House Republicans Launch Extinction Bills to Cripple Endangered Species Act
Republicans in the U.S. House of Representatives announced on Thursday a series of bills aimed at profoundly gutting the Endangered Species Act, including provisions making it almost impossible for imperiled species to gain protection and giving states that often oppose endangered species protection veto power over those decisions.
In addition, the bills would turn over recovery efforts to states that often lack the funding or regulatory structure to ensure species' survival, let alone recovery.
"These bills will absolutely push wildlife over the edge and into extinction," said Noah Greenwald, endangered species director at the Center for Biological Diversity. "Republicans are turning their back on the most vulnerable species in the country just to please polluters and other powerful interests. It's disgusting and repugnant."
More than 75 legislative attacks have been launched against the Endangered Species Act since Trump took office—and more than 300 since 2011, when Republicans took over the U.S. House of Representatives.
Today's attacks are being led by Utah Rep. Rob Bishop, Arkansas Rep. Bruce Westerman, Arizona Rep. Paul Gosar, New Mexico Rep. Steve Pearce and other House Republicans beholden to oil and gas and other extractive industries.
Among the bills, Rep. Westerman's "Petition Act" would require the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to declare a petition backlog if it is presented with too many species in need of protection and then suspend any deadlines responding to those petitions and prohibit consideration of any subsequently filed.
"The problem isn't a backlog of petitions, it's a backlog of species that desperately need help and a government that hasn't moved fast enough to prevent their extinction," Greenwald said. "If Representative Westerman and his patrons in the oil and gas industry truly wanted to see the backlog addressed and extinction avoided, they would provide the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service more money to help the many species waiting for protection, species like American wolverines and lesser prairie chickens."
Other bills give the states undue influence over what should be scientific decisions involving the very survival of species, known as speed delisting of species, which would certainly result in species prematurely losing protection. Rep. Gosar's bill would callously exempt dams and their associated reservoirs from designation of critical habitat, despite the frequent importance of the impounded rivers for many species, ranging from salmon to yellow-billed cuckoos.
The Endangered Species Act is the most successful wildlife conservation law in the world. It has staved off extinction for 99 percent of the species under its care and put hundreds on the road to recovery.
"If you love whales or birds or bears or rare plants, you have to love the Endangered Species Act because it's the safety net that keeps many of them from disappearing into oblivion," Greenwald said. "These Republicans' efforts to tear apart the Endangered Species Act go directly against the will of the American people and will rob future generations of countless species."
Proposed Rule Change Would Be 'Death Sentence' for Nearly 300 Species, Activists Warn https://t.co/35jitMvfbm @ConservationOrg @WWF— EcoWatch (@EcoWatch)1523055005.0
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The speed and scale of the response to COVID-19 by governments, businesses and individuals seems to provide hope that we can react to the climate change crisis in a similarly decisive manner - but history tells us that humans do not react to slow-moving and distant threats.
