Last week, California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger chose to celebrate Earth Day by launching what may be the first salvo in the next big attack on endangered species. Instead of celebrating the successes of endangered species protection, such as the bald eagle, gray wolf and California condor, Schwarzenegger decided to use endangered species protection as a scapegoat. He blasted his own California environmental agency for “slowing approval of a solar facility in Victorville” because of “an endangered squirrel.”
Schwarzenegger in Last Action Hero 3 Showing in Sacramento on Earth Day 2008, California Progress Report, Bill Walker, Environmental Working Group
Climate Wire: Endangered Species: Squirrel casts long shadow over solar project
Unfortunately, we expect this to become a pattern: short-sighted politicians and the industries that give them money will be using this argument against the Endangered Species Act as a “red-herring.” They’ll try to dupe the public into believing that in order to deal with the impacts of global warming, we’ll have to throw out all environmental protections, including those that safeguard wildlife and humans.
Schwarzenegger isn’t the first. Last year, Georgia’s governor asked the Bush Administration to exempt the state from the Endangered Species Act because of drought in the south.
AP, Georgia’s governor declares drought emergency; White House says it will review Perdue’s request for federal assistance
Both Governors are clearly comfortable divulging only one part of the story. Governor Schwarzenegger conveniently skirts around the fact that conservationists working to protect endangered species would in fact be pleased to see solar power in the Mojave Dessert, provided that the facility is cited properly. And, Governor Perdue preferred not to focus on the fact that Georgia’s water management policies don’t just impact endangered species, they also impact Floridians living downstream, including fisherman of Apalachicola Bay—where most of Florida’s oysters are harvested.
With the immediate peril of global warming, endangered species protections are needed more than ever. Already on the brink of extinction, endangered species are the most vulnerable to changes in climate. Melting sea ice, warming ocean and river waters, shifting life cycles and migration are impacting endangered species, including polar bears, penguins, coral, salmon and migratory birds. The UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) estimates that we’ll have up to 60 percent species loss in some areas if global warming continues unabated. In addition to having a direct impact on endangered species, climate change will also negatively impact the political environment for endangered species.
Yet, while endangered species will be impacted more than ever, their protections will also be targeted more than ever. Extractive industries and the politicians that receive their contributions have tried to chip away at endangered species protections for decades. Now, as humans face increasing impacts due to climate change, opponents to endangered species protections will falsely claim that environmental protections must be eliminated to prioritize human needs. We know that it is a specious argument and that protecting wildlife and wild lands is key in protecting humans—for our drinking water, for our air, for our food and medicinal sources, and for our quality of life. Nevertheless, endangered species will now also have to overcome this new political reality.
As much of the West begins to suffer from more frequent droughts due to global warming, and water shortages create escalating tensions within the region, our opponents will have a whole new audience to target with this message. A recent study in Science found that the global warming is causing drought across the west. As National Geographic reported “The U.S. West will see devastating droughts as global warming reduces the amount of mountain snow and causes the snow that does fall to melt earlier in the year.”
No longer will it be a few thousand loggers impacted by decisions on ancient forests. Now, we may have many tens of thousand of individuals throughout the West impacted by water management decisions.
Our opponents will make the most of this opportunity by using endangered species protections as a scapegoat, framing the issue in simplified and false humans-versus-wildlife terms and setting up the entire West as a fervent battleground on environmental protections. We can count on these opponents to environmental protections to cherry-pick information and provide only one part of the story, painting any type of regulation as extremist and obstructionist.
We know from our decades-long work on this issue that in order for endangered species to get a fair shake in the media, we’ll need to get the word out now—before our opponents make the mantra of “let’s weaken environmental protections to battle other environmental problems” a constant drumbeat. And, to silence that drum, we’ll need the power of grassroots organizing.
To address this threat head-on, we have a campaign focused on the linkages between global warming and endangered species. To find out more about our work to protect endangered species from the impacts of global warming, visit http://www.stopextinction.org/.
Leda Huta, Executive Director
Endangered Species Coalition