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With new revisions to the ESA, Trump is putting endangered species at risk

Madeline Barone

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The Endangered Species Act (ESA), signed by President Richard Nixon in 1973, protected endangered species for the last 46 years. The Act also helps conservation partnerships nationwide to protect America’s animals. However, with the newest changes to the ESA, all bets are off for endangered species, as they become more at risk than ever before.

What will these changes do?

These changes will focus on how officials decide whether a species is endangered or threatened, what kind of protections threatened species should receive, and how officials will decide which areas of habitat to protect. 

When implemented, these changes may weaken the Endangered Species Act’s protections. For example, the changes could make it easier to remove species from the endangered and threatened species lists. The wording of the act may also allow the dismissal of climate change as an irrelevant threat to species’ survival. 

Species already listed as threatened or endangered won’t have their protections changed, but for new additions, the FWS rule case-by-case.  These revisions simply reduce protections for any species that get added to the threatened species list in the future. 

How are these changes different than past revisions?

These changes are far from surprising. The Trump administration proposed some of the revisions, specifically removing the phrase “without reference to economic impact” last July. Overall, these changes make it easier for officials to consider economic factors over environmental ones. 

Also, species categorized as “threatened”, a category placed one away from “endangered”, will no longer receive the same protections as species in the “endangered” category. Instead, the Trump administration will carry out protections on a case-by-case basis. 

What are the differing perspectives on the changes?

U.S. Secretary of the Interior David Bernhardt claims that “the best way to uphold the Endangered Species Act is to do everything we can to ensure it remains effective in achieving its ultimate goal –recovery of our rarest species. The Act’s effectiveness rests on clear, consistent and efficient implementation.” He continued that “an effectively administered Act ensures more resources can go where they will do the most good: on-the-ground conservation.”

Leah Gerber, professor of conservation science and founding director of the Center for Biodiversity Outcomes at Arizona State University, disagrees. “The new rules completely undermine the strength of the ESA,” Gerber told TIME. “The point of the act is to prevent extinction, this is going to do the opposite. It’s going to undermine efforts to recover species.”

It seems that these revisions are simply to fit President Trump’s economic goals. Although rollbacks to the ESA have been implemented since the Act’s founding, these changes could jeopardize species that are already at-risk. 

Thomas Lovejoy, a Senior Fellow of Biodiversity and Environmental Science at the United Nations Foundation, thinks this is a way for the administration to ignore the effects of climate change on species survival. 

“I consider that absurd since it’s an administration that doesn’t believe in climate change,” Lovejoy told TIME. “The impact of climate change and the fingerprints of climate change can be seen in nature wherever you look. It’s really egregious to ignore it.”

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Alaska Climate Emergency Worsens As Governor Dunleavy Takes No Action

Brian D'Souza

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Gov Mike Dunleavy rejects notion of Alaska climate emergency.

The Alaska climate emergency may is arguably more critical than anywhere else on Earth. The state’s ice is melting, its forests are burning, and statewide ecosystems are dying. Naturally, Republican Governor Mike Dunleavy’s administration is somehow doing less than nothing as it disbands climate task forces and outright denies a climate emergency. The Dunleavy administration is actively moving in the wrong direction. Our nation’s northernmost state is barreling towards an environmental catastrophe, and the current administration seems entirely apathetic. 

Climate Change’s Increased Arctic Effect

A common perception is that the Earth’s increased temperature spreads relatively evenly across the planet. Unfortunately, this is not the case; researchers consistently find the North Pole is warming at a much greater rate than average.

In its most recent Arctic Report Card, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, a government agency under the Department of Commerce, stated: “surface air temperatures in the Arctic continued to warm at twice the rate relative to the rest of the globe”. 

This is due to a phenomenon called Arctic amplification. Normally, white ice and snow reflect sunlight back into space, which keeps the Earth cool. Unfortunately, melting ice exposes the dark colors of the land and sea beneath which absorb more energy and exacerbates climate change.

Ice melts, exposing dark colors, and the resultant warming causes more ice to melt in a catastrophic cycle. 

A fair amount of Alaska’s land lies within the Arctic Circle, and the North Pole’s climate change trends affect the entire state. In a separate report, NOAA indicated that statewide temperatures have increased drastically, the snow season has shortened, and a record number of daily highs outnumber the lows.

Consequently, tundra and polar habitats are melting, aquatic ecosystems are imbalanced, and the wildfire season has stretched.

This hurts every Alaskan and American, but politicians don’t seem to care.

