Alas, the eyes of the world did not turn to the plight of the Kittlitz's murrelet, as we had hoped, and the administration quietly refused to protect it, a decision we are challenging in court. In 2004, we filed a petition seeking protection for the staghorn and elkhorn corals, species that have declined by more than 90% because of a host of threats, including global warming. The corals were listed as threatened species in May, but with far less fanfare than the polar bear and without an explicit recognition of global warming as a cause of their decline. In November, we petitioned to protect 12 penguin species, including the ice-dependent emperor penguin.
These species are, unfortunately, just the tip of the extinction iceberg. One study estimates that a third of the Earth's creatures will be condemned to extinction by 2050. Polar bears may not be extinct until 2040, but that doesn't mean we have 30 years to do nothing.
Hansen, the NASA climate scientist, has repeatedly warned that merely keeping up the current pace of emissions for 10 more years will irreversibly alter the Earth's climate. If sea levels rise 18 feet or more, a large proportion of the world's human population will be displaced -- or worse. Polar bears are not the only species threatened by global warming. Absent political action from the United States and the world, the rest of us may be as well.