CWA: Why should you care about species extinction?

CWA is the Conference on World Affairs at the University of Colorado, Boulder. Now in it's 63rd year, the conference brings together scientists, politicians, activists, journalists, artists, and more for a week of fascinating conversations. It's free, and open to the public. Think of CWA as the democratic version of TEDtalks. I'm at the conference all this week and will be posting and tweeting about some of the interesting things that I learn.

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Short answer: Because extinction doesn't happen in a vacuum. When one species dies out, it can have further reaching implications for the ecosystem that species lived in. Case in point: Coral reefs. You've probably heard a lot about coral reefs dying. But it's not always spelled out that these deaths are more than just a loss of biodiversity. During a panel on Tuesday, Peter Hildebrand—an atmospheric scientist with NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center—did a nice job of putting this issue into stark relief.

"Coral reefs supply a lot of the basis of the food chain in the ocean. If we wreck up the climate, then we change concentrations of carbon dioxide in the air, which means we're changing the pH levels in the water, and that chemical change damages the shells in the coral. As coral die, that damage has effects right up the food chain to the large fish that we eat."

Image: Some rights reserved by mattk1979