Helping plants and animals migrate north isn't just a matter of potting, trucking, then unpotting plants — although some of this type of climate-change horticulture might take place. Many species under global-warming threat aren't easy to transplant. Soil microorganisms, insects, and other creatures critical to ecosystems may also find their current homes hostile as average temperatures rise. Addressing the effects of climate change on the natural world will be a local problem as millions of individual species seek to adapt in their own specific ways.

In a very broad sense, climate change will have the effect of shifting parts of the northern hemisphere's natural world further and further north. So as the temperature rises, entire ecosystems will need broad corridors of unperturbed natural areas in order to migrate to cooler northern habitats.

In cases where these plants, animals, insects, bacteria, and fungi are blocked by strip malls, cul-de-sacs, and boulevards, ecosystems will perish, scientists say. Meanwhile, habitats able to seamlessly spread to cooler northern climates, without sprawl getting in their way, have a better chance at survival.

Saving nature in California, therefore, will mean ensuring entire habitats have broad swaths of wild land along an uninterrupted pathway north. Scientists are only now beginning to speculate where and how such habitat migration might take place. "We need to take into account this vulnerability to large vegetation shifts, " says Patrick Gonzalez, a forest ecologist who works with The Nature Conservancy. "One way in which we're using that data is in the establishing and maintaining of corridors that link areas in the network."

But accomplishing this on a meaningful scale will require treating habitat-choking urban sprawl as a true environmental calamity. It will mean building cities up, rather than out — or choosing to foster massive species death.

During the past couple of years San Francisco has endeavored to increase the density of apartments downtown. This policy has the obvious economic and social benefits of providing more much-needed housing while making it easier to walk — rather than drive — to shopping, work, and play. But an antidevelopment political culture here makes it difficult to increase local apartment density on a truly meaningful scale — unless you're a leader no longer running for local office.

Perhaps a Gavin Newsom not tethered by the need for local re-election, who is focused on his national stature, could speed up this densifying trend and spread it beyond downtown and into the Richmond, the Van Ness area, Glen Park, the Mission, the central waterfront, and beyond. If Gore and Bloomberg's popularity are any guide, it's not just Mother Nature who will offer thanks. Voters will eventually come around, too.

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