Note: This and several subsequent posts will be about possible adaptations to climate change. Serious consideration of adaptations does not require any slackening of effort to mitigate climate change.

In the last post, I mentioned that Arctic ice could disappear completely by 2100 and without the ice, some animals may very well go extinct, including polar pears and ring seals. And that’s just the (disappearing) tip of the iceberg….

It’s estimated that one in six species could disappear over the next century, with animals and plants in South America and Australia especially hard hit. What can we do to make this not happen?

A tendency I’ve seen among environmentalists and climate activists is to quickly knock down suggestions that seem “unnatural”. These individuals seem to favor solutions that protect and restore habitats but look askance at solutions that involve changing habitats, captive breeding, or the selective introduction of some endangered species into new habitats. The idea here is that ecosystems are so delicately balanced that you can’t change anything without ruining the whole thing.

Of course, there is some truth to that. But it’s the kind of categorical thinking that doesn’t acknowledge exceptions, trade-offs or matters of degree and undermines the problem-solving process. It’s the type of thinking that is quick to find issues with unfavored solutions and just stop there – oops, can’t do that – instead of considering these issues as something that can be fixed or at least minimized. When engineers find a problem in a design, they don’t throw out the plans – they say “what can we do to fix that?” That’s an attitude we all could benefit from. Besides tripping up creative problem-solving, the idea of a pristine state of nature is not exactly reality-based. Natural environments have been “invaded” and changed by invaders constantly throughout the history of our planet. Pristine environments free of human impact have been the exception to the rule for millennia. Which is not at all saying that those species will just have to live with us and our cats. Or die.

Here’s the thing: while protection, restoration and expansion of relatively human-free habitats are essential to saving endangered species, it is not enough. More needs to be done.

Polar bears provide an excellent case for illustrating the above points and for thinking through possible solutions to their plight. Next up.

Inspired by: Stewart Brand (2009) Whole Earth Discipline: An Ecopragmatist Manifesto