Update: The photo exhibit Irreplaceable is on display at the San Francisco Public Library gallery through the holidays. It heads to Los Angeles, to the G2 Gallery in Venice, for the month of January. It will move to Washington D.C. in the spring; the dates will be announced.

By Barbara Kessler

Polar bears, penguins and caribou are all facing an uncertain future as global warming melts their arctic climates.


Photo: Wendy Shattil/Bob Rozinski

If only they were the only species at risk. Tragically, these arctic animals have many cousins in similar straits in lower latitudes: From the American Crocodile to the Monarch Butterfly; the Green Sea Turtle to the Mountain Goat; the Grizzly Bear, Lynx, Mountain Yellow-legged Frog, Sugar Maple and Northern Flying Squirrel. An array of amazing mammals and marine life, as well as plants, is imperiled by climate change.

The effects are being observed already, as populations dwindle, critical habitat becomes inhospitable and breeding or wintering grounds warm.

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Slideshow: Selections from the exhibit

“A lot of people know about the polar bear…however global warming is affecting species right in your backyard, whether your hometown is Boston or Dallas or San Diego or Seattle,” says Susan Holmes, senior legislative representative for Earthjustice and the coordinator of “Irreplaceable: Wildlife in a Warming World,” an effort to raise awareness about the plight of these species.

The campaign — the creation of Earthjustice, the inter-faith Noah Alliance, the International League of Conservation Photographers (ILCP) and The Center for Applied Biodiversity Science (CABS) – is anchored by a website and a unique traveling photo exhibit featuring the works of top nature photographers.

The 40-piece photo exhibit highlights nearly the same number of species. All face immediate challenges from global warming. Some, like the polar bear, are colliding head-on with climate change as it literally melts the ice floes beneath them. Others, like the American Pika, a chipmunk-like creature, are slowly being stranded at higher and higher altitudes as the freeze-line of their mountain-top habitat creeps upward.


James Balog

Still others are suffering an indirect punch from climate change, such as the moose in Northern Minnesota, where warmer temperatures have produced a glut of the white-tailed deer, which carry a parasite that devastates moose neurologically. The resultant illness leaves the moose disoriented and vulnerable to predators.

These animals – and at-risk plants like the Sugar Maple – are not threatened by some vague combination of human neglect and encroachment, but are affected specifically by warmer temperatures, according to the group’s consulting scientists.

And the ramifications for human beings are more profound that the potential loss of our ability to enjoy the beauties of nature.

Take the case of the Pacific salmon. As the rivers that the salmon need for spawning grow warmer, due to less run off from snowy mountains, the salmon’s ability to reproduce is impaired. Already under stress from pollution, fishing and the damming of some rivers, the Pacific salmon population is collapsing.