Extinction and Climate Change
About this Course
Human activities are causing a global mass extinction of plants and animals that rivals the five great extinction events over the earth's geologic history. Historically, habitat loss, overharvest, introduction of invasive species and pollution have been the principal causes of this "Sixth Great Extinction." There is now a strong scientific consensus that the greatest threat to global biodiversity is climate change caused by anthropogenic sources of greenhouse gases, primarily carbon dioxide. Some scientists estimate that a third to a half of all species on earth may disappear by the end of this century unless atmospheric concentrations of GHG are stabilized over the next two decades. Ecosystems are shifting and changing, and some-- such as the arctic, coral reefs and high elevation habitat-- may disappear altogether. This course looks at the ecological, social and ethical consequences of this biological impoverishment and considers various legal and policy options to address the phenomenon of climate change. The course will address the extent to which laws like the Endangered Species Act of 1973, can be used to address both conventional threats to species as well as the more challenging threat of climate change. International laws such as CITES and the Convention on Biodiversity will also be considered. The course will include a brief review of the policy instruments, such as debt forgiveness and tropical forest preservation, that combine habitat conservation and carbon sequestration Insights from the fields of conservation biology and ecological economics will be integrated into the discussions, and guest speakers will help round out the understanding of the richness and complexity of the issues.