Asbestos Industry Knew and Kept Secret for Decades That Their Product Was Deadly
The asbestos industry was well aware that asbestos was deadly. Yet, the companies that mined asbestos and those that exposed workers, military personnel and consumers to it and their insurers kept what they knew secret for decades—endangering hundreds of thousands of Americans, many of whom perished as a result.
Even in recent years, decades after the dangers of asbestos became widely known, some companies continue trying to cover up—even destroy—evidence of their products' devastation to workers, their families and many others who have been sickened and died from asbestos diseases.
Today, some of the most well-known companies in the country are lobbying Congress to pass legislation that would tip the scales of justice heavily in their favor when facing lawsuits from people who are sick and dying.
Modern knowledge of asbestos' dangers is well over a century old. In 1900, a London doctor discovered asbestos fibers in the lungs of a textile factory worker who died at the age of 33 from severe pulmonary fibrosis, leading the physician to believe asbestos was the cause of death. By 1918, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics noticed a growing number of unusual deaths for those who worked with asbestos. By the early 1930s a name was given to the disease, asbestosis, for those who died after being exposed to asbestos on the job.
While banned in more than 50 other countries, asbestos remains legal and used in the U.S. and the diseases it causes kill up to 15,000 Americans each year.
Industry was Aware of the Asbestos Danger
In 1948, an internal memo from an insulation industry scientist warned that asbestos-based insulation caused asbestosis.
"I realize that our findings regarding Kaylo (brand of insulation) are less favorable than anticipated. However, since Kaylo is capable of producing asbestosis, it is better to discover it now in animals rather than later in industrial workers."
– Dr. Arthur J. Vorwald, director, Trudeau Foundation, Nov. 16, 1948
Hundreds of thousands of lives could have been saved and a national tragedy averted if the insulation industry responded appropriately to the science and removed asbestos from its products. It did not. Instead, it continued to manufacture one of the most widely used asbestos products without informing workers or the public.
A 1949 internal Exxon memo titled "Company Confidential" lists “Cancer of Lungs" as a disease likely caused by asbestos.
In 1958, an inter-office memo from the National Gypsum Co., which mined and used asbestos, stamped “Personal & Confidential" reads: “Just as certain as death and taxes ... if you inhale asbestos dust you get asbestosis." (M.C.M Pollard, National Gypsum Co. Sept. 22, 1958.)
Hiding the Danger from Workers and the Public
Despite a litany of corporate memos acknowledging the medical literature on the affects of asbestos, most companies profiting from its use continued to expose workers and the public to it for decades.
One of the most notorious industry memos, from 1966, shows just how callous executives were toward factory workers who were being exposed to asbestos.
The director of purchases for the Bendix Corporation (now Honeywell) wrote in a memo to an official with the Canadian Johns Manville Co.:
"My answer to the problem is: if you have enjoyed a good life while working with asbestos products why not die from it."
– E.A. Martin, Bendix Corporation, Sept. 12, 1966
Today, Honeywell is one of the biggest corporate backers of legislation, the so-called FACT Act, passed by the House and awaiting action in the Senate that would delay and deny compensation to those who have been sickened from asbestos disease. Between 2010 and 2015, the company contributed nearly $250,000 to a small number of House Republicans who were instrumental in moving the bill through Congress.
An Aug. 7, 1978 memo by an official at Babcock and Wilcox, a company that designs, engineers and manufactures boilers and other power generation equipment, acknowledged the company was aware it was violating the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) standards set to limit worker exposure to asbestos fibers. The company decided to investigate the problem but not to warn workers who were being exposed. Instead, the company official wrote:
"The investigation is going to be handled as discreetly as possible. It is a concern of the meeting attendees that a labor violation such as a walkout or an OSHA citation would be forthcoming if the hourly labor force was aware of the apparent danger of asbestos exposure. ... As the situation stands right now no one in the meeting wants the warning signs posted at this time."
