Where have all the lizards gone?
Who would have thought that I’d ever be writing about lizards? Yes, I said lizards. Of all creatures, big and small, it’s not as if I’ve been particularly enamored of these small …and sometimes not so small beings… and yet they have entered my consciousness in a new way.
Let me explain. I’ve been coming down to Florida for over 40 years as it was my mom’s home until a year and a half ago when she died. She lived in a condominium that has a common swimming pool. Often when I went down to the pool, I would see these small creatures everywhere. Some of them would inevitably fall into the pool and be clinging onto the sides unable to get out. I would often try to help them get out by giving them a fallen leaf to step on. No one likes to see anything suffer, not even a small lizard. And they also became a bit of a joke as my mom’s Nurse’s Aide, Pat from Jamaica, was terrified of them. These creatures seemed to be everywhere, just part of the landscape like palm trees, waterways and clouds.
So, the last time I came down here in August, I noticed very few lizards and made a comment to Pat about it. She replied that it was just not the right time of year. Hmm, I thought. I accepted this explanation although I wondered.
Now I am down here in January. And no lizards. Absolutely none. When I went downstairs to go for a swim, no big or small lizards greeted me. None were in the pool. This had never happened before. Where were they? And if they were disappearing, then what was the reason? How might their absence be connected with Climate change? I did not know, but felt compelled to find out.
I started to google and found articles explaining the relationship between temperatures rising and lizards disappearing. How could that be? Don’t lizards like warm climate?
Well apparently, the change in temperatures are happening too rapidly for the lizards to adapt. As I read, “The higher temperatures are affecting their (lizards) ability to regulate body temperatures, limiting the number of hours they can search for food, and disturbing the development of embryos in species that give birth to live young.” The prediction is that by 2080, 20% of all lizards worldwide could be extinct. This article was written in 2010. It did say that if we slowed global warming, this prediction could change, but already a certain threshold has been crossed and there will be a big decline to continue for decades. https://www.aaas.org/news/science-global-temperatures-rise-world-s-lizards-are-disappearing
Another article mentions that already the disappearance of lizard populations has been recognized in places like France and Mexico. It also says that lizards are important “up and down the food chain. Lizards are important preys for many birds, snakes and other animals, and they are important predators of insects.”
Those who have become skeptical of scientific studies, particularly related to climate change, may doubt these reports, but the fact is, I am seeing with my own eyes a dramatic change. I cannot say for certain it is because of global warming, but also I have no reason to doubt the studies. And for sure, the lizard disappearance is just one of many creatures who are disappearing. The creatures are disappearing for many reasons which certainly includes the effects of global warming.
Why do I write about this? It’s not as if lizards are that meaningful to me and yet in a funny way they are. They have always been part of my world; and in a bigger way, part of life on this planet.
Can we survive without them? Oh, yes, as human beings we adapt and no doubt we can adapt to a world with diminishing lizards. But how far does that adaption go? A world without birds…without fish…without corals…without squirrels…without our grand elephants…how far are we going to go? What kind of world are we leaving our grand and great grandchildren?
Without even realizing it, these creatures are a part of who I am. You begin to realize how interrelated we are at almost a subconscious level. For example, can anyone imagine a world without clouds, sun, or rain? No, that would be impossible. Well the creatures are also part of our world.
Euan Ritchie, a senior lecturer on ecology, writes, “But why should it matter to us if we have a few less species? The simple answer is that we are connected to and deeply dependent on other species. From pollination of our crops by bees, to carbon storage, by our forests, and even the bacteria in our mouths, we rely upon biodiversity for our very existence. We neglect this at our own peril. And of course, there are equally justified arguments for keeping species based purely on their aesthetic and cultural importance, or for their own sake.
In Pope Francis’s “Encyclical on Climate Change and Inequality,” one of the most comprehensive and moving documents ever written in our times, covering not only the environment and climate change, but our whole relationship to life and its moral dimensions, he says, “It is not enough, however, to think of different species merely as potential “resources’ to be exploited, while overlooking the fact they have value in themselves. Each year sees the disappearance of thousands of plant and animal species which we will never know, which our children will never see, because they have been lost forever…Because of us, thousands of species will no longer give glory to God by their very existence, nor convey their message to us. We have no such right.”
Now whether we believe in a God or not, and even whether one feels connected with this ongoing extinction, still on some level we may care. It may be for a variety of reasons connected, in some way, to our own survival; connected to a certain sentimentality; to how life has always been for us or perhaps just to our love of creatures, big and small, to their very existence for their own sake… or connected to something that we can’t even clearly name, but we feel deeply.
We won’t be able to save all the animas heading toward extinction. We may not be able to save the lizards. There are already changes happening that can’t be reversed. Still the question remains, if we do care, for whatever reason, what are we going to do about it? What can we still do?