Luis Suarez has witnessed climate change.
As a young man hiking in the Andes highlands of his native Ecuador, Suarez carefully avoided stepping on the countless Jambato (Atelopus ignescens) toads in his path. He collected data and took pictures of them, an early step in his career as an environmental biologist.
Today, the black toads with colorful chest markings have disappeared, victims of a killer fungus that flourishes on our warming planet.
“One of the first amphibians I ever photographed is now extinct,” said Suarez, the head of Conservation International’s Ecuador program. “It used to be the most common amphibian of the Ecuadorian Andes. We never thought it would be gone.”
The loss is personal for him, but felt by us all.
Destroying Forests Is a Cause
Climate change is a global, systemic threat linked to many of today’s tragic stories – species extinctions like the Jambato toad, extreme weather events, rising sea levels, drought, food riots, and more. And causing climate change is fossil fuel consumption and the burning and clearing of tropical forests.
That’s right. Deforestation is among the largest contributors to climate change, emitting some 20 percent of total greenhouse gas emissions – more than all the world’s cars, trucks, and airplanes combined.
WATCH THE VIDEO: Go backstage with Harrison Ford as he shoots a public service announcement about deforestation and climate change.
When tropical forests are burned or cleared, we all lose. Carbon dioxide stored in the trees and plants is released into the atmosphere, worsening climate change. Weather patterns change to affect agriculture production, and dwindling resources fray social stability. Plants and wildlife go extinct, often before science learns their potential benefits. People are forced to move elsewhere for essential resources such as food, water, medicines and shelter.
“Forests are much more than something to be observed and watched,” says David Singh, executive director of CI’s program in Guyana, one of the world’s forest-rich nations. “They are people’s lives, their whole lives, and a natural asset for the entire world. Once gone, they cannot be replaced.”
Conserving Forests is a Solution
Climate change is a global dilemma that requires a global response. Industrialized economies must drastically reduce greenhouse gas emissions that cause climate change while helping less-prosperous nations cope with a warming planet. Emerging nations must balance the desire for rapid growth with the need to hold down their emissions. And everyone has to conserve our remaining healthy ecosystems – the tropical forests, oceans, wetlands, and other natural areas that sustain life.
Conserving nature combats climate change and maintains the resources needed for human survival, particularly for the 1.2 billion people worldwide living in poverty. For example, mangrove forests prevent coastal erosion and protect freshwater supplies as sea levels rise. Coral reefs help buffer the impact of storms and sustain vital marine resources such as fish populations.
The tropical forests of Central Africa, Southeast Asia, and Central and South America are the heart of nature’s gifts. These jungle ecosystems teem with life – from mysterious plants and insects to majestic gorillas, elephants and jaguars – and provide countless resources and services depended on by people everywhere. Yet, we are destroying tropical forests at a rate threatening their very existence. An area the size of Manhattan disappears every four hours.
LEARN MORE: Harrison Ford has been working with CI for more than 15 years to promote solutions to climate change and deforestation.
The challenge is great, and so is the potential for success. In Democratic Republic of Congo, one man forged an alliance of tribal leaders to protect their homelands and the rare gorillas inhabiting them for the benefit of their people and the world. In China, a project to conserve standing forest and replant degraded areas gained international recognition for mitigating climate change and helping local people. In Costa Rica, the government worked with landowners, businesses and local communities to pioneer a payment system for conserving nature and its benefits.
These are the stories of how CI and its partners are helping the world confront climate change. Stay tuned to Conservation.org for more of them.