– T.L. Wharton, Babcock & Wilcox, Aug. 7, 1978
While the death toll from asbestos-triggered diseases continued to mount, the industry remained silent on what it knew to be the truth about the risk to workers. A 1971 memo from a Ford Motor Co. executive, unearthed by the Center for Public Integrity, argued that $1.25 per car was too much to spend on safer alternatives to asbestos brakes, concluding the “cost penalty" of switching to metal or carbon brakes “is severe."
Another asbestos industry giant, Union Carbide, went on the offensive when OSHA issued its first asbestos regulations for worker safety in 1972. That same year, the company issued a memorandum to sales executives who might get angry calls from customers concerned about the new regulations.
"If the customer is persistent and threatens to eliminate asbestos—a certain amount of aggressiveness may be effective. Words and catch phrases such as “premature," “irrational" or “avoiding the inevitable" will sometimes turn the table.
"The main objective is to keep the customer on the defensive, make him justify his position. ... Change the mood before discussing anything pertinent about the new regulations. Alternating between an aggressive and submissive attitude is confusing and allows you to bide your time. ... Don't cover too much ground in one confrontation. Even rabies shots are spaced at moderate intervals."
– B.L. Ingalis, Union Carbide June 22, 1972
Public Relations and Science for Sale
A speech from an asbestos industry expert dated June 7, 1973, describes a plan to sway the U.S. press, which had been increasingly reporting on the health impacts of asbestos exposure.
"The 'good' that asbestos does in protecting lives and property is of no concern to the press. ...
"The press relations battle will therefore be won, not when the media starts to print positive or balanced articles about asbestos, but when the press ceases to print anything about asbestos at all. ...
"And now, having heard the bad side of the public relations problems, it's time for some good news. And the the good news is that despite all the negative articles on asbestos-health that have appeared ... very few people have been paying attention."
Matthew M. Swetonic, executive secretary, Asbestos Information Association/North American, June 7, 1973
In the early 1980s, as the U.S. Gypsum Company was being sued by public school districts seeking compensation for the removal of the company's asbestos products, it hired the international public relations firm, Hill and Knowlton to help. The firm designed a comprehensive communications strategy to dissuade other lawsuits and shift the public's perception about asbestos and the asbestos industry. In its plan, Hill and Knowlton called for the creation of a “third-party panel of independent experts to be available for testimony, commentary and technical support in appropriate markets and forums."
By 1984 a number of asbestos companies adopted another recommendation by Hill and Knowlton and formed the front group, the Safe Buildings Alliance (SBA), that allowed the industry to pool resources to push back against its critics in a number of venues, including the media. As Hill and Knowlton described in its recommendations, the SBA “could also act to deflect attention away from affected companies" and “take the heat from activist industry critics."
In 2001, the Ford Motor Company, concerned about mounting lawsuits brought by former auto workers who blamed their mesothelioma on the asbestos-laced brakes the company once made, decided to try and shift the science in its favor in order to sow doubt into the prevailing consensus that auto mechanics are at greater risk of becoming sick with mesothelioma—a disease that the only known cause is from exposure to asbestos.
The company hired a well-known industry consultant, Dennis Paustenbach and his then-firm Exponent and another, Cardno ChemRisk that Paustenbach started in the mid 1980's, to conduct a series of studies, articles for publication as well as expert testimony. Of course, Paustenbach's work on behalf of Ford found that those who worked with or around brake pads were not at greater risk of being diagnosed with mesothelioma. All told, Ford spent more than $40 million between the two consulting firms.
In a Dec. 28, 2010 letter to a Ford attorney, Paustenbach extolled the benefits of his and his colleagues' work to Ford writing that:
… the “asbestos related research which resulted in publications which have been enormously illuminating to the courts and juries. ... In my view, these papers have changed the scientific playing field in the courtroom."
In 2005, Georgia-Pacific recruited Stewart Holm, then director of toxicology and chemical management at Georgia-Pacific, for a new position to be “specially employed to perform expert consulting services in connection with pending and anticipated litigation concerning alleged exposure to asbestos." Holm was to study the harms of chrysotile asbestos, and his work was to be “directed solely by GP's in-house counsel." He agreed to keep his work confidential from anyone outside the company.
