Written by Maureen Nandini Mitra, Earth Island Journal
It’s not breaking news that fossil fuel extraction is extremely destructive and puts our plant and animal kingdom at risk. But I think it’s always worthwhile to pause and take stock of exactly how much of our land, waters and wildlife we are destroying in our headlong pursuit of more and more comfortable, wired, heated, air-conditioned and mobile lives.
A new report released today by the Endangered Species Coalition does just that.
Fueling Extinction: How Dirty Energy Drives Wildlife to the Brink, highlights the incredible toll the development, storage and transportation of fossil fuels has had on America’s natural world. The report focuses on ten “particularly vulnerable” animals, plants, birds and fish that are at risk of extinction due to our dependence on fossil fuels.
Coalition members, including Center for Biological Diversity, Defenders of Wildlife, Sea Turtle Restoration Project, and WildEarth Guardians, nominated candidates for inclusion in the report, and submissions were then reviewed, judged, and voted on by a panel of scientists.
Perhaps the most telling example on the list – that spans the length and breadth of America and its coasts – is the whooping crane. The endangered bird nearly went extinct in the 1940s and it’s now under threat again from the proposed Keystone XL Pipeline (see list below for details). The pipeline would run along the entire migratory path of the existing wild flock of 437 cranes, from Canada to Texas, the report says. While President Obama rejected the pipeline yesterday, it was only on grounds that the proposal couldn’t be adequately reviewed within the short deadline set by Congress. Which means, of course, that there’s the possibility that the project could be approved later.
Other at risk species listed in the report include bowhead whales in Alaska, the Wyoming Pocket Gopher (only about 40 of these rare animals exist today) and Graham’s Penstemon, a delicate flower found in areas being explored for shale oil mining in Utah.
The report urges lawmakers to end subsidies to oil and gas industries and focus on renewable energy. (It notes that taxpayers will be handing out almost $100 billion to oil and gas companies in the coming decades).
“Oil companies have generated billions of dollars in profits, and paid their senior executives $220 million in 2010 alone. Yet ExxonMobil, Chevron, Shell, and BP combined have reduced their U.S. workforce by 11,200 employees since 2005,” the report says. “The American people are clearly getting the short end of the stick from the fossil fuel industry, both in terms of jobs and in preserving our natural heritage.”
Agreed. But then renewable energy sources come with their own bag of problems. What with all these reports about wind turbines killing birds and bats, tidal power turbines affecting marine life and solar farms harming desert tortoises.
“We definitely need to figure out how to use renewable energy sources properly and sustainably,” replied Leda Huta, executive director of Endangered Species Coalition, when I quizzed her about this over the phone. “But fossil fuels are inherently dirty while with renewables it is possible to harness energy in sound ways. I’m not saying that we are doing it properly yet, but we can find ways to mitigate impacts on wildlife. With fossil fuels we don’t have that chance.”
Well, other than suggesting we all go live like we did in pre-historic times when fire was our only energy source, I can’t find a better answer than that.
Top 10 Species Threatened by Fossil Fuel Development
1. Bowhead Whale (endangered)
Threatened by potential oil spills, noise from offshore oil drilling, and deadly collisions with ships.
Top photo from davipt via flickr
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