Turtles and Climate Change

Spring has sprung, all the flowers are in bloom, and shells are a clackin'! This winter has been cold and rainy at the Turtle Conservancy’s Conservation Center, and the turtles have had enough of it! They have had plenty of time to think about climate change and its implications for their future.

“I don't get it,” growled Tank, a radiated tortoise.  “Last year, we were literally in danger of burning up when the fires came roaring through.  Now we're in danger of drowning.  Has anyone else noticed how high the creek got this winter?”

“The creek is a great place for making out with the girls,” said Arnold, a Chinese big-headed turtle.  “You can see the video of me and the girls in the creek above.”

“Bill McKibben had an important piece on the climate crisis in the New Yorker a couple of months ago,” offered Daphne, the Galapagos matriarch.  “He wrote that human activity has killed off sixty percent of all wildlife since 1970!!  He talks about our shrinking planet, as human-caused climate disruption erodes the habitable areas of Earth.”

“Humans!  Who put them in charge?  We've been around since the dinosaurs and we've clearly figured out survival on our own.  We'd be fine if the humans would just chill.”  Grouch, another Galapagos, pulled into his shell and muttered to himself.

“Speaking of chill, said Daphne, “a recent article by ice scientist Eric Rignot et al in the Proceedings of the National Academy reports that Antarctic ice is melting six time faster than it did 40 years ago, resulting in global sea level rise of more than ½ inch since 1979.  Add to this the finding that the oceans are warming far more quickly than anticipated and this is killing off marine ecosystems. Think what that means for our ocean-dwelling cousins, the sea turtles.”

Alice, an Aldabra, spoke up: “What will this do to islands like the Seychelles, where I’m from?”

“Well, some islands are already in danger of disappearing—Kiribati, the Maldives, Tuvala, the Marshall Islands,” said Tank.  “I read in National Geographic that the Marshall Islands may have to elevate an existing island or build a new, higher island or just relocate the whole population.  Any of these options would be very, very expensive and disruptive.”

“Maybe all you land tortoises should take swimming lessons from us,” chimed in two of the Roti Island Snake-neck turtles.  “Then, when the whole world is underwater you’ll just become sea animals.”  (The Rotis aren’t known for their sophisticated intellect.)

“What worries me is the future we’re leaving for our children,” said Mae West, a radiated tortoise.  “I do my best to produce babies, but what kind of world am I bringing them in to, and what will they face as adults?”

“O.K., enough complaining.” Daphne weighed in (at 400+ pounds).  “We need an action plan.  There was actually a helpful piece in the New York Times suggesting seven things the U.S. could do right now that would reduce greenhouse gas emissions in the US by 50% by the year 2050.  Some of these things are already being done in California and in other countries.  Here’s the list:”

  1. Impose a carbon tax across the economy (British Columbia does this) 

  2. Require that electricity be generated only from wind, solar or nuclear (New York, California)

  3. More incentives for electric vehicles (Norway)

  4. Set efficiency targets for industry using available technology (China)

  5. Set energy efficiency standards for new homes and buildings (California)

  6. Restart the US/Canadian plan to curb methane emissions (Trump pulled the US out of it)

  7. Match the European Union’s legislation to end the use of hydrofluorocarbons.

“Well, I like all of them except the part about nuclear energy,” said Sweetie Pie, another Galapagos tortoise.  “There have just been too many close calls with nuclear.  But all in all, it’s a good list and we should be encouraging the humans to get with the program.  Tell the humans to write their Congressional representatives and demand action.”

Grouch emerged from his shell for a moment.  “Let’s encourage the humans to just move to Mars and leave us alone.”

“I second that!” cried Grumpy, also a Galapagos tortoise.  He and Grouch then hissed in unison and retreated into their shells.  

“Sticking your head in the sand (or in your shell) is no solution,” scolded Mae West.  “Now that it’s spring and Earth Day is coming up in April, let’s make sure the humans move this forward.  I’m issuing a challenge to all humans who read this newsletter: email us by Earth Day, April 20, with concrete ideas for what you can do in your community to help mitigate the damage being done to our planet.  Send your suggestions to info@turtleconservancy.org.  And thank you!”