The pricelessness of biodiversity: using the Endangered Species Act to help combat extinction and climate change.

Author:Falberg, Alisha
Position::I. Introduction through IV. The Endangered Species Act B. Amending the Act 1. Listing, p. 135-178 - The California-Quebec Adventure: Linking Cap and Trade as a Path to Global Climate Action

ABSTRACT I. INTRODUCTION II. A WORLD WITHOUT III. CLIMATE CHANGE, BIODIVERSITY AND SPECIES A. What? B. Why? C. How is Climate Change Affecting Species and Biodiversity? 1. The Pika 2. The Polar Bear 3. Marine Species and Ocean Acidification IV. THE ENDANGERED SPECIES ACT A. An Overview of the Act 1. Listing Under the ESA 2. Critical Habitats Under the ESA 3. Recovery Plans and Monitoring Under the ESA B. Amending the Act 1. Listing 2. Critical Habitats 3. Recovery and Monitoring 4. Conservation Plans D. Why Amend the Act? V. CRITICISMS TO THIS APPROACH A. Climate Change is a Hoax and the ESA Has Got to Go B. Changing the ESA Would Do More Harm than Good-or Have No Effect At All C. The ESA is Not the Best Tool and, Even if it Were, It's Too Expensive! VI. CONCLUSION "The last word in ignorance is the man who says of an animal or plant: 'What good is it?'" --Aldo Leopold

"Biological diversity must be treated more seriously as a global resource, to be indexed, used, and above all, preserved." --E.O. Wilson (1)

"Nothing is more priceless and more worthy of preservation than the rich array of animal life with which our country has been blessed." --President Nixon (2)


    One thousand five hundred meters up the mountains of the Monteverde cloud forest in Costa Rica once lived Incilius periglenes--the golden toad. (3) This beautiful little toad, whose habitat and range was restricted to the cloud forest, has been extinct since 1989. (4) Why did this formerly common species (5) decline into extinction? The leading theory is climate change. (6)

    The golden toad's habitat and range was restricted to the relatively small area between 1,500 and 1,620 meters in the mountains of Monteverde. (8) The range was so limited because the toad lived in the mists provided by the clouds on the mountain and bred in the temporary pools created at the beginning of the tropical rain season. (9) Among amphibians generally, there is a "greater extinction risk for higher-elevation species ... [that are] already prone to extinction, because geographic ranges tend to decrease in size with increasing elevation." (10) This increased threat of extinction is exacerbated by climate change. (11) Climate change and increased emission of greenhouse gases have caused temperatures in the Monteverde cloud forest to warm, reducing the mist. (12) This caused species like the golden toad to have to shift up the mountain to where clouds still formed, (13) but shifting up a mountain is problematic, as a species can only go so far up before there is no more land. This is all due to the changing climate.

    Climate change represents an unprecedented threat to biodiversity. In fact, climate change is the second greatest cause of species extinction as of the 21st century, constituting a "threat multiplier," meaning climate change intensifies all other threats to species and ecosystems. (14) This paper seeks to address climate change's impact on biodiversity by offering proposed amendments to the Endangered Species Act. By advocating for amending the Endangered Species Act, legislation that is already a force for protecting endangered and threatened species, this paper seeks to provide one more tool to combat the adverse effects of climate change on species and biodiversity. The Endangered Species Act could be an effective means to fight climate change, but not as currently written or implemented.

    This paper begins by discussing what the world would look like without biodiversity. Part III then discusses climate change, biodiversity, and the problem climate change presents to species. Part IV moves on to outline the Endangered Species Act as currently written and implemented. It then uses conservation biology principles to show how and why the Endangered Species Act, particularly the listing, critical habitat, and recovery requirements, should be changed. Part V addresses critiques to amending the Endangered Species Act. Regardless of the current political hostility toward amendments of this nature, as well as several other obstacles, this paper asserts that if the amendments passed were strict, clear, precise, and numerous, the Endangered Species Act could be written to be an effective tool for conserving biodiversity against the threat of climate change.


