Thursday, May 21, 2009

Center for Biological Diversity: making change with the rule of law

My recent posting about domoic acid brought a comment from a reader about the proactive stance taken by the Center for Biological Diversity regarding ocean acidification - one of the negative effects of greenhouse gas emissions. Here are some other climate change/global warming issues that CBD is pursuing:

In a smiley-faced ending to a CBD lawsuit against the U.S.'s largest retailer, last Thursday a judge overturned the approval of a new Wal-Mart Supercenter near Joshua Tree National Park because the project wrote off the impacts of its greenhouse gas emissions.

"Wal-Mart talks a lot about fighting global warming, but when it comes to actually taking action, it bent over backwards to avoid incorporating cost-effective features like solar panels to reduce its carbon footprint," said CBD attorney Matt Vespa. "The enormous disconnect between Wal-Mart's stated environmental goals and its actions is classic greenwashing."

In response to a suit brought by CBD (represented by Earthjustice), a federal judge last week sent the California Fish and Game Commission back to the drawing board on its assessment of the plight of the American pika, a tiny mammal threatened by climate change. In 2007, CBD petitioned the Commission to protect the pika under the state's Endangered Species Act, and after it rejected the petition, CBD filed suit the next year. Last Friday, a judge issued a written order to the Commission invalidating its rejection of the petition and ordering it to think again about protecting the pika.

The American pika, adapted for the cold climate of mountain peaks in the U.S. West, is directly endangered by global warming because it can die when exposed to temperatures as low as 78 degrees Fahrenheit for just hours. Climate change exposes pikas to summer heat stress, lowers food availability, reduces food-gathering time, and decreases snow pack they need for winter insulation.
I get encouraged by these legal actions not only for the sake of the pika, but because it's forcing governments, albeit a step at a time, to face the big issue: climate change.

This Monday the tusked, blubbery, and highly imperiled Pacific walrus moved closer to Endangered Species Act protection when a federal judge approved a settlement between the CBD and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service compelling the agency to decide on protections for the species. The Pacific walrus is in danger as global warming melts the Arctic sea ice it needs for resting, breeding, raising young, and foraging activities. CBD petitioned to protect the pinniped in February 2008 and sued in December to force a response; now the feds must voice their first thoughts on protection this September, with a final decision due next year.

Even while the Pacific walrus's icy abode across its range is melting away, its habitat in the Chukchi Sea is being auctioned off to oil companies seeking to extract fossil fuels to further accelerate global warming and the melting of the Arctic -- imperiling not just the walrus but also the polar bear, ice seals, and other species. In responding to several lawsuits, including CBD's, regarding Arctic oil drilling, according to CBD's Rebecca Noblin, "Unfortunately for the walrus, the polar bear, and the entire Arctic ecosystem, [Interior] Secretary Salazar seems more inclined to protect Big Oil than America's imperiled wildlife."

As I have said before, the Center for Biological Diversity takes a very proactive stance, using the power of the law whenever necessary. Good to have them on nature's side but don't let them carry the water bucket alone. Do your part as a proactive individual and also support active NGOs when you can.


Erik Hunter said...

DID YOU KNOW? The manufacture of solar panels requires toxic materials such as arsenic, cadmium, and tellurium. Cu(In,Ga)Se2 solar cells are touted as a less toxic substitute, but they still contain selenium, which is toxic, as well. The byproduct of the solar cell manufacturing process is silicon tetrachloride, which is a very toxic pollutant, and is dumped on the ground in China. Wind turbines, hybrid cars, and compact fluorescent light bulbs all require rare earth elements such as neodymium. The only domestic source of rare earths is the Mountain Pass Mine in California. A typical environmental group, The Center for Biological Diversity, opposes the expansion and operation of the mine. On June 26th, 2009, I had a conversation with KierĂ¡n Suckling , the founder of the center. He informed me that his group was in favor of “green energy” technology, and did not know that the mine was the only domestic source of rare earths. He also told me that he didn’t care that we would be 100% dependent on foreign sources for these products, if the mine was shut down. He favored the use of natural gas for electricity generation as a “bridge technology”, but a quick check of his site showed that they oppose the use of natural gas. So what is the alternative? Go back to the stone age? By the way, you are reading this on a computer made soley of mining and petrochemical products. -Erik Hunter

RTSea said...


You raise some interesting issues, ones that I am sure CBD is considering if they were presented in a thoughtful and intelligent manner. At present, many of the alternative energy solutions being put forth are not perfect and will require refinement or total replacement as technology develops other options.

However, what struck me with your comment was your own lack of solutions. What is needed is proactive attitudes, not endless criticism or rants.

By the way, I did read your comment on a computer made solely of mining and petrochemicals. What did you write your comment on? A clay tablet?