Or to rephrase in terms that George W. Bush could understand, lots of plants and animals will be “smited.” From the pages of Scientific American (online edition):

Forester Jay Malcolm of the University of Toronto and his international team of conservation professionals looked at the changes to vegetation types, or biomes, in 25 so-called hot spots–unique ecosystems with a wide range of endemic species. The researchers modeled what would happen to the plants in these areas if the atmospheric concentration of carbon dioxide doubled in the next 100 years.

Under a number of scenarios–ranging from broadly defined biomes in which species were able to spread away from impacted areas to highly sensitive biomes whose species could not move at all–anywhere from hundreds to tens of thousands of plant and animal species were lost. “Climate change is rapidly becoming the most serious threat to the planet’s biodiversity,” Malcolm says. “This study provides even stronger scientific evidence that global warming will result in catastrophic species loss across the planet.”

To anyone who says “Yawn — Big effing deal . . . ” let me just say that it is species diversity which supports the vast array of life on this planet. The fewer species, the more tenuous life becomes for all the ones who remain, including the dominant life form, homo sapiens.

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What’s even worse news, is that areas where bio-diversity is greatest, such as Australia, South Africa, South America, et al, are considered to be most at risk.

To give just one example of the impact this will have on human life, consider that 25% of all pharmaceutical drugs are derived from plants located in tropical rain forests. Yet pharmaceutical companies have only done research on about 1% of of the plant species that reside in those rain forests. Meanwhile, an average of 50,000 species there are going extinct each year. Who knows what miracle drugs are being lost even as we speak?

Indeed, it will be difficult to predict all the potential consequences that could arise from a mass extinction event, but a less diverse environment is also one which is more susceptible to degradation, pollution, and an increase in disease vectors moving from their isolated ecological niches into human populations. Societal disruptions are also likely, as communities dependent for their livelihood on various species would be faced with loss of jobs, and in the developing world, starvation, in the event those species die off.

Can we prevent such a massive extinction if we begin to act now? Frankly no one knows, but failing to act to limit our greenhouse gas emissions will only make matters worse sooner rather than later.

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