by Barry Kent MacKay,
Senior Program Associate
Born Free USA’s Canadian Representative
When I was young, the world’s wealthiest man was reportedly Aristotle Onassis (1906-1975), who “earned” staggering wealth partly from owning shipping lines, from whaling, and from getting a start in business by selling tobacco. Like most billionaires, he ultimately had diverse business interests. The great whales whose deaths generated such fortunes are largely gone, but their destruction certainly contributed to his and others’ fortunes (and to the employment of sailors and whalers).
But now, far more than whales are at risk. There’s a growing number of American species that require protection—protection that was provided, until now, by the Endangered Species Act. Some legislators seem to think that making money is more important than protecting the environment, although nothing could be less true.
In fact, all wealth springs from the natural environment. From the steel of ships, trains, and aircraft, to the fossil fuels that drive them, to tobacco and whales, we see the products of nature: of natural geological and biological processes accessed through the technological innovation and the physical endeavors of workers. They transfer the raw produce of the planet into wealth that tends to accumulate up the economic pyramid to those at the top.
Taking any wealth without regard for the wolves, pupfish, bald eagles, jaguars, and other species that are rare, threatened, or endangered comes at costs that are shared by everyone. We all, more or less, equally need fresh water, productive oceans, and clean air to breathe. We also need our fellow plants and animals. However, they are in rapid decline now that we are changing the planet hundreds of times faster than in primal times.
And now, in 2017, I worry that the American government may dismantle the Environmental Protection Agency: an agency that protects not only Americans, but Canadians, too (as well as the migrating wildlife that doesn’t recognize human-imposed borders).
Yes, workers at the economic pyramid’s broad base may benefit in the short term—but we can’t eat, drink, or breathe money. We must focus on protecting the natural environment that makes this planet so rich.