Between 2008 and 2011, Holm co-wrote four articles on asbestos published in the journal Inhalation Toxicology that minimized asbestos risks. The articles disclosed that Georgia-Pacific had funded the research. But what they did not disclose—and what Holm later acknowledged in an Oct. 14, 2011 letter in the journal—was that Georgia-Pacific had commissioned the research specifically to address issues that had arisen in asbestos litigation. And he belatedly disclosed that his co-authors were all consulting experts retained by Georgia-Pacific to conduct the research or prepare the articles.
Georgia-Pacific is owned by Koch Industries, which is one of the biggest financial supporters of the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), that is currently pushing state legislatures to adopt laws that would run out the clock on dying asbestos victims seeking compensation in court.
Several states, including Arizona, Nevada, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, Wisconsin and West Virginia have already passed versions of the ALEC-sponsored bill into law.
Fallout from BASF/Cahill Gordon Cover Up Still Unfolding
The Engelhard Company, which would later become a subsidiary of BASF, conducted tests of its talc in the 1970s and found samples contaminated with asbestos. However, not only did the mining and use of the contaminated talc continue, the tests remained secret until they were revealed during a deposition of an Englehard executive as part of a personal injury lawsuit brought in 1979 by the family of an employee who died from mesothelioma.
In his deposition taken Jan. 28, 1983, Glenn Hemstock, then Engelhard vice president of research and development, acknowledged for the first time under oath that the company knew the talc it mined and used to manufacture products was tainted with asbestos.
In 1984, after the 1979 case was settled and the family signed a binding non-disclosure agreement, Hemstock sent a memo directing employees in possession of any documents pertaining to the company's talc and talc products to gather them up. Court documents suggest that Engelhard executives, as well as its attorneys, including those with Cahill, Gordon, & Reindel, destroyed and hid these documents. These documents suggest Engelhard and Cahill, Gordon & Reindel went to great lengths to bury any evidence of the problem and lie about asbestos that poisoned thousands—a brazen enterprise that continued well after BASF took over the company.
By 1989, company executives were regularly making claims under oath that the talc mined and used by the company was asbestos-free. William H. Ashton, an expert witness for Engelhard, said in a sworn affidavit that “from the 1940s through the 1980s, talc mined in Vermont and specifically, the talc mined by Engelhard Corporation (and its predecessors) ... has been considered to be talc free from contamination by asbestos."
Engelhard and its successor BASF and its lawyers used this affidavit in thousands of lawsuits for decades as evidence that it did not produce asbestos-containing talc and successfully pressured hundreds of victims of asbestos-related diseases to drop their cases against Engelhard. In 2008, Jennifer Riester, an attorney for BASF and two of its subsidiaries, urged the attorney representing a victim of asbestos exposure to voluntarily drop the lawsuits brought against both subsidiaries. Riester, in her letter to the plaintiffs' attorney, noted that more than 500 claimants in six different states dropped their cases after seeing the 1989 Ashton affidavit.
Today, a class action lawsuit has been filed in federal court against both BASF and its former law firm, Cahill, Gordon & Reindel, alleging they conspired to destroy and manufacture evidence in thousands of asbestos injury cases brought against BASF and Engelhard over the years.
BASF and Cahill, Gordon & Reindel attempted to have the case dismissed, but a federal judge denied their request in April 2016. U.S. District Judge Jose Lineras of New Jersey wrote that the defendants:
"[H]ad a duty to preserve evidence when it was relevant in a prior lawsuit and where it was reasonably foreseeable that the evidence would be relevant to anticipated lawsuits of nearly identical subject matter and similarly situated adversaries."
The Judge then found BASF and Cahill, Gordon, & Reindel had a “legal obligation to disclose evidence in connection with an existing or pending litigation." For the thousands of individuals exposed to Engelhard/BASF's asbestos-laden talc, their quest for justice, denied for decades, has now gained new hope.