Administration Inaction Worsens Alaska Climate Situation And Hurts Its Citizens

Republican Governor Mike Dunleavy assumed office in December of 2018 and has wasted no time in promoting climate inaction. He started this February by disbanding the state’s climate response task force

In a prepared statement administration spokesperson Matt Shuckerow argued “no governor should be tied to a previous administration’s work product or political agenda” because we live in a country where staving off environmental catastrophe is somehow indicative of a forced political agenda. 

That depiction of the Alaska climate situation may sound alarmist, but the sentiment is echoed by top-ranking state officials.

Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) Commissioner Jason Brune was appointed by Governor Dunleavy, and he seems well aware of the drastic effects of climate change, as he explained in an interview with Alaska Public Media.

“We’re seeing increased fires, we’re seeing permafrost melting, glaciers are melting so, absolutely, we are having impacts from a changing climate in Alaska, more so probably than anywhere else on earth.” — Commissioner Jason Brune, Alaskan Department of Environmental Conservation

A part of the Alaska climate emergency, glaciers are melting and fires are becoming increasingly common.
A part of the Alaska climate emergency, glaciers are melting and fires are becoming increasingly common.

This is a powerful explanation of the widespread destruction of Alaskan landscapes. Unfortunately, it was only spoken as Commissioner Brune backpedaled from an equally momentous quote.

“I don’t think it is an emergency right now” — Brune

Brune Hopes To Sustain Non-Renewable Energy

Naturally, Brune failed to mention what exactly would substantiate an emergency. The state is taking measures to counteract current climate destruction, but it has chosen to ignore future projections and “big reports” as Brune put it.

The administration has made it clear that its foremost concern is sustaining non-renewable energy. Brune used to work for one of Alaska’s most controversial mines, and he is a staunch advocate for the oil industry.

It is understandable that Dunleavy and Brune want to protect Alaska’s economy, but this stance of inaction is exacerbating the Alaska climate crisis.

Protecting The Oil Industry Rather Than Citizens

Mining represents 24% of Alaska’s GDP, which is certainly a significant portion. It is the backbone of Alaskan trade and provides approximately one-third of all Alaskan jobs.

Regardless of ideology, it would be unreasonable to expect Alaska to forsake the industry, oil is simply too important to the state. That said, bending over backward to accommodate the industry has its own consequences, particularly on Alaska climate.

It is certainly true that excessive mining regulation would hurt the people of Alaska. It is also true that ice melting and rampant wildfires will also hurt Alaska’s people.

The answer is not to choose economic viability in favor of widespread environmental collapse. Some citizens are already facing the consequences of these misplaced priorities.

Alaska’s Oil Industry Seeing More Care Than Its Indigenous People

Approximately 15% of the state’s population is Alaskan Natives, an umbrella term for the various indigenous cultures who have lived off the land for thousands of years.

Many still rely on the environment to live, and several village’s subsistence economies have been wrecked by climate change.

Shouldn’t Alaska’s indigenous people be valued just as much as the oil industry?

Alaskan Federation of Natives Have Already Declared A Climate Emergency

The Alaskan Federation of Natives (AFN), has declared a climate emergency, unlike the state of Alaska. It was a divisive measure, as many Alaskan natives and tribes work within the oil industry themselves.

Still, it shows a level of cooperation and understanding that Alaska as a whole has not yet demonstrated. Alaska cannot feasibly abandon oil. But the current administration can certainly work to regulate mining within reason and take proactive action to stop climate change.

A policy of putting out fires as they occur will ultimately fail.

Even recreating its task force and acknowledging the climate emergency would be a step in the right direction. 

Alaska Climate Situation Has Potential To Improve, But Government Must Act On Policy

According to US News, the state currently ranks 45th in terms of environmental policy, so there is obviously room for improvement.

The Dunleavy administration must take steps to protect Alaska’s environment as it does the oil industry. It is certainly a daunting prospect, but perhaps the state can follow the AFN’s example.

Final Note: If you are a policy-maker in Alaska, we would like to hear from you at tips@mediusventures.com. We would be happy to work with you to get the word out about what you plan to do.

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Australia Gets Flamed For Neglecting The Climate Emergency In The Pacific

Rich Bowden

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Australia gets flamed for its climate inaction

Former Tuvalu Prime Minister Enele Sopoaga has re-opened the controversy over Australia’s high-handed approach at this year’s Pacific Islands Forum. Australia has been accused of trying to silence Pacific leaders, like Sopoaga, who are demanding it to do more to combat climate change.

