On Saturday, Oct. 22, demonstrators around the world will make a plea to world leaders to recognize a single number: 350. That's the concentration of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, measured in parts per million, that some leading scientists say represents a safe level for life as we know it on Earth. The level today stands at 387 ppm, and time is running out to reduce emissions dramatically enough to stave off dramatic changes -- change that could include the extinction of hundreds of animals.
The Center for Biological Diversity, in recognition of 350.org's Day of Climate Action, has produced a sobering portrait of 350 U.S. wildlife species at risk if we humans fail to rein in our fossil fuel emissions. They're represented here in a stunning mosaic. (Larger image.)
That's right. Global warming is a threat to more than polar bears, penguins and walruses. Here, we're highlighting seven temperate species that could, according to the Center for Biological Diversity, have their last days on Earth if we don't tamp down pollution enough to reach that magical number of 350.
Still recovering from an earlier century's crazed demand for fur, sea otters are facing a more insidious threat this century: Ocean acidification. While more acidic oceans -- made that way by the same thing fueling runaway global warming, carbon dioxide emissions -- won't affect otters directly, they will affect the food supply. Acidic oceans prevent the formation of carbonate shells, such as those needed by clams, urchins, abalone and other food staples of the otter diet. It's one of 69 mammals considered endangered by climate change, according to the Center for Biological Diversity.
Photo: Bryant Austin / California Fish and Game
Once found throughout Central and South America and into the U.S. South, the jaguar is no relegated to isolated pockets in Florida, Central and South America. Because of global warming is likely to create conditions that will shift the jaguar's range, barriers to migration -- like the border fence the U.S. is building along parts of the Mexican border -- could become increasingly threatening to the big cat's survival. The jaguar is one of 69 mammals considered endangered by climate change, according to the Center for Biological Diversity.
Photo: Robin Silver
Ranging from Southern California into Baja California, Mexico, the arroyo toad endures harsh conditions by burrowing into the sand along streams, where it seals itself in a layer of shed skin to maintain its moisture and body heat levels. Already down to 35% of its historic population numbers, this toad is threatened by global warming, which promises to increase the intensity and duration of droughts in the Southwestern United States. It is one of 21 amphibian species threatened by global warming, according to the Center for Biological Diversity.
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Photo: Jim Rorabaugh / USFWS
One of at least 46 corals and 85 invertebrates threatened by climate change, according to the Center for Biological Diversity, Elkhorn coral shares many of the same threats that other corals do: habitat destruction and harvesting for aquaria, but more than anything disease, bleaching and corrosion due to warmer water temperatures and ocean acidification.
One of 85 invertebrates threatened by climate change, according to the Center for Biological Diversity, the Karner blue butterfly is a literary favorite, having been first identified and named (after Karner, N.Y., where he spotted it) by Vladimir Nabokov. Bu the state butterfly of New Hampshire (yes, they have one) has already disappeared from Canada, and is threatened in its U.S. range, too, by heat stress and loss of a key food, the blue lupine flower.
Photo: John and Karen Hollingsworth / USFWS
Native to southwest Arizona and Mexico, the Sonoran pronghorn antelope is the fastest land mammal in North America. It had to be: It once lived alongside cheetahs. Drought is catching up the species though, damaging reproduction and the survivability of young. As climate change produces longer and more severe droughts, the prospects for this species dim. It's one of 69 mammals considered endangered by climate change, according to the Center for Biological Diversity.
Photo: Robin Silver
Kemp's ridley sea turtle is the smallest and rarest sea turtle, known to inhabit the Atlantic from New England to the Gulf of Mexico. How rare? Over 50 years, its numbers dropped from 89,000 to just 1,000 in the 1980s, primarily due to shrimp trawlers that snag the turtles by accident. Sea-level rise from climate change could land another critical blow, if the turtles lose nesting habitat. Surprisingly, higher sand temperatures could also play a role: Like many reptiles, this turtle's sex is determined by heat during incubation. It is one of 12 reptiles threatened by global warming, according to the Center for Biological Diversity.
Photo: Bill Reaves / Texas Parks and Wildlife
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