The Fight to Protect Americans from Asbestos and Ensure Accountability for Those Responsible Continues Today
These are only a few examples of the 70-year conspiracy of corporations and their lawyers to hide the risks presented from exposure to asbestos.
The asbestos industry isn't finished. It is now seeking to change the playing field in court. A well-funded lobbying effort has been in full-swing at both the state and federal levels to get legislation passed that would make it much harder for asbestos victims and their families to recover compensation from these corporations responsible for their illnesses.
Roughly 15,000 Americans continue to die each year from diseases caused from asbestos inhalation, even though the amount used today is far less than was once used when the aforementioned companies and many others were mining and using asbestos.
Diseases triggered from asbestos, including asbestosis, mesothelioma and non-mesothelioma lung cancers, remain among the leading causes of occupational illness and death in the U.S.
With the long latency period of asbestos disease, many people exposed decades ago are being diagnosed today and diagnoses and deaths from asbestos-triggered disease will likely continue at their current levels for years to come.
DANGER! #Asbestos found in children's toys new study from @EWG #ENDMeso https://t.co/FMwBOzJj1L— Linda Reinstein (@Linda Reinstein)1456502639.0
Unbelievable to many, asbestos, while no longer mined in the U.S., is not banned in this country and continues to be brought in by certain industries and it can still be found in some consumer products, including those meant for children. In 2015, laboratory tests found asbestos in several crayon sets and toy crime scene fingerprint kits imported from China and sold in stores in this country.
As described above, many companies, industry lawyers and consultants knew the risks asbestos presented to workers and public health decades ago and kept it secret in order to protect profits and evade responsibility. And as a result, the fight to prevent asbestos exposures and ensure that all of the corporations responsible are held fully accountable continues to this day.
EcoWatch Daily Newsletter
As Biden Embraces More Ambitious Climate Plan, Fossil Fuel Execs Donate to Trump 'With Greater Zeal' Than in 2016
By Jake Johnson
With presumptive Democratic nominee Joe Biden's climate platform becoming increasingly ambitious thanks to nonstop grassroots pressure, fossil fuel executives and lobbyists are pouring money into the coffers of President Donald Trump's reelection campaign in the hopes of keeping an outspoken and dedicated ally of dirty energy in the White House.
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Antonio_Diaz / Getty Images
The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is now warning against more than 100 potentially dangerous hand sanitizers.
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While the nation overall struggles with rising COVID cases, New York State is seeing the opposite. After peaking in March and April and implementing strict shutdowns of businesses, the state has seen its number of positive cases steadily decline as it slowly reopens. From coast-to-coast, Governor Andrew Cuomo's response to the crisis has been hailed as an exemplar of how to handle a public health crisis.
By Gavin Naylor
Sharks elicit outsized fear, even though the risk of a shark bite is infinitesimally small. As a marine biologist and director of the Florida Program for Shark Research, I oversee the International Shark Attack File – a global record of reported shark bites that has been maintained continuously since 1958.
