Earth Matters: Fossil-fuel profits vs. animal species

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Dr. Hildur Palsdottir

“Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?” recently deceased, beloved poet Mary Oliver asks.

In appreciation and awe of this “wild and precious” life we have, I plan to do everything I can to protect it and support biodiversity in the wild. Acts of interspecies altruism are well known. Wildlife experts have reported numerous examples of humpback whales risking injury to keep orcas from hunting seals, sea lions, and even humans. Famously caught on camera, a humpback whale shielded marine biologist Nan Hauser from a 15-foot tiger shark attack in the South Pacific. Whether it’s intentional or instinctual, altruism seems built into the most fundamental survival instincts of many species. In other words, it is in your nature to care for life.

Introduced in 1973, the Endangered Species Act (ESA) has successfully saved 99% of listed species from going extinct, including the symbol for this nation, the bald eagle. Imagine a world without peregrine falcons, humpback whales, grizzly bears, grey wolves, and Californian condors to name a few species rescued by the ESA. Sadly, motivated by the belief that the ESA is “bad for business” politicians intimately linked to the fossil fuel industry have introduced legislation to weaken it. Tipping the scales in favor of industry and profit, the suggested revisions allow federal agencies to check the cost before deciding whether to protect a species. This is a cultural and moral crisis, one that proves extinction to be a political choice at the mercy of cost-benefit analysis. I refuse to put a price tag on life. We must do what we can to save life on Earth.

Precious, wild lives are lost forever as I write this column, extinction rates are higher than ever before. United Nations Intergovernmental Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services warns that more than 1 million animal and plant species will go extinct unless we start showing that we care in action. Human-driven pollution, habitat destruction, extraction, and exploitation are sentencing 1 in 4 species to death according to the International Union for the Conservation of Nature.

These statistics seem to be falling on deaf ears with the government favoring corporate interests over conservation. A recent New York Times analysis counts more than 90 environmental rollbacks and revoked protections, see https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2019/climate/trump-environment-rollbacks.html

Instead of declaring the extinction crisis a national emergency, recent changes to the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) will make it easier for federal agencies to approve infrastructure projects without a review process considering climate change.

Meanwhile, habitats are lost at land and sea, ecosystems are disrupted, wild spaces that cannot be reclaimed are lost forever, and with that our dignity. What will be our civilization’s legacy? Will humans survive the future to tell a tale of a dramatic turnaround and change of heart towards regenerative practices and sustainability? Can we crackdown on all forms of industrial pollution and re-create a viable world?

Our world is literally on fire. Most recently, we’ve witnessed the fires in Australia from afar. Our atmosphere is shared, what happens there will affect us here. We shouldn’t wait for the fires to burn in our backyard, we should take action now and start with restoring the wild and free spaces.

This existential crisis needs bold solutions. With their ‘Save Life on Earth’ campaign, The Center for Biological Diversity demands we spend at least $100 billion toward saving wildlife and plants. We must prioritize the protection of public land, maximize Carbon sequestration and dedicate land to at least 500 new national parks, wildlife refuges, and marine sanctuaries.

One study found Americans are willing to pay $177 a year to fight climate change and in the process save lives. How much do you pay for your cable TV? Consider matching your annual investment with a donation to the Center for Biological Diversity (https://www.biologicaldiversity.org/). Fund renewable and clean energy projects and reforestation.

The wild and green spaces allow us to breathe, nature connects us to our core values and gives us a sense of belonging. When we consciously connect to the wild we remember why we care.

Have you taken the time lately to sit by the water’s edge? Have you connected with a four-legged, gazed at birds in flight or marveled at worms tirelessly turning over the soil? In guided nature walk with elementary school children the other day I asked them: “What’s your favorite animal?” An active fourth-grader joyously responded: “Me, I’m my favorite animal.”

Please live as if your life depends on it. Go play outside, wild and free, with the other living beings. Show that you care by electing officials who care about biodiversity and clean energy. We’re only as healthy as the environment we’re in.

Securing a safe future for all wildlife must be a priority; in the process, we are saving ourselves.

Dr. Hildur Palsdottir
ReWild Long Island
https://www.rewildlongisland.org
hildur@sol.center

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