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GoGreenNation News: If Corporations Are People, Then Animals Should Be Too
GoGreenNation News: If Corporations Are People, Then Animals Should Be Too

The terrifying truth of the climate and mass extinction crises is that we don’t understand all that we stand to lose. And without extraordinary acts of imagination and foresight, as a society, we won’t understand what’s being lost till it’s too late—at which time we’ll have to look back at what we might have done with a heartbreak and remorse that have no remedy. So we need to protect the living world with the best tool we have: the law.Evolution is slow, while the climate is changing at a breakneck pace. For organisms like elephants and whales, who can live as long as we do, or trees, who live much longer, both the path to potential adaptation to this rapidly morphing planet and the path to our understanding may stretch beyond any time frame that could help us to save them before the clock strikes midnight. Small animals, whose lives and reproductive cycles tend to be shorter, can be more readily studied across generations. Some researchers have seen signs of resilience: Mother zebra finches in Australia, one scientist found, warn the embryos inside their eggs of warming conditions outside by uttering certain calls. The chicks those embryos hatch into have lower birth weights than those who weren’t exposed to the mothers’ calls, which helps the young birds stay cool in hot weather. Lizards in Miami appeared to lower their cold-tolerance thresholds in response to a cold snap in 2020, which might defend against future environmental fluctuations; certain male dragonflies grow paler in warmer weather, losing some of the bright ornamentation that attracts females but making them less vulnerable to overheating.But examples of seemingly speedy accommodation are tiny flags fluttering on a battlefield where the overwhelming outlook for biodiversity is catastrophic. Instead of shifting gradually over thousands or even millions of years, environments are being transformed so fast that adaptive mechanisms don’t have the opportunity to kick in. In many cases, due to human-caused habitat loss and other pressures, of which the unstable climate is a massive threat multiplier, strategies that may have saved other life forms historically are no longer available to them: Pikas, for instance—cute little squeaking mammals native to western North America and Asia—may be able to move up a mountain to reach colder climes as the lower elevations get too hot, but if they reach the peak and it gets hot too, well … there’s nothing left for that wingless pika but the bare blue sky. The desert where I live is getting too hot even for arid-adapted wildlife—a lizard that had thrived in Arizona’s Mule Mountains for three million years is now newly believed extinct, and plants from the small acuña cactus to the Seussian Joshua tree are struggling to hang on.Cases abound of creatures and plants whose biological profiles appear to be setting them up for climate-driven oblivion: Crocodilians and most turtles don’t have sex chromosomes, so whether they’re born male or female depends on the temperature of the sand surrounding their eggs. A study of green sea turtles in the Great Barrier Reef in 2018 found that 99 percent of hatchlings were female, as opposed to 87 percent of adults—a ratio that could mean there already aren’t enough males for reproduction. Reef-building corals with low resistance to bleaching and death, such as staghorn and elkhorn, are at extremely high risk, and though corals occupy less than 1 percent of the ocean floor, they’re home to one-quarter of global marine diversity. Shrimplike krill, whose Antarctic habitat is projected to shrink up to 80 percent by 2100, feed most of