A Big, Diverse Family<p>Not all sharks are the same. Only a dozen or so of the roughly 520 shark species pose any risk to people. Even the three species that account for almost all shark bite fatalities – the <a href="https://www.floridamuseum.ufl.edu/discover-fish/species-profiles/carcharodon-carcharias/" target="_blank">white shark</a> (<em>Carcharodon carcharias</em>), <a href="https://www.floridamuseum.ufl.edu/discover-fish/species-profiles/galeocerdo-cuvier/" target="_blank">tiger shark</a> (<em>Galeocerdo cuvier</em>) and <a href="https://www.floridamuseum.ufl.edu/discover-fish/species-profiles/carcharhinus-leucas/" target="_blank">bull shark</a> (<em>Carcharhinus leucas</em>) – are behaviorally and evolutionarily very different from one another.</p><p>The tiger shark and bull shark are genetically as different from each other as a dog is from a rabbit. And both of these species are about as different from a white shark as a dog is from a kangaroo. The evolutionary lineages leading to the two groups split 170 million years ago, during the age of dinosaurs and before the origin of birds, and <a href="https://www.ck12.org/book/CK-12-Human-Biology/section/7.2/" target="_blank">110 million years before the origin of primates</a>.</p>
White, tiger and bull sharks are distinct species that diverged genetically tens of millions of years ago. Gavin Naylor / CC BY-ND<p>Yet many people assume all sharks are alike and equally likely to bite humans. Consider the term "shark attack," which is scientifically equivalent to "mammal attack." Nobody would equate dog bites with hamster bites, but this is exactly what we do when it comes to sharks.</p><p>So, when a reporter calls me about a fatality caused by a white shark off Cape Cod and asks my advice for beachgoers in North Carolina, it's essentially like asking, "A man was killed by a dog on Cape Cod. What precautions should people take when dealing with kangaroos in North Carolina?"</p>
Know Your Species<p>Understanding local species' behavior and life habits is one of the best ways to stay safe. For example, almost all shark bites that occur off Cape Cod are by white sharks, which are a large, primarily cold-water species that spend most of their time in isolation feeding on fishes. But they also aggregate near seal colonies that provide a reliable food source at certain times of the year.</p><p>Shark bites in the Carolinas are by warm-water species like bull sharks, tiger sharks and <a href="https://www.floridamuseum.ufl.edu/discover-fish/species-profiles/carcharhinus-limbatus/" target="_blank">blacktips</a> (<em>Carcharhinus limbatus</em>). Each species is associated with particular habitats and dietary preferences.</p><p>Blacktips, which we suspect are responsible for most relatively minor bites on humans in the southeastern United States, feed on schooling bait fishes like menhaden. In contrast, bull sharks are equally at home in fresh water and salt water, and are often found near estuaries. Their bites are more severe than those of blacktips, as they are larger, more powerful, bolder and more tenacious. Several fatalities have been ascribed to bull sharks.</p><p>Tiger sharks are also large, and are responsible for a significant fraction of fatalities, particularly off the coast of volcanic islands like Hawaii and Reunion. They are tropical animals that often venture into shallow water frequented by swimmers and surfers.</p>
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Humans Are Not Targets<p>Sharks do not "hunt" humans. Data from the International Shark Attack File compiled over the past 60 years show a tight association between shark bites and the number of people in the water. In other words, shark bites are a simple function of the probability of encountering a shark.</p><p>This underscores the fact that shark bites are almost always cases of mistaken identity. If sharks actively hunted people, there would be many more bites, since humans make very easy targets when they swim in sharks' natural habitats.</p><p>Local conditions can also affect the risk of an attack. Encounters are more likely when sharks venture closer to shore, into areas where people are swimming. They may do this because they are following bait fishes or seals upon which they prey.</p><p>This means we can use environmental variables such as temperature, tide or weather conditions to better predict movement of bait fish toward the shoreline, which in turn will predict the presence of sharks. Over the next few years, the Florida Program for Shark Research will work with colleagues at other universities to monitor onshore and offshore movements of tagged sharks and their association with environmental variables so that we can improve our understanding of what conditions bring sharks close to shore.</p>
