WASHINGTON, DC, October 17, 2007 (ENS) - Calling global warming the single greatest threat to the world’s natural environment, U.S. Senator Sheldon Whitehouse, a Rhode Island Democrat, today announced new legislation laying the groundwork for a national strategy to address the impacts of climate change on America’s wildlife.
The bill is the first of its kind and includes components for the most imperiled plants and animals in the United States. It would convene regional scientific discussions and a National Academy of Sciences panel to examine the impacts of climate change on endangered, threatened, and otherwise imperiled species and recommend action.
Senator Barbara Boxer, the California Democrat who chairs the Senate Committee on the Environment and Public Works, will be an original cosponsor of the bill.
A member of the committee, Whitehouse said global warming has already begun to have a severe and lasting impact on wildlife populations and marine ecosystems in Rhode Island and around the world.
Senator Sheldon Whitehouse of Rhode Island (Photo courtesy Office of the Senator)
"As the waters of Narragansett Bay grow warmer, cold-water fish species with high commercial value, like winter flounder, have been replaced by warmer-water species, like scup, whose value to our fishermen is lower," Whitehouse said. "Melting sea ice in Greenland is pushing polar bears closer to inhabited villages in search of food."
"As we work to mitigate the causes of global warming, we must also take urgent action to address its effects on wildlife, oceans, and other natural systems on which we all depend," he said.
A report released in February by the UN's Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, shows that the world faces an average temperature rise of around 3°C, or 5.4°F, this century, if greenhouse gas emissions continue to rise at their current pace and are allowed to double their pre-industrial level.
The report, agreed upon by governments of all industrial democracies, says that warming during the last 100 years was 0.74°C, with most of the warming occurring during the past 50 years. The warming per decade for the next 20 years is projected to be 0.2°C per decade.
The Global Warming Wildlife Survival Act would direct the federal government to develop coordinated national strategies to identify, monitor, and protect or restore wildlife populations and habitats that are likely to be harmed by global warming; and to protect, maintain, and restore coastal and marine ecosystems to help them better withstand ocean acidification, sea level rise, and other stresses related to climate change.
The bill would create advisory boards, with members appointed by the president of the National Academy of Sciences, and a new National Global Warming and Wildlife Science Center within the U.S. Geological Survey, to conduct research and provide scientific and technical advice on strategies to help wildlife, oceans, and coastal ecosystems adapt to global warming.
A special panel would also be convened to look specifically at the impacts of climate change on endangered species.
The bill would provide grants and other federal resources to help states, territories, and Indian tribes study wildlife, oceans, and habitats that may be affected by global warming, and plan and implement programs to mitigate the effects of climate change on these populations.
The environmental and faith-based communities tend to support the measure.
Polar bear seeks a firm footing on melting ice (Photo courtesy © Greenpeace/Beltra)
"Senator Whitehouse and Senator Boxer are taking a critical first step in protecting our most imperiled species, and we applaud their leadership on this issue," said Susan Holmes of the public interest law firm Earthjustice. "We cannot sit back and allow animals like the polar bear to disappear forever."
"This is critical legislation," said Peter Illyn, director of the evangelical Christian conservation group Restoring Eden, which supports the bill. "Faithful and wise stewardship requires the objectivity of sound science coupled with the moral imperatives of faith. Protecting the diversity and fruitfulness of the web of life is a sacred trust and we will reap the benefits or suffer the consequences of the choices we make."
"Climate change has made most of our plans for recovering at-risk species obsolete," said Dr. Dennis Murphy, a professor at the University of Nevada and member of the National Research Council's Board on Environmental Studies and Toxicology. "In the face of novel and still mostly unpredictable environmental changes ahead, this bill will be crucial to our ability to respond to the needs of imperiled species."
Global warming is a major cause of species extinction. Hundreds of plants and animals, from grizzly bears to coral reefs, are already declining due to global warming, and the latest report from the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change estimates that between 20 and 30 percent of animal and plant species face a risk of extinction if global warming continues unabated.
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