"The one thing we need more than hope is action. Once we start to act, hope is everywhere."
- Greta Thunberg
This summer, humanity got an inkling of what is in store for us if we do not act on climate change. A record-breaking heatwave in the Pacific Northwest brought triple-digit temperatures to cities that are best known for their clouds and rain. British Columbia experienced temperatures higher than any on record for Las Vegas! But the harbingers of climate change weren’t confined to that region. Extreme weather events, including heatwaves, devastating flooding, deep drought, and huge wildfires occurred around the globe. The climate crisis is here. In a timely report, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change released their sixth assessment, which reaffirms what climate scientists have been telling us for so long: Climate change is happening, it is caused by human activities, and its impacts will intensify and become more frequent as carbon emissions increase. Importantly, the report also tells us that there is still time to act, but the window for holding off the most catastrophic effects of climate change is closing fast.
Restoration at the Rancho Jamul Ecological Reserve near San Diego began several years ago, and incorporated a variety of flowering plants such as California buckwheat (Eriogonum fascicularis). Native milkweeds were recently planted at the site so that it can support breeding western monarch butterflies. (Photo: Angela Laws, Xerces Society.)
The report is a sobering reminder that we must act now. To reduce the potential for severe effects of climate change we must reduce carbon emissions as quickly as possible to hold warming to 2°C or less (preferably 1.5°C). It’s easy to feel overwhelmed by this. I admit that I sometimes feel helpless and deeply sad about the situation, and about how much we stand to lose. But the fact is that there is simply too much at stake to give up. I find that it helps me to focus on the things that I can do. One important action we can take is to contact our representatives. We must hold our elected officials at all levels of government accountable to act on climate change, and demand solutions that are equal to the scale of the problem (see this blog post for additional actions you can take). I also take comfort in knowing that at Xerces, much of our work creating, restoring, and managing habitat contributes to nature-based climate solutions, and we consider climate resilience as part of every project.
Nature-based climate solutions are actions that help to address climate change while also protecting biodiversity. These solutions help to mitigate climate change by increasing carbon sequestration services by the plants and soil in those ecosystems. They also protect and enhance nature to help ecosystems adapt to a changing climate.
Restoration efforts to support monarchs benefit many species of pollinators, such as this yellow-faced bee (genus Hylaeus) using narrowleaf milkweed at the Oroville Wildlife Area. (Photo: Angela Laws, Xerces Society.)
One great example of our nature-based climate solutions work is our partnership with River Partners and the California Department of Fish and Wildlife to restore 600 acres of habitat across eight sites in California. A primary goal of this restoration effort, which is led by River Partners, is to restore habitat for monarchs. However, this habitat work will also benefit many other species of butterflies and bumble bees, as well as other pollinators and wildlife, all while increasing carbon sequestration.
I am lucky enough to get to do the pollinator and monarch monitoring for this project. As I visit each site looking for pollinators, the large scale of the restoration work happening really becomes apparent. Most of these sites were weedy and had low plant diversity. Restoration has entailed planting a mix of native trees, shrubs, flowers and grasses which increases carbon sequestration across 600 acres, making a real contribution to nature-based climate solutions in California. Because the sites are so large, they will also be able to support an abundance and diversity of pollinators and other wildlife, including imperiled species like the monarch butterfly. I think this also demonstrates how the fight to address climate change and the fight to conserve biodiversity are the same.
A purplish copper (Lycaena helloides) at the Dos Rios site in the San Joaquin Valley. These butterflies are one of several species of butterflies that have been declining in western states and that will benefit from this habitat restoration work. Protecting pollinator biodiversity requires work to protect and restore habitat as well as work to address the climate crisis. (Photo: Angela Laws, Xerces Society.)
In one recent example of the relationship between biodiversity and climate change, University of Nevada-Reno biologist Matthew Forister and his colleagues published research showing that western butterflies have declined by 1.6% per year over the last 40 years. According to their analysis, which used data sets from long-term scientific surveys and community science monitoring projects, these declines are being driven by warmer fall temperatures. This means that declines in western butterflies are the consequence, at least in part, of climate change. If we fail to hold warming to 1.5 or 2°C the negative effects of climate change on western butterflies, and many other species, will be magnified. To protect biodiversity, we must address the climate crisis head-on—and quickly.
I’m getting ready to start the third and final round of pollinator sampling at the River Partners sites for this year. It gives a sense of hope to watch the pollinators responding to the restoration work. I’m always on the lookout for a new butterfly to add to the species checklist for each site. It is especially satisfying when a butterfly species that Matt Forister and colleagues found to be declining in the region shows up. It’s a good reminder that we can accomplish a lot when we work together. And now is certainly the time for all of us who see what is at stake with climate change to work together to meet the challenge. We have a lot worth fighting for, and we must move to action with urgency.
Find resources to help pollinators in California
Information about protecting western monarch butterflies
Read other articles about climate change on the Xerces blog