More to Know<p>There still is much to learn about sharks, especially the 500 or so species that have never been implicated in a bite on humans. One example is the tiny <a href="https://www.newsweek.com/one-worlds-rarest-sharks-also-one-most-adorable-325280" target="_blank">deep sea pocket shark</a>, which has a strange pouch behind its pectoral fins.</p><p>Only two specimens of this type of shark have ever been caught – one off the coast of Chile 30 years ago, and another more recently in the Gulf of Mexico. We're not sure about the function of the pouch, but suspect it stores luminous fluid that is released to distract would-be predators – much as its close relative, the <a href="https://sharkdevocean.wordpress.com/2015/04/23/second-ever-pocket-shark-discovered-in-gulf-of-mexico/" target="_blank">tail light shark</a>, releases luminous fluid from a gland on its underside near its vent.</p>
<span style="display:block;position:relative;padding-top:56.25%;" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="5783b39d0838d6e410344a852ed0dcc3"><iframe lazy-loadable="true" src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/UTO5debfmsg?rel=0" width="100%" height="auto" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" style="position:absolute;top:0;left:0;width:100%;height:100%;"></iframe></span><p>Sharks range in form from the bizarre <a href="https://www.floridamuseum.ufl.edu/discover-fish/species-profiles/mitsukurina-owstoni/" target="_blank">goblin shark</a> (<em>Mitsukurina owstoni</em>), most commonly encountered in Japan, to the gentle filter-feeding <a href="https://www.floridamuseum.ufl.edu/discover-fish/species-profiles/rhincodon-typus/" target="_blank">whale shark</a> (<em>Rhincodon typus</em>). Although whale sharks are the largest fishes in the world, we have yet to locate their nursery grounds, which are likely teeming with thousands of <a href="https://www.earthtouchnews.com/oceans/sharks/baby-whale-shark-rescued-from-gillnet-in-india-video/" target="_blank">foot-long pups</a>. Some deepwater sharks are primarily known from submersibles, such as the giant <a href="https://twitter.com/gavinnaylor/status/1146144452681113601" target="_blank">sixgill shark</a>, which feeds mainly on carrion but probably also preys on other animals in the deep sea.</p><p>Sharks seem familiar to almost all of us, but we know precious little about them. Our current understanding of their biology barely scratches the surface. The little we do know suggests they are profoundly different from other vertebrate animals. They've had 400 million years of independent evolution to adapt to their environments, and it's reasonable to expect they may be hiding more than a few tricks up their gills.</p>
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Current efforts to curb an infectious disease show the potential we have for collective action. That action and more will be needed if we want to stem the coming wave of heat-related deaths that will surpass the number of people who die from all infectious diseases, according to a new study, as The Guardian reported.
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By Jenny Morber
Caribbean corals sprout off Texas. Pacific salmon tour the Canadian Arctic. Peruvian lowland birds nest at higher elevations.
Known and anticipated changes in species distribution due to climate change around the world have implications for culture, society ecosystems, governance and climate change. Figure used with permission from Gretta T. Pecl, originally published on 31 Mar 2017 in Science 355(6332).<p>How we define species is critical, because these definitions influence perceptions, policy and management. The U.S. National Invasive Species Council (NISC) defines a biological invasion as "the process by which non-native species breach biogeographical barriers and extend their range" and states that "preventing the introduction of potentially harmful organisms is … the first line of defense." But some say excluding newcomers is myopic.</p><p>"If you were trying to maintain the status quo, so every time a new species comes in, you chuck it out," says Camille Parmesan, director of the French National Centre for Scientific Research, you could gradually "lose so many that that ecosystem will lose its coherence." If climate change is driving native species extinct, she says, "you need to allow new ones coming in to take over those same functions."</p><p>As University of Florida conservation ecologist Brett Scheffers and Pecl warned in a <a href="https://www.nature.com/articles/s41558-019-0526-5" target="_blank">2019 paper in <em>Nature Climate Change</em></a>, "past management of redistributed species … has yielded mixed actions and results." They concluded that "we cannot leave the fate of biodiversity critical to human survival to be randomly persecuted, protected or ignored."</p>
Existing Tools<p>One approach to managing these climate-driven habitat shifts, suggested by University of California, Irvine marine ecologist Piper Wallingford and colleagues in <a href="https://www.nature.com/articles/s41558-020-0768-2" target="_blank">a recent issue of Nature Climate Change</a>, is for scientists to adapt existing tools like the <a href="https://www.iucn.org/theme/species/our-work/invasive-species/eicat" target="_blank">Environmental Impact Classification of Alien Taxa (EICAT)</a> to assess potential risks associated with moving species. Because range-shifting species pose impacts to communities similar to those of species introduced by humans, the authors argue, new management strategies are unnecessary, and each new arrival can be evaluated on a case-by-case basis.</p><p>Karen Lips, a professor of biology at University of Maryland who was not associated with the study, echoes the idea that each case is so varied and nuanced that trying to fit climate shifting species into a single category with broad management goals may be impractical. "Things may be fine today, but add a new mosquito vector or add a new tick or a new disease, and all of a sudden things spiral out of control," she says. "The nuance means that the answer to any particular problem might be pretty different."</p>