Tuvalu hosted the Pacific Islands Forum in August. 

At the forum, Australia pressured Sopoaga among other pro-climate action leaders from the Pacific, to accept a watered-down communique. Many leaders believe it would do little to combat the climate emergency in the Pacific.

Australia not tackling the Pacific’s unique climate challenges

Sopoaga told Australia’s SBS News he thought hosting the PIF forum in Tuvalu would highlight the challenges facing smaller Pacific nations. He said he sought to show countries like Australia the existential threat climate change poses to low-lying countries like Tuvalu.

However, he regretted that support was not forthcoming. Further, he didn’t like that Pacific leaders who spoke out on climate change had the chance to accept hush money.

“Putting this money on the table … and then expecting Pacific Island countries like Tuvalu to say ‘OK, we’ll stop talking about climate change’ … is completely irresponsible,” he added.

Sopoaga said action was needed at domestic level in countries such as Australia to have any effect.

“Any amount of money that is coming with the Step-Up [Pacific aid program] cannot be seen as an excuse for no action at a domestic level to cut down on greenhouse emissions.”

Climate change poses an existential threat to Tuvalu

Tuvalu, like a number of low-lying Pacific micro-nations, is under threat from climate change. The sea has almost claimed two of the nine islands. And with the highest point only 4.6 meters above sea level, locals fear they will one day be completely swamped. 

Home to just 11,000 people and an average of just 6.6 feet above sea level, Tuvalu is in danger. In fact, its people are already making plans to evacuate should sea levels rise further.

Sopoaga has previously rejected offers to relocate the people, saying it won’t make a significant difference.

“Moving outside of Tuvalu will not solve any climate change issues,” Sopoaga says. He adds, “If you put these people in the middle of industrialized countries it will simply boost their consumptions and increase greenhouse gas emissions,” as he told The Guardian in May. 

Sopoaga’s term as Tuvalu PM came to an end last month after losing a vote in the country’s parliament. The expectation is that his successor, Kausea Natano, will continue the call to action from the world on climate change.

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Brexit Is Overshadowing Climate Activism

Haider Sarwar

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Brexit

Due to the ongoing Brexit crisis in the United Kingdom, discussions regarding climate change legislation has been postponed. The European Union meets four times a year in Brussels, Belgium, and this past week the British Parliament asked for yet another extension on formulating a plan to decarbonize by 2050.

The 2050 Plan

In November 2018, the EU proposed to have its total carbon emissions reach a net-zero by 2050. This was a move unique to the EU, and it sought to motivate other countries such as the US and Brazil to follow its footsteps. Over half the members of the EU, including the UK, have signed onto this plan.

Critics have deemed this plan as ambitious and near impossible. Moreover, there is a lot of pressure on European governments from large industries. Still, there is hope for the EU to reach this goal as many of the members are adamant about decarbonizing all of Europe. The biggest obstacle to this plan, however, is the countries’ internal affairs. The prime example of this is the UK’s notorious Brexit plan.

Brexit’s Prolonged Existence

In June 2016, a referendum on whether to leave the European Union was held in the UK. Then, 51.6% of people voted to leave. Ever since, deals illustrating better ways for the UK to leave the EU have been proposed. Both the EU and the UK have shared and torn apart these deals. Today, the disagreements persist with a very obscure future. 

It is partly because of this ongoing issue that the EU was unable to present a proper plan for decarbonization at the UN climate summit last month. The aforementioned meeting in Brussels also illustrated that the UK won’t adopt the decarbonization plan. Many EU officials have expressed annoyance towards the UK for this reason. Climate activist Greta Thunberg further argued that if politicians and governments were serious about tackling climate change, they would not spend their time “talking about taxes and Brexit.”

The adoption of the 2050 plan from the UK is being pushed to take place in 2020. The EU has little interest in refusing the UK of an extension, too. This is because a chaotic no-deal scenario would be initiated by the EU, which would be less than advantageous. 

Internal issues such as Brexit have been an obstacle to the EU’s proposed climate action for years, now. It is essential for Great Britain to pull itself out of the ongoing issue to create a plan for the future.

Will The UK Set Aside Politics To Focus On Climate Change?

Many activists wish to see countries such as the UK set aside their politics to focus on more important issues like climate change. It is unclear how long it will take for the UK and the EU to finally reach an agreement about Brexit, but there is hope that this extension will be the last one.

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