Endangered Species Act is a modern-day Noah’s Ark — Trump must stop trying to sink it
The Endangered Species Act acts like a modern-day Noah’s Ark, protecting the last remaining animals and plants and the places that they live from total annihilation. The Trump administration announced its intention on Monday to drill holes into the ark, threatening to sink the only thing keeping the planet’s most vulnerable wildlife from disappearing forever.
Under the guise of “modernizing” the Endangered Species Act, the Trump administration proposes a series of changes to the way the act is carried out. One of the major changes impacts wildlife that are newly listed as “threatened,” which is defined as “any species which is likely to become an endangered species within the foreseeable future throughout all or a significant portion of its range.”
Currently, protections kick in when a species is declared to be “threatened.” The Trump administration’s new regulations would deprive newly listed threatened species from automatically receiving protections from killing, trapping, and other forms of harm. For example, people have petitioned the government to protect monarch butterflies. If monarchs are granted “threatened” status, under these new regulations, the butterflies could still be killed, poisoned and otherwise harmed.
The changes also inject economic consideration into what should be purely scientific decisions about protecting wildlife. If an oil company claims it will lose millions of dollars if it can’t drill in an imperiled species’ habitat, that consideration will now be given greater weight than the ultimate existence of that species.
As a person of faith, I hold the belief that every human-caused extinction destroys another masterpiece in God’s grand gallery of life. Each species has its own rich evolutionary history. Great religious thinkers such as Maimonides and St. Thomas Aquinas have written that each one also carries its own measure of holiness, uniquely testifying to our Creator. As the Quran teaches, (Surah Al-Anam 6:38), “There is no animal that crawls on the earth, no bird that flies with its two wings, but are communities like you. We have neglected nothing in the Book.” Destroying what is holy is a moral failure. As Pope Francis wrote (Laudato Si, 33), “because of us, thousands of species will no longer give glory to God by their very existence, nor convey their message to us. We have no such right.”
Beyond the intrinsic value of each and every creature on God’s earth, a recent UN report that warns that the impending extinction of millions of species would have a dire impact on human existence as well. The report states that 75 percent of all food crop types rely on animal pollinators such as bees, and the report predicts with a loss of nearly $600 billion annually of those crops due to pollinator loss. Seventy percent of all cancer drugs come from natural sources or synthetics based on nature, so each extinction may wipe out potential cures.
Healthy, biodiverse ecosystems help filter clean water, prevent floods, remove climate heating-carbon dioxide from the air and produce oxygen for us to breathe. We as a species cannot thrive without these benefits. The science behind the overall importance of preventing extinction is clear.
Instead of drilling holes in the act, we must better fund our federal wildlife protection programs, and leave the Endangered Species Act as it is. We must move away from a culture of extraction and waste and embrace a new way forward to live harmoniously on this planet God gave us.
There is a midrash, a rabbinic parable (Leviticus Rabbah 4:6), that tells of people sitting on such a ship. “One of them took a drill and began to bore a hole in the ship under where he was sitting. His companions said, ‘what are you sitting and doing?’ He said, ‘what has it to do with you? I am boring a hole under my part of the ship.’ They said, ‘but the water is coming in and sinking the ship under us all.’” It’s time to make the Trump administration put down its drill.
Rabbi Daniel Swartz has been a man of the cloth for 29 years and is the executive director of the Coalition on the Environment and Jewish Life. He is also the spiritual leader of Temple Hesed in Scranton, Pennsylvania.