    Picture the present: "[s]omewhere between 1.5 and 1.8 million [species] have been discovered ... [and] estimates of the true number of living species range ... from 3.6 million to 100 million or more." (15) Now, picture the future if nothing is done to help combat the adverse effects of climate change on biodiversity and species:

    In 2100 the natural world is suffering terribly. The frontier forests are largely gone ... and with them most of the biodiversity hotspots. Coral reefs ... and other aquatic habitats have deteriorated badly. Gone with these richest of ecosystems are half or more of Earth's plant and animal species.... [T]he fragmentary biodiversity that survived to 2100 has also become much more genetically simplified ... Earth is a much poorer place than it was back in 2000, and will stay that way forever. Such is likely to be the world of 2100--if present trends continue. (16) This future is scientifically feasible. Scientific scenarios regularly show that biodiversity is declining and will continue to decline throughout this century and into the next if nothing is done to stop pollution and climate change. (17)

    Looking specifically at climate change as a driver of biodiversity decline, "[a] given change in climate is expected to have the largest proportional effect on biodiversity in ... [ecosystems with] extreme climates, although biodiversity in all [ecosystems] likely will be sensitive to climate." (18) This study estimates that small changes in temperature and precipitation will have large effects on species and biodiversity. (19) Looking at the current rate of extinction of species, it is also clear that the earth is losing biodiversity at an unprecedented rate. (20) Calculating the rate of extinction is difficult because it depends on many factors; however, generalized scenarios can be modeled to create a prediction. (21) Generally, human activity has "driven extinction rates to a level 1,000-10,000 times the normal rate." (22) It is well documented that "extinction is proceeding at a rapid rate, far above prehuman levels, [and in] many cases the level is calamitous." (23) Even with cautious parameters, "the number of species doomed each year is 27,000. Each day it is 74, and each hour 3." (24) Climate change is only exacerbating this loss. (25)


    1. What?

      The phrase "climate change" refers to the global climate's response to increasing amounts of greenhouse gases, especially carbon dioxide, being held in the atmosphere. (26) The trapping of these gases warms the planet and has led to the phenomenon known as "global warming," which is a result of human activity and must be stalled in order to avoid further damage to the earth. (27) While there is a natural carbon cycle that releases carbon (and other gases) into the atmosphere, (28) humans have greatly sped up this process by drilling and mining fossil fuels and then burning them, which emits large quantities of carbon dioxide. (29)

      But why is climate change a threat? It is because of the vast environmental impacts that are occurring in its wake on almost every aspect of life on earth, not just biodiversity. Such impacts include melting arctic ice, rising sea levels, changing ocean ecology (such as ocean acidification), intensifying weather events, declining forests and increasing desertification, and impacts on ecosystems and wildlife. (30) According to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change's (IPCC) Fifth Assessment Report, "Warming of the climate system is unequivocal, and since the 1950s, many of the observed changes are unprecedented over decades to millennia." (31)

      The IPCC believes that climate change and global warming will continue to have these effects. (32) Such changes in climate and temperature have a drastic effect on biodiversity.

      Biodiversity, short for biological diversity, is "the full variety of life, from genes to species to ecosystems." (33) Biodiversity is often measured in richness (number of unique life forms), evenness (equitability among life forms), and heterogeneity (dissimilarity among life forms), (34) and is composed of three levels: the top level is an ecosystem, the middle level is species, and the bottom level is genes. (35) Biodiversity can be viewed over time, as a characteristic of natural communities, globally or collectively, or where it is most concentrated, for example in tropical rain forests. (36) Regardless of which lens is used to measure biodiversity, the science is clear that climate change is having an impact:

      Biodiversity is dependent on an intricate web of factors that can be upset by rapid climate change ... [M]ost biodiversity, or at least an increasing proportion of it, is locked up in isolated patches. In the face of climate change ... human activity has created an obstacle course for the dispersal of biodiversity. This could establish one of the greatest biotic crises of all time. (37) B. Why?

      It is clear that biodiversity is declining; species are becoming threatened and going extinct at a rapid rate. But why should people care about conserving biodiversity? People should care because conserving wildlife is just as important as conserving the human race and, in fact, countries depend on biodiversity. For most people, biodiversity provides various sources of food, clothing, shelter, and medicine. (38) Biodiversity provides material goods and natural services, such as promoting soil fertility, sustaining the movement of water, absorbing and detoxifying pollutants, and decomposing waste. (39) Not to mention aesthetics--preserving the natural wonders of the world--and ethics: human beings arguably...

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