Nearly two-thirds of all bird species in North America are at risk of extinction due to climate change according to a new report, released Thursday by the National Audubon Society.
In the climate report, “Survival by Degrees: 389 Bird Species on the Brink,” Audubon scientists used 140 million bird records, including observational data, to predict how 604 avian species across the continent will adapt to increasing global temperatures.
The report is based on two climate models: One where temperatures rise by three degrees or more over the next 80 years and one where temperatures rise by 1.5 degrees. Audubon Florida executive director Julie Wraithmell said under the more dire scenario, 389 bird species would be at risk of extinction.
“It’s a pretty extraordinary number, I think, for anyone to think about,” said Wraithmell.
“The good news is that if we’re able to hold the temperature increase to just 1.5 degrees Celsius, a full three quarters of those effected species will have much, much better outcomes and along with them, so will we.”
The report includes predicted outcomes for imperiled birds in Florida including roseate spoonbills that are already moving north away from Florida Bay into the Everglades due to shifting salinity levels, black skimmers whose beach nesting sites are being squeezed out due to pressures from development and brown pelicans, which are seeing their rookery islands slowly go underwater with rising seas.
Without ramped up efforts to address climate change, Wraithmell said the effects could be even worse than what’s predicted in the report.
“While those model results are extraordinarily daunting, they’re also extraordinarily conservative because they did not take into account sea level rise as well as increasing droughts, early spring; some of these other symptoms that we know are already occurring as a result of climate change.”
Much in the spirit of the C40 World Mayors Summit taking place this week in Copenhagen, the Audubon report also includes a model ordinance toolkit highlighting projects local governments across the country have taken up to transition to renewable energy sources and reduce their carbon footprint.
“Florida is making really innovative progress, especially at the city and county levels,” said Wraithmell. “We want to provide examples of those to local advocates so that they can work with their city and county governments and say, ‘Hey, what are we doing? Look at this great idea. Maybe this is something we could do in our community.’”
According to Wraithmell, the report’s findings and the model ordinance toolkit are not just about protecting bird species. “If you care about red tide, if you care about the flooding as a result of storms, if you care about catastrophic wildfires that are effecting our region; all of these things are all a result, in part, of climate change and it’s not just about our environment and it’s not just about our own health,” said Wraithmell.
“It’s also about our economy and our future prosperity and that of or children depends upon us getting this right now.”