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Climate change is an imminent threat to all species

We must accelerate building a resilient future for our very existence and for future generations. We must do this for ourselves and for wildlife.

The Shedd Aquarium.
Pat Nabong/Sun-Times

Public health amidst a global pandemic is appropriately front and center in the news, our actions and the hearts and minds of the world. Within hours of taking office, the Biden administration recognized another health crisis and took swift action to prioritize the health of our planet by addressing climate change.

We applaud these actions, we are grateful, and we are full of hope for our blue planet.

Climate change is an imminent threat to all species — every plant, animal and human. It is the most omnipresent and existential challenge to our collective future.

Our waterways have long masked its impacts, with our ocean absorbing 25% of carbon dioxide generated by human activities, and more than 90% of excess heat. But these Earth system accommodations have come at a tremendous cost: they have altered the chemistry and temperature of the ocean, as well as our lakes and rivers, leaving aquatic life in a currently unwinnable race to adapt.

Climate change also has real, dangerous consequences for our collective well-being. In Chicago, this takes the form of flood risks, poor air and water quality and exposure to extreme temperatures facing some of our most vulnerable citizens. Congress shared a report last year recognizing that frontline communities – those that experience the consequences of climate change “first and worst” – are often black, brown and low-income communities, which have been disproportionately impacted for decades. Reversing the climate crisis is not simply an issue of preserving nature, it is an issue of human health and equity.

This is our moment – as business leaders, workers, neighbors, tribal communities and elected officials – to bring together our unique skills, greatest innovations and hard work to tackle climate change. We must accelerate building a resilient future for our very existence and for future generations. We must do this for ourselves and for wildlife.

The future is not yet written and while the administration’s actions are part of the solution, commitments to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and advance a clean energy transition must become concrete with legislation, funding and action taken by every human, business and municipality.

Locally, we need to support reparations of our aging water infrastructure to ensure water equity – access to safe and clean drinking water for all – while preserving our water source by preventing further pollution. Actions for water equity, among others, will be critical as the consequences of climate change are felt in our region.

As we look forward, we encourage the public not to sit quietly, but to capitalize on this momentum and voice your continued support for climate and water policy with your elected officials. We must ensure that combatting the climate crisis remains a top priority if we are truly going to create a healthier tomorrow.

And we, at Shedd Aquarium, make a promise too: to continue to advocate fearlessly and unyieldingly for the aquatic animal world. We stand as a resource for the city of Chicago and beyond. We welcome all actions, big and small, in the fight to reverse the climate crisis. If you’re interested in joining us in our efforts, please visit us at our website to learn more about how you can get involved.

Bridget Coughlin is president and CEO of the Shedd Aquarium.