In recent years, northern flying squirrels in Canada have found themselves in the company of new neighbors — southern flying squirrels expanding their range as the climate warms. Public Domain / USFW<p>Laura Meyerson, a professor in the Department of Natural Resources Science at the University of Rhode Island says scientists should use existing tools to identify and address invasive species to deal with climate-shifting species. "I would like to operate under the precautionary principle and then reevaluate as things shift. You're sort of shifting one piece in this machinery; as you insert a new species into a system, everything is going to respond," she says. "Will some of the species that are expanding their ranges because of climate change become problematic? Perhaps they might."</p><p>The reality is that some climate-shifting species may be harmful to some conservation or economic goals while being helpful to others. While sport fisherman are excited about red snapper moving down the East Coast of Australia, for example, if they eat juvenile lobsters in Tasmania they could harm this environmentally and economically important crustacean. "At the end of the day … you're going to have to look at whether that range expansion has some sort of impact and presumably be more concerned about the negative impacts," says NISC executive director Stas Burgiel. "Many of the [risk assessment] tools we have are set up to look at negative impact." As a result, positive effects may be deemphasized or overlooked. "So that notion of cost versus benefit … I don't think it has played out in this particular context."</p>
Location, Location, Location<p>In a <a href="https://www-nature-com.ezp3.lib.umn.edu/articles/s41558-020-0770-8" target="_blank">companion paper</a> to Wallingford's, University of Connecticut ecology and evolutionary biology associate professor Mark Urban stressed key differences between invasive species, which are both non-native and harmful, and what he calls "climate tracking species." Whereas invasive species originate from places very unlike the communities they overtake, he says, climate tracking species expand from largely similar environments, seeking to follow preferred conditions as these environments move. For example, an American pika may relocate to a higher mountain elevation, or a marbled salamander might expand its New England range northward to seek cooler temperatures, but these new locations are not drastically different than the places they had called home before.</p><p>Climate tracking species may move faster than their competitors at first, Urban says, but competing species will likely catch up. "Applying perspectives from invasion biology to climate-tracking species … arbitrarily chooses local winners over colonizing losers," he writes.</p>
The marbled salamander, a native of the eastern U.S., is among species whose range could expand northward to accommodate rising temperatures. Seánín Óg / Flickr / CC BY-NC-ND 2.0<p>Urban stresses that if people prevent range shifts, some climate-tracking species may have nowhere to go. He suggests that humans should even <a href="https://ensia.com/features/time-for-trees-to-pack-their-trunks/" target="_blank">facilitate movement</a> as the planet warms. "The goal in this crazy warming world is to keep everything alive. But it may not be in the same place," Urban says.</p><p>Parmesan echoes Urban, emphasizing it's the distance that makes the difference. "[Invasives] come from a different continent or a different ocean. You're having these enormous trans-global movements and that's what ends up causing the species that's exotic to be invasive," she says. "Things moving around with climate change is a few hundred miles. Invasive species are moving a few thousand miles."</p><p>In 2019 University of Vienna conservation biology associate professor Franz Essl published a similar argument for species classification beyond the native/non-native dichotomy. Essl uses "neonatives" to refer to species that have expanded outside their native areas and established populations because of climate change but not direct human agency. He argues that these species should be considered as native in their new range.</p>
