MNN interviews wildlife biologist and animal expert Jeff Corwin, host of the new MSNBC show '100 Heartbeats', about losing a species every 20 minutes and the role of climate change in the world today. (Meredith Darlington/MNN and Mike Lindsay/MNN)
Related on MNN: Watch the second part of this interview.
Jeff Corwin: My pleasure.
Vanessa: What do you think is the most important thing happening in conservation these days?
Jeff Corwin: It’s climate change. It’s habitat loss. It’s environmental degradation. It’s species exploitation and all these factors have come together to create a perfect storm of extinction that’s really never been experienced in human history. We lose about a species every 20 minutes. That’s almost 23,000 species a year that disappear forever. We’re really there. We’re at a triage stage when it comes to the conservation of natural resources, species and habitat. But I think the big issue of it all, I think, the sort of, the 800-pound gorilla in the room is climate change.
Vanessa: Do you think that people are starting to connect the dots more?
Jeff Corwin: Here’s what I think has happened. I think within the naysayers, have kind of all shut up. And the reason why is because we have a lot of scientific evidence that strongly suggests that climate change, that our planet is warming and that it isn’t just hearsay. I did a series called, “Planet in Peril,” and we went up to Jakobshavn Glacier in Greenland and we filmed that glacier. And that glacier loses enough water every day, that giant glacier loses enough water to supply Manhattan with water for a year. I was just up filming polar bears and you can see how polar bears are being impacted by climate change. The pika, this unique North American mammal that lives in, like high altitude Rocky Mountain habitat -- that’ll probably be extinct in a decade or two because it cannot survive in temperatures above 75 degrees. Even something like a wolverine, this is a creature that can drive a grizzly bear off a kill. This creature has a future in doubt because it needs to, it rears its young in snow pack and the snow pack where it lives in is starting to disappear. So I think we’re getting it. We get it. But I don’t think we’re really being proactive to do anything about it.
Vanessa: What do you think the best things that are happening are? What are you excited about?
Jeff Corwin: Well, I think we are thinking about it, which is the first step, but I think many of the things we are doing are somewhat cosmetic. We needed to make radical changes in the way we behave economically, the way we behave reproductively, the way, you know, way we use and exhaust natural resources, the way we handle our energy, and we are not; we are just now, we’re just now dealing with it. If you went to the doctor and the doctor said, “I got bad news for you. I got good news and bad news. The bad news is you’ve got lung cancer. You’re a smoker. The good news is, though, we can treat it.” And then, I think the way we’re dealing with climate change is like that, like a person who would say, “Oh, my goodness. That’s kind of scary. I think I’m gonna cut back to half a pack a day.” Well, the doctor would say, “If you want to survive this, you’re gonna have to quit smoking. You’re gonna have to totally, radically change your health. You’re gonna have to go on chemotherapy, do all these things, and maybe you’ll make it.” The roller coaster has left the station. And the roller coaster is going downhill. And you can’t stop a rollercoaster when it goes downhill. So, that’s where we are with climate change. So we need to be able to address the issues, and a lot of this stuff we’re dealing with climate change is really -- we’re looking at emissions, which is very, very important. But what we’re not really thinking about is ecosystems and species. There will be thousands of species, many of which will be extinct within the next three, four, five, six decades because of climate change. We’re not thinking about them.
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