Polar bears have become the poster child for climate change. Global warming documentaries often show them struggling to survive thanks to ice habitats melting. The Union Conservation of Nature estimates the global polar bear population will shrink by 30 percent by 2053, mostly due to global warming.
But for all of the species having trouble adapting to climate change, ecologist Chris Thomas says there are many that are making the leap. Thomas is the author of the new book, “Inheritors of the Earth: How Nature Is Thriving in an Age of Extinction," and he says that global warming is forcing a fair number of species to grow and change.
While many scientists have focused solely on conserving struggling species, Thomas has studied butterflies and birds that have adapted to an increasingly human-influenced Earth.
“The studies are suggesting it isn’t just a single unitary story of decline,” Thomas said. “Yes, lots and lots of [species] are declining, but there are also a lot of things that are increasing. So there isn’t this inexorable, certain degradation.”
And so we see plants and animals popping up in new places, including in our cities and towns that have replaced forests and fields.
But while many in the scientific community agree with his perspective, Thomas says he still gets push back from people who misinterpret his intent.
“Some people see me as someone who’s trying to undermine the narrative of the story of biological loss,” Thomas said. “I’m not saying there’s no such thing as biological loss, I’m just saying there’s biological gain, as well. It’s an ‘as well’ strategy rather than an ‘instead’ [strategy].”
And he says conservation of fragile plant and animal species is important, not just because of their inherent value, but because they could help us out in the future. He argues that we need to stockpile the number of species on Earth to counter the next set of challenges caused by climate change.
“It’s almost like an old-fashioned approach to conservation,” Thomas said. “We need to turn our attention to the species that are threatened and try to save them at a global level. Not to keep the world as it is now, but because having as many species on Earth as possible provides the biological system with the flexibility to respond to whatever it is we do next to the planet. And we don’t know what that’s going to be at the moment.”