Politics and Nature: The Reality We Can't Ignore
An Environmental Article from All-Creatures.org


Dr. Charlotte Regan as posted on The Ark, The newsletter of CCA Catholic Concern for Animals
July 2017

Despite the many challenges we face in preventing the unnecessary suffering of animals, halting biodiversity loss and combatting climate change, governments continue to dismiss, deny or ignore the environmental consequences of policies.

In his 2015 encyclical letter, Laudato Si’, Pope Francis wrote Nature cannot be regarded as something separate from ourselves or as a mere setting in which we live. We are part of nature, included in it and thus in constant interaction with it.

While this observation seems self-evident, its true sentiment is worth more serious contemplation as the recognition of our fundamental interdependence with nature will only become more important with time. This is particularly so at the political level where decisions can have the most significant implications for wildlife and the environment, as well as for ourselves. However, despite the many challenges we face in preventing the unnecessary suffering of animals, halting biodiversity loss and combatting climate change, governments continue to dismiss, deny or ignore the environmental consequences of policies. This disassociation between politics and nature appears particularly apparent in the United States at present where the new administration’s ‘America First’ approach, with priorities of economic growth, job creation and energy development, often appear wholly disconnected from environmental considerations.

America’s Dismantling of Environmental Regulations

Since taking office, President Trump has begun rolling back environmental regulations in an effort to reduce restrictions on the activities of businesses and private industries. Some of the regulations under threat include critical, landmark pieces of legislation in place to protect vulnerable species including the US Endangered Species Act (ESA) and the Marine Mammal Protection Act (MMPA). The ESA protects more than 2,000 species by preventing the harming and trading of listed animals and plants which are either threatened or endangered. The MMPA provides similar protection for marine mammals such as whales, dolphins, seals, polar bears and the wider ocean ecosystem. Opponents of these Acts want to ‘modernise’ regulations, primarily to make it easier for industries such as logging, mining, drilling, oil and gas to expand.

British Columbia
British Columbia Landscape, IFAW

Inevitably, environmental legislation restricts certain kinds of human activities, but these regulations are not unnecessary bureaucratic barriers designed to inconvenience businesses or stop enterprise. Rather, they are there for the most important of reasons - to try to halt the disappearance of vulnerable species and to prevent the habitats we all share from becoming irreversibly altered or destroyed. The protections provided by the ESA since 1973 have prevented more than 170 species from potentially becoming extinct and aided the recovery of some of America’s most cherished and ecologically significant animals including the American bald eagle, the grey wolf, the manatee and the California condor. The MMPA has provided similar protection for many species of marine mammal throughout US waters over the past 45 years, helping to rebuild many formerly depleted populations, as well as conducting ground-breaking scientific research. In 2017, it should be clear from our past experiences that without robust legislation protecting wildlife and habitats, individual animals suffer, vulnerable populations decrease or disappear, and ecosystems come under increasing pressure

Trophy Hunting

The ESA also plays an important part in restricting animal trophy imports. The US is one of the biggest trophy hunting countries in the world, accounting for 71 per cent of all animal trophy import demand with bears, lions, wolves, elephants, hippos and leopards all within the top ten most imported trophies. The US is also responsible for the majority of trophy hunting of captive animals, ‘canned hunting’, where animals (often drugged or sedated) are hunted within an enclosure from which they cannot escape. Once an animal is listed on the ESA it becomes harder for hunters to receive permits to import or export their ‘trophies’ in and out of the country.

Case studies also show that bans on trophy imports can help reduce the demand for hunting itself. For example, when polar bears were listed as threatened under the ESA in 2008 and polar bear trophies were subsequently banned, the actual hunting of polar bears decreased by nearly 42 per cent between 2009 and 2012. IFAW is currently petitioning the US government to have giraffes listed as endangered under the ESA in order to try to help end the importation of giraffe trophies, skins and other giraffe parts which the US has been importing at an average rate of one a day for the last 10 years.

oil platform
Oil Platform IFAW

 A listing on the ESA could also help to raise public and political awareness for the plight of giraffes, which are now less numerous than elephants in the wild.

Environmentally Damaging Projects

As well as efforts to undermine existing legislation, the Trump administration is also pressing forward with a number of environmentally controversial projects. The President recently signed an executive order reviewing the permanent ban on new offshore oil and gas drilling in the Arctic and Atlantic oceans. This is despite the possibility of devastating oil spills (which even the federal government admits the potential for is high) and the problems off-shore drilling will cause for many whale and marine species. The same executive order also expedited the consideration of permits for seismic surveys which use air guns and acoustic waves to explore the sea floor in order to determine whether and where oil and gas are present. Seismic surveys pose a severe risk to marine life as noise pollution can cause great injury to individual animals, as well as disrupting feeding, breeding and communication habits which can affect whole communities of animals.

President Trump also recently provided a presidential permit for the Keystone XL Pipeline, intended to carry tar sands oil (one of the world’s dirtiest fuels) nearly 2,000 miles from Alberta, Canada to the Gulf Coast of Texas. The pipeline will run through important habitats such as the North Valley Grasslands in Montana and the Sandhills in Nebraska, crossing both the Missouri and Yellowstone Rivers.


Thousands of acres of landscape and animal habitat will be disrupted by the construction and operation of the pipeline, not to mention the broader climate change implications involved in tar sands oil production, including climate- damaging emissions, water waste and pollution, and forest destruction. The US-Mexico border wall which the President promises to build would also cause significant ecological problems, effectively building a huge barricade through several biodiverse and relatively pristine ecosystems along the border and preventing populations of animals such as the American roadrunner, Mexican grey wolf, cougars, jaguars and ocelots from having the free movement they depend on to maintain genetic diversity and healthy populations.

The Harmful Effect on Humans

Reversing protective legislation and pursuing policies which pose significant threats to wildlife and the environment does not just harm nature, it harms people too, indirectly and directly, in the short-term and the long-term. If species go extinct, we are all the poorer for it. If we continue to pursue the development of fossil fuels over renewable energy, even in the face of overwhelming scientific evidence, we will accelerate climate change rather than halt it. We will leave future generations a world with less of life’s amazing biodiversity and more intractable environmental problems. Our undeniable interdependence with nature involves a responsibility to integrate political and environmental concerns if we are to look beyond short-term gains, which are often only for the few, and towards policies which help usher true sustainability for all life on Earth.

In the words of St Francis of Assisi, Not to hurt our humble brethren is our first duty to them, but to stop there is not enough. We have a higher mission - to be of service to them wherever they require it.

Dr Charlotte Regan works for the International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW). Founded in 1969, IFAW saves animals in crisis around the world. With projects in more than 40 countries, IFAW rescues individual animals, works to prevent cruelty to animals and advocates for the protection of wildlife and habitats.

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