CENHS Postdoc Matthew Schneider-Mayerson’s great new art project draws attention to the relationship between climate change and the extinction of animal species. Learn more and order stickers, posters, and lawn signs here. Matthew’s project involves the collaboration of local artists. Fossilized in Houston is made possible by the Idea Fund.
Houston, Climate Change, and the Ongoing Mass Extinction
All around us, species that have been developing for millions of years are disappearing. What do the Arabian ostrich, the bushwren, the Pyrenean ibex, the javan tiger, the western black rhinoceros, thebaji river dolphin and the golden toad have in common? They’re all extinct. And as a result of human influence, scientists predict that one quarter of all known species will be extinct by 2050, and–unless things change–as many as three quarters by 2100. As Aldo Leopold noted, “We stand guard over works of art, but species representing the work of aeons are stolen from under our noses,” more and more.
Extinction occurs naturally, but not at the rate we’re seeing–this mass extinction is happening 1,000 to 10,000 times faster than the normal extinction rate. 12,00,000 to 48,000,000 different species may go extinct (and suffer greatly before they do) as a result of the vast human influence on the planet, which is changing ecosystems far too fast for most species to adapt. While overfishing, habitat fragmentation, and other practices are partially to blame, climate change is quickly overtaking them as the main cause. The climate is simply changing too quickly for most species to adapt.
The human toll of climate change is similarly mind-boggling. Scholars estimate that 300,000 people currently perish every year as a result of climate change, while 300 million are negatively affected. And the consequences will not be distributed equally: the World Bank reports that 75-80% of the damages and costs (and, most likely, suffering and fatalities) from climate change will be suffered by countries in the Global South, who have contributed the least emissions, and scholars predict there may be 200 million climate refugees by 2050, primarily from the poorest and most vulnerable countries. (Check out the recent books Tropic of Chaos and Overheated if you want to know exactly how climate change can lead to conflict, poverty and death in the Global South.)