Why our modern lifestyle spells disaster

Seth Victor

Do you love your meat? Well, love it or hate it, it may well cause the collapse of our global society. In the latest report confirming the strain factory farming and overconsumption of animal products causes our environment, The Guardian reports that mass food shortages are predicted within the next 40 years if we as a species do not scale back meat consumption. It’s a simple matter of not having enough water to produce the crops necessary to support the animals needed to satisfy current consumption, to say nothing of what another 2 billion human mouths will bring to the table. If we do not scale back, food shortages and water shortages could be a worldwide reality, as well as food price spikes. Continue reading

Polar Bears — The New Canary

David Cassuto

Long ago, miners used canaries to measure the build up of toxic gases in the mines where they were working.  If the canary died, it was time to head out because the air was dangerous.  We don’t use canaries in mines anymore.  Now we use polar bears in the Arctic.  The threat to the bear serves as a monitoring mechanism of sorts for the global threat from carbon emissions in the atmosphere.

As you may recall, the impending demise of polar bears due to habitat destruction attributed to global warming generated some hooha not too long ago.  W’s Interior Secretary, Dirk Kempthorne, hemmed and hawed for as long as possible before finally declaring the bear a “threatened” species under the Endangered Species Act.  That designation would normally require federal action to address the cause (global warming) of the bear’s habitat.  However, the Bushies propounded a rule — later embraced by the Obama Administration, excluding carbon emissions from regulation under the ESA.  That made the bear’s victory (such as it was) pyrrhic at best.  Nonetheless, in the heady optimism of the time, many (including me) felt that it was perhaps better to wait for a statute explicitly aimed at mitigating national emissions rather than to use the blunt instrument of the ESA to accomplish a very complex regulatory act.

Continue reading

(Another) Bad Week for Polar Bears and Tuna

David Cassuto

It’s been quite a week over at the meeting of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES)Up for discussion was a ban on hunting polar bears and bluefin tuna.  The discussions yielded some predictably (and yet still astonishingly) shortsighted conclusions.

The delegates rejected a ban on polar bear hunting because “hunting is not the most serious threat the polar bear faces” (recall that the bear was listed as endangered last year because of the pressures created by climate change and the consequent loss of icepack).  Here’s a simple logical sequence: Hunting kills bears.  If people stopped hunting them that would be one less thing killing bears.  Unfortunately, this reasoning did not carry the day.  Rather, opponents successfully argued that there is no point to killing fewer bears until we know for certain that we won’t kill them some other way. Follow this reasoning with me if you will.  It is like refusing to treat your compound fracture until you’re certain that there exists a cure for your brain tumor.    Continue reading

Interior Proposes Polar Bear Habitat

David Cassuto

polar_bear_iceA while back, the Bush Administration reluctantly declared the polar bear threatened (under the Endangered Species Act) due to global warming and shrinking habitat.  It determined, however, that it would not use the ESA as the basis to require steps to curtail climate change.  Indeed, the Bushies had no intention of curtailing climate change at all.  The Obama folks agreed that the ESA was the wrong means through which to make climate policy.  Thus, the bear remained threatened and the government remained unwilling to take steps to protect it Continue reading

Polar Bears, Secretary Salazar and Climate Change

Polar Bear ClimatePolar bears cannot catch a break.  The Bush Administration reluctantly declared the bear a threatened species under the Endangered Species Act (ESA) a year or so ago.  The threat arose because of shrinking habitat caused by polar ice melting.  That ice melt is, of course, a result of climate change.

Once a species is classified as threatened or endangered, the ESA requires the government  to take steps to mitigate that threat and conserve the species’ habitat.  However, even as the Bush folks acknowledged (because they had to) that the bear was threatened, they propounded a rule excluding carbon emissions from regulation under the Endangered Species Act.  Thus, the very emissions that threatened the bear and whose diminution could lead to conservation of its habitat were not subject to regulation under the ESA.

The Obama Administration had the opportunity to rescind this rule but today, Secretary Salazar announced it would not. In his view, “[t]he Endangered Species Act is not the appropriate tool for us to deal with what is a global issue, and that is the issue of global warming.”  While environmentalists had hoped to use the ESA to force cuts in greenhouse gas emissions, the Obama Administration is attempting to craft legislation and administrative rules that directly address the issue rather than work through a statute that arguably lacks the specificity necessary to accomplish the task.

I am of two minds about all this.  Though certain that the previous administration’s reasons for crafting the rule had little or nothing to do with developing an effective climate change mitigation regime, I do give the Obama folks the benefit of the doubt here, especially since they are in the process of crafting new rules and legislation.  I also agree that the ESA is not the best vehicle for addressing issues of climate change.

On the other hand, lots of statutes get adapted and applied in ways their drafters never imagined.  Furthermore, part of the ESA’s power lies in the fact that it is a blunt instrument.  If a species is threatened, then the law says that steps must be taken.  In that sense, the ESA is an excellent way to address climate change.  It forces the issue and demands swift unequivocal action.

By contrast, declaring a species threatened while simultaneously stripping the ESA of  jurisdiction over that threat renders the law impotent and irrelevant.  That is not good precedent.  Not good precedent at all.

Thoughtful post on the issue here.

–David Cassuto