US HOUSE REPUBLICANS DENY BIO-EXTINCTION CRISIS AS WELL AS WARMING DANGER

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23 may 2019


Republicans aren’t just climate deniers. They deny the extinction crisis, too


Jimmy Tobias, The Guardian, Thu 23 May 2019


Republican officials and their industry benefactors are sowing doubt about the wildlife extinction crisis that threatens as many as one million species

Maybe you’ve read King Lear and remember this famous line: “‘Tis the time’s plague when madmen lead the blind.” The words were written more than 400 years ago as a comment on the deadly consequences of greed, delusion and political folly, but they could serve just as well as a Republican party slogan today. They’re a fitting description of the Republican party’s delusional campaign to deny the environmental crises that threaten our planet and our civilization.

For decades now, Republican politicians and their patrons in the fossil fuel industry have used thinktanks, front groups and public relations operatives to promote faulty science and perpetuate the myth that the climate crisis is a hoax. This campaign of climate deception, which is elegantly documented in books like Merchants of Doubt, has exacted a huge toll on the planet and its people – it has sabotaged domestic and international efforts to combat greenhouse gas pollution and exacerbated a crisis that is acidifying oceans, melting polar ice caps, supercharging storms and making the Earth less hospitable to human and animal life. We have a name for the purveyors of this deceitful campaign: we call them “climate deniers”.

Now, it appears, prominent Republican officials and their industry benefactors are using the same bankrupt strategy to sow doubt about the wildlife extinction crisis that threatens the continued existence of as many as one million species across the globe. The Republican elites are not just climate deniers – they are extinction deniers too.

On Wednesday, Democrats on the House natural resources committee called a hearing to discuss the grave findings of the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES), an independent UN-backed body established in 2012. Two weeks ago, IPBES released the initial summary of a new report that assesses the dire and declining condition of Earth’s ecosystems. The 1,500-page report, which will be released later this year, is based on thousands of scientific studies that have been carefully reviewed by hundreds of scientists and policy experts over the course of the last three years.

I have spent the past week parsing IPBES’s findings and, let me tell you, they are more frightening than any of the fictional demons or dragons that our TV writers conjure. Among other things, IBPES reports that industrial agriculture, overfishing, deforestation, urban growth, invasive species, pollution and more have altered a significant majority of the world’s land and ocean habitat, and the data suggests that “around one million species already face extinction, many within decades, unless action is taken to reduce the intensity of drivers of biodiversity loss”. Such widespread loss of plant and animal life, the report indicates, could unravel fundamental natural processes, like animal pollination and fish stock regeneration, that are the basis of human agriculture and civilization.

At the committee hearing on Tuesday, the Republican minority utterly ignored the report’s chilling conclusions. Instead, industry-backed politicians like Representative Tom McClintock and Representative Rob Bishop used the forum to sow doubt about the IPBES report and besmirch the reputations of its prominent authors, three of whom were at the hearing.

McClintock and his Republican committee colleagues, who have collectively taken millions in campaign contributions from the fossil fuel industry, called a couple of their own witnesses to testify too. They chose as witnesses a pair of well-known climate deniers – Marc Morano, a rightwing operative and former aide to Senator Jim Inhofe, and Dr Patrick Moore of the CO2 Coalition, a Koch-brother-backed non-profit that “educates” the public about the importance of fossil fuels. The two men used the hearing to aggressively attack the IPBES and its scientists.

Consider Morano’s testimony, for instance. At the hearing, he characterized the IPBES report as a piece of “propaganda” meant to give the United Nations “more money, more power, more scientific authority, more money and more regulatory control of the economy and people’s lives”. He then went on to smear the recent chair of the IPBES, Sir Robert Watson, who was sitting beside him, alleging that Watson and his fellow IPBES officials “are part of this con” and “the leaders of this UN politicization of species endangerment science”, implying that the well-pedigreed Watson is “not a scientist, but a science bureaucrat doing the bidding for his organization”. Morano’s comments were so strident and personal that Representative Jared Huffman, who was presiding over the hearing, had to repeatedly remind him not to direct comments at his fellow witnesses.

“I don’t know what inspires someone to make a career out of trolling scientists or monetizing contrarian ideology on the YouTube and Ted Talk circuit,” Huffman told Morano. “But it is just a very different kind of conversation than the science-based conversation I think many of us would like to try to have.”

The conduct of the Republican legislators and their witnesses at Tuesday’s hearing was appalling, reminiscent of the bullying tactics that Big Oil and the Republican party have used to prevent solutions to the climate crisis. But there they were, shamelessly using the same methods to distract from the growing biodiversity crisis that continues to undermine environmental and economic stability both at home and abroad.

Science denial on the part of people like Representative McClintock and Representative Bishop should come as little surprise, of course. The Republican members of House natural resources committee have spent their last eight years in power doing everything they can to undermine and even dismantle our most important wildlife laws, including the Endangered Species Act. Just last year, for instance, Representative Bishop and his colleagues introduced a package of nine bills that, in effect, would have gutted the ESA. Ultimately, the bills failed.

The House hearing on Tuesday should serve as a warning – wildlife conservationists face the same sort of industry-backed subterfuge that has stymied climate activists for years. The industries that rely on fossil fuel production for profits – whether big agriculture, oil and gas conglomerates or the mining sector – are often the same industries whose business models are built on degrading wildlife habitat. They stand to lose as much from aggressive wildlife conservation as they do from climate regulation. They seem prepared to defend the destructive status quo, no matter the cost in plant and animal life or human wellbeing.

Jimmy Tobias is a contributing writer at the Guardian and Pacific Standard and a contributor at the Nation


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