A Game of Jenga<p>Think of it as a game of Jenga and the planet's climate system as the tower. For generations, we have been slowly removing blocks. But at some point, we will remove a pivotal block, such as the collapse of one of the major global ocean circulation systems, for example the Atlantic Meridional Overturning Circulation (AMOC), that will cause all or part of the global climate system to fall into a planetary emergency.</p><p>But worse still, it could cause runaway damage: Where the tipping points form a domino-like cascade, where breaching one triggers breaches of others, creating an unstoppable shift to a radically and swiftly changing climate.</p><p>One of the most concerning tipping points is mass methane release. Methane can be found in deep freeze storage within permafrost and at the bottom of the deepest oceans in the form of methane hydrates. But rising sea and air temperatures are beginning to thaw these stores of methane.</p><p>This would release a powerful greenhouse gas into the atmosphere, 30-times more potent than carbon dioxide as a global warming agent. This would drastically increase temperatures and rush us towards the breach of other tipping points.</p><p>This could include the acceleration of ice thaw on all three of the globe's large, land-based ice sheets – Greenland, West Antarctica and the Wilkes Basin in East Antarctica. The potential collapse of the West Antarctic ice sheet is seen as a key tipping point, as its loss could eventually <a href="https://science.sciencemag.org/content/324/5929/901" target="_blank">raise global sea levels by 3.3 meters</a> with important regional variations.</p><p>More than that, we would be on the irreversible path to full land-ice melt, causing sea levels to rise by up to 30 meters, roughly at the rate of two meters per century, or maybe faster. Just look at the raised beaches around the world, at the last high stand of global sea level, at the end of the Pleistocene period around 120,0000 years ago, to see the evidence of such a warm world, which was just 2°C warmer than the present day.</p>
Cutting Off Circulation<p>As well as devastating low-lying and coastal areas around the world, melting polar ice could set off another tipping point: a disablement to the AMOC.</p><p>This circulation system drives a northward flow of warm, salty water on the upper layers of the ocean from the tropics to the northeast Atlantic region, and a southward flow of cold water deep in the ocean.</p><p>The ocean conveyor belt has a major effect on the climate, seasonal cycles and temperature in western and northern Europe. It means the region is warmer than other areas of similar latitude.</p><p>But melting ice from the Greenland ice sheet could threaten the AMOC system. It would dilute the salty sea water in the north Atlantic, making the water lighter and less able or unable to sink. This would slow the engine that drives this ocean circulation.</p><p><a href="https://www.carbonbrief.org/atlantic-conveyor-belt-has-slowed-15-per-cent-since-mid-twentieth-century" target="_blank">Recent research</a> suggests the AMOC has already weakened by around 15% since the middle of the 20th century. If this continues, it could have a major impact on the climate of the northern hemisphere, but particularly Europe. It may even lead to the <a href="https://ore.exeter.ac.uk/repository/handle/10871/39731?show=full" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">cessation of arable farming</a> in the UK, for instance.</p><p>It may also reduce rainfall over the Amazon basin, impact the monsoon systems in Asia and, by bringing warm waters into the Southern Ocean, further destabilize ice in Antarctica and accelerate global sea level rise.</p>
The Atlantic Meridional Overturning Circulation has a major effect on the climate. Praetorius (2018)
Is it Time to Declare a Climate Emergency?<p>At what stage, and at what rise in global temperatures, will these tipping points be reached? No one is entirely sure. It may take centuries, millennia or it could be imminent.</p><p>But as COVID-19 taught us, we need to prepare for the expected. We were aware of the risk of a pandemic. We also knew that we were not sufficiently prepared. But we didn't act in a meaningful manner. Thankfully, we have been able to fast-track the production of vaccines to combat COVID-19. But there is no vaccine for climate change once we have passed these tipping points.</p><p><a href="https://www.weforum.org/reports/the-global-risks-report-2021" target="_blank">We need to act now on our climate</a>. Act like these tipping points are imminent. And stop thinking of climate change as a slow-moving, long-term threat that enables us to kick the problem down the road and let future generations deal with it. We must take immediate action to reduce global warming and fulfill our commitments to the <a href="https://www.ipcc.ch/sr15/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Paris Agreement</a>, and build resilience with these tipping points in mind.</p><p>We need to plan now to mitigate greenhouse gas emissions, but we also need to plan for the impacts, such as the ability to feed everyone on the planet, develop plans to manage flood risk, as well as manage the social and geopolitical impacts of human migrations that will be a consequence of fight or flight decisions.</p><p>Breaching these tipping points would be cataclysmic and potentially far more devastating than COVID-19. Some may not enjoy hearing these messages, or consider them to be in the realm of science fiction. But if it injects a sense of urgency to make us respond to climate change like we have done to the pandemic, then we must talk more about what has happened before and will happen again.</p><p>Otherwise we will continue playing Jenga with our planet. And ultimately, there will only be one loser – us.</p>
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