There is an old paradigm and a new paradigm in species conservation. Conservatives, of course, still hold to the old paradigm, which concerns itself with about ten or twelve popular animal species on the US List of Endangered Species, for example, the White Spotted Owl or the Gray Wolf, which is no longer endangered. Environmentalists, on the other hand, are concerned with whole habitats, which contain thousands of botanical species, microbes, fungi, and animals. This is a ‘systems’ approach. It is the superior approach.
The inferior approach focuses on primarily a small group of easily-recognizable animal species, when in fact, such species would be affected last by climate change. Conservatives hold to the species-approach since their movement (largely devised as a defense to charges of apathy about climate change) needs a familiar face from the zoo or the circus to give it impetus. Yet the first groups affected by climate change are not familiar faces; they are, of course, botanical species, amphibians, mollusks, and microbes, etc. Even so, if you look at the Red List of Threatened Species, you’ll find that a total of 15,568 bird, reptile and animal species already face extinction today. One in 3 amphibians and almost half of freshwater turtles are threatened, and 1 in 8 birds and a quarter of mammals are in jeopardy. Read the IUCN summaries on this page, which conclude that disappearances of species since 1996, and thus their possible extinction, is attributed largely to climate change. In the case of disappearing amphibians, infectious fungal diseases in particular are believed to be promulgated by climate change. Pollution is a major endangering factor in mollusk populations, etc.
I fear that these conclusions are too subtle for conservative paradigms. They need extremely shocking or exaggerated conclusions to compel them to action, as if the Red List itself weren’t shocking. Yet their approaches and expectations are outdated. It is clearly time to move on to better paradigms: environmental, cultural, philosophical, linguistic, etc. Are we all waiting for the Baby Boomer generation to die so that we can “believe in Global Warming”? (And do we need to speak about our “belief” in it?) It sounds perverse, but perhaps something like a demographic change is fundamentally necessary for cultural change. What we need is a new generation of cultured thinkers of the new paradigms.