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The Biggest Threat to Biodiversity

Nov 4, 2015

WASHINGTON -- U.S. Representative Mike Quigley (IL-05) urged his colleagues on the House floor to recognize the importance of biodiversity to our communities and the severe impact climate change will have on it if left unchecked.

Below is a video and transcript of the speech.

Mr. Speaker, 

John Muir, a naturalist, author, and environmental philosopher once said, 

“When we try to pick out anything by itself, we find it hitched to everything else in the universe.” 

This couldn’t be truer when it comes to the effects climate change is having on the biodiversity of our planet.

We can’t solve the climate change crisis without realizing how interconnected its impacts truly are. 

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change has predicted – assuming that current trends in burning fossil fuels continue – by the year 2100 the surface of the Earth will warm on average by as much as 6 degrees Celsius. 

That kind of potential for rapid and lasting climate warming poses a significant challenge for biodiversity conservation.

It may seem obvious, but the places that plants and animals can exist are limited by factors such as sunlight, precipitation and temperature. 

A polar bear can’t exist in Brazil, just as a lion can’t exist in Antarctica. 
And you won’t find palm trees in Greenland. 

So as climate changes, the abundance and distribution of plants and animals will also change. 

Climate change alone is expected to threaten approximately one quarter, possibly more, of all species on land with extinction by the year 2050. 

That means climate change will surpass even habitat loss as the biggest threat to life on land. 

Because of climate change, birds lay eggs earlier in the year, plants bloom earlier, and mammals come out of hibernation sooner. 

These changes may sound insignificant, but they drastically impact the life cycle of each population and therefore any other species that rely on it.  

We are literally altering the timeline of nature!

The need to protect plant and animal species might not be a top priority for some of my colleagues, but I urge them to consider the other impacts. 

Twelve plant species provide approximately 75 percent of our total food supply. 

What is not generally appreciated is that these relatively few species depend on hundreds and thousands of other species for their productivity. 

Our food supply is not only based on the food that we eat, but insects and birds that pollinate crop flowers and feed on crop pests. 

For example, more than 80 percent of the 264 crops grown in the European Union depend on insect pollinators. 

A lack of biodiversity can also lead to a decreased ability to produce medicine as key plants are lost to extinction. 

And without specific plants, such as grasses and trees that have evolved to resist the spread of wildfires or mitigate the impacts of flooding, 

We are losing a key shield in protecting against natural disasters. 

These are nature’s defenders, and we are losing them. 

In my own backyard, these climate changes are expected to impact regional biodiversity in a variety of direct and indirect ways. 

The Chicago wilderness, which expands across Illinois, Indiana, Wisconsin and Michigan, will likely experience changes in the timing of natural events such as blooming, migration and the onset of hibernation. 

It could also cause a loss of suitable habitat and a disruption of ecological communities due to different responses to climate change. 

These impacts are not limited to our land, plants and animals. 

Changes in biodiversity will have significant impacts on our waterways as well. 

In the Great Lakes, native plant and animal species will differ widely in their responses to changing stream temperature and hydrology. 

Wetland, plant and animal communities are continually adapting to changing water levels.

However, the extreme changes we see as a result of climate change, such as droughts and flooding, create more unstable environments for species. 

Protecting our biodiversity does more than save plants and animals. It protects agriculture, medicine, and the overall safety of our communities.  

From the beginning of time, nature has fed us, cured us and protected us. Now it is our turn. 

If we let one piece fail, we are putting the entire system at risk. 

We need to protect plant and animal species from an ever changing climate if we want to secure a healthy and prosperous future for our children. 

I urge my colleagues to stop ignoring the science and support federal legislation that acts on climate change and addresses these grave biological threats. 

Thank you and I yield back.