They Never Come Alone<p>Meyerson calls for caution. "I don't think we should be introducing species" into ecosystems, she says. "I mean, they never come alone. They bring all their friends, their microflora, and maybe parasites and things clinging to their roots or their leaves. … It's like bringing some mattress off the street into your house."</p><p>Burgiel warns that labeling can have unintended consequences. We in the invasive species field … focus on non-native species that cause harm," he says. "Some people think that anything that's not native is invasive, which isn't necessarily the case." Because resources are limited and land management and conservation are publicly funded, Burgiel says, it is critical that the public understands how the decisions are being made.</p><p>Piero Genovesi, chair of the International Union for the Conservation of Nature's Invasive Species Specialist Group, sees the debate about classification — and therefore about management — as a potential distraction from more pressing conservation issues.</p><p>"The real bulk of conservation is that we want to focus on the narrow proportion of alien species that are really harmful," he says. In Hawaii "we don't discuss species that are there [but aren't] causing any problem because we don't even have the energy for dealing with them all. And I can tell you, no one wants to remove [non-native] cypresses from Tuscany. So, I think that some of the discussions are probably not so real in the work that we do in conservation."</p><p>Indigenous frameworks offer another way to look at species searching for a new home in the face of climate change. According to <a href="https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007%2Fs11625-018-0571-4" target="_blank">a study</a> published in Sustainability Science in 2018 by Dartmouth Native American studies and environmental studies associate professor Nicholas Reo, a citizen of the Sault Ste. Marie Tribe of Chippewa Indians, and Dartmouth anthropology associate professor Laura Ogden, some Anishnaabe people view plants as persons and the arrival of new plants as a natural form of migration, which is not inherently good or bad. They may seek to discover the purpose of new species, at times with animals as their teachers. In their paper Reo and Ogden quote Anishnaabe tribal chairman Aaron Payment as saying, "We are an extension of our natural environment; we're not separate from it."</p>
The Need for Collaboration<p>The successful conservation of Earth's species in a way that keeps biodiversity functional and healthy will likely depend on collaboration. Without global agreements, one can envision scenarios in which countries try to impede high-value species from moving beyond their borders, or newly arriving species are quickly overharvested.</p><p>In Nature Climate Change, Sheffers and Pecl call for a Climate Change Redistribution Treaty that would recognize species redistribution beyond political boundaries and establish governance to deal with it. Treaties already in place, such as the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora, which regulates trade in wild plants and animals; the Migratory Bird Treaty Act; and the Agreed Measures for the Conservation of Antarctic Fauna and Flora, can help guide these new agreements.</p><p>"We are living through the greatest redistribution of life on Earth for … potentially hundreds of thousands of years, so we definitely need to think about how we want to manage that," Pecl says.</p><p>Genovesi agrees that conservationists need a vision for the future. "What we do is more to be reactive [to known threats]. … It's so simple to say that destroying the Amazon is probably not a good idea that you don't need to think of a step ahead of that." But, he adds, "I don't think we have a real answer in terms of okay, this is a threshold of species, or this is the temporal line where we should aim to." Defining a vision for what success would look like, Genovesi says, "is a question that hasn't been addressed enough by science and by decision makers."</p><p>At the heart of these questions are values. "All of these perceptions around what's good and what's bad, all [are based on] some kind of value system," Pecl says. "As a whole society, we haven't talked about what we value and who gets to say what's of value and what isn't."</p><p>This is especially important when it comes to marginalized voices, and Pecl says she is concerned because she doesn't "think we have enough consideration or representation of Indigenous worldviews." Reo and colleagues <a href="https://cpb-us-e1.wpmucdn.com/sites.dartmouth.edu/dist/9/52/files/2012/10/Reo_etal_AIQ_invasive_species_2017.pdf" target="_blank">wrote in American Indian Quarterly in 2017</a> that climate change literature and media coverage tend to portray native people as vulnerable and without agency. Yet, says Pecl, "The regions of the world where [biodiversity and ecosystems] are either not declining or are declining at a much slower rate are Indigenous controlled" — suggesting that Indigenous people have potentially managed species more effectively in the past, and may be able to manage changing species distributions in a way that could be informative to others working on these issues.</p><p>Meanwhile, researchers such as Lips see species classification as native or other as stemming from a perspective that there is a better environmental time and place to return to. "There is no pristine, there's no way to go back," says Lips. "The entire world is always very dynamic and changing. And I think it's a better idea to consider just simply what is it that we do want, and let's work on that."</p>
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