wildlife and the climate — and describes the actions we must take to stop a complete climate breakdown.


Question: Given the research published in this book, the UN report must come as no surprise. What’s your take on it?

Answer: It reinforces what we already know: We need to get conservation in the right places for a changing climate — and we need to do it fast. The window for action is actually very small. Climate change will be moving species all around the planet, and ever-expanding agriculture is destroying their remaining natural habitats, reducing their opportunities to migrate.


Q: How is this book different from the one you and Tom wrote a decade ago?

A: The first book really helped wake people up to the reality of climate change and its impacts for nature. But that came out in 2005 — and a lot has happened since then! Climate change triggered a bark beetle outbreak that has killed hundreds of millions of trees in the western U.S. and Canada — and is still on-going. Most of the world’s coral reefs have bleached, including devastatingly large parts of the Great Barrier Reef. The world has woken up to the one of the most impactful perils of climate change: ocean acidification. And an historic climate agreement was reached in Paris.

The changes over the past decade have been so monumental that it warranted a totally new book, one with that asked a deceptively simple question: “What is the effect of climate change on nature?”


Q: How do you answer such a monumental question?  

A: We asked top biologists to identify the biggest implications of climate change for nature, and then structured the book around their advice. We recruited the top experts on each topic to write each of the 32 chapters of the book, which starts with what’s happening now: coral bleaching, species migration and disease and pest outbreaks. It sounds biblical, and it really is — climate change will have re-arranged all of creation before it’s over!

Then from what we’re already seeing, we dive into what’s happened in the past — from the recent ice ages to climate change that occurred hundreds of millions of years ago. What have we learned from these past rapid climate changes? From there, we go into what may happen in the future, and in the final chapters, what we can do about it. The “what we can do” part includes how we manage nature, for instance parks and oceans, to minimize impacts of climate change, what policies are needed to get climate change under control and how we as scientists, conservationists and biologists can communicate better about the perils of climate change.

To survive climate change, coffee trees need bees


Q: So, what’s the answer?

A: Climate change is already affecting nature, today — and while there are things we can do to mitigate the effects, what we’re doing right now is not enough.

Let’s break those down: First, this issue isn’t about the future — it’s happening right now. There’s a phenomenal amount of change we are already seeing in the natural world due to climate change, from bark beetles in North America to