Earth to Obama: The Biggest Challenge Yet


An Open Letter to President-elect Obama:

Congratulations! You now have a remarkable opportunity to enrich America's environmental stewardship at home, and her influence abroad. Here are three suggested arenas for urgent action.

Biology Matters Most: Our nation's economic woes are an offspring of malfunctions at the very core of the planet's life-support systems. We are in the midst of the sixth mass-extinction spasm in the annals of biology.

This fact is not on most lawmakers' radar screens. Yet, it makes the present, and projected effects of global warming, pale by comparison: At current trends, we will lose between 40%-60% of all life on Earth by the end of this century; a staggering 43,000 individual populations of plants and animals going extinct every day.

Since passage of the U.S. Endangered Species Act (ESA) in 1973, more than 100 North American species have gone extinct. Despite this, the U.S. government seems reluctant to take science at its word and grant protection to the more than 280 new candidates for the endangered species list.

By some estimates, global biodiversity is valued at about $400 trillion per year. This currency is the air we breathe, the water we drink and the neighborhood and neighbors we love. It is imperative that the U.S. finally ratify the United Nations Convention on Biological Diversity, a far-reaching outgrowth of the Rio Environmental Summit of 1992. America is virtually alone in the world of nations for not having ratified a treaty whose goal is the protection of life on Earth.

A Population Policy: Demographic trends and their consumption fallout are huge factors in biodiversity loss. The United States of America has no population policy. Yet, U.S. census data forecasts a population of 500 million people in the U.S. by the end of this century, and a worldwide population of between 9 and 13 billion people.

The Earth's biological resources cannot sustain such numbers. We need compassionate guidance and legislation to curb this runaway population explosion—a formula for poverty and ecological disaster. Tax incentives for people choosing to have small families, or to adopt, would be an appropriate first step. Another would be an executive order reversing the Reagan/Bush “gag order” that denied women throughout the world assistance to obtain the fullest range of family planning services.

Kindness to All Creatures, Great and Small: America's reliance on violence as an economic driver and political instrument of persuasion is surely not the best model of compassion to pass along to future generations.

In ecological terms, human violence is disastrous. For example, Americans kill and profit by the lives of more than 10 billion animals each year just in the United States. Most of these are slaughtered in questionably “humane” circumstances.

Most Americans may not be ready to “go vegetarian,” as was the recommendation of R. K. Pachauri, chairman of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, which won the 2007 Nobel Peace Prize. But a more non-violent administration could give tax support to companies that choose not to kill.

Why not acknowledge the true cost of killing for our food? Scientific and medical communities acknowledge that meat-eating constitutes not merely a health issue for humans, but a huge burden on fast-shrinking freshwater resources.

Meat production undermines our ability to divert plant foods and compact units of protein in greater abundance to the hungry (nearly a billion worldwide). Moreover, livestock emit their own considerable contribution to global warming in the form of methane gas.

By promising to bring a puppy to the White House for your family, you remind us of our close bonds with other species. That “mutt” symbolizes for many a path of peaceful reunification.

America cannot solve all of the world's problems at once, nor can it stand by in worried isolation. But the United States of America has the power to promote virtue and true conscience.

Extending the olive branch to all creatures great and small is our only way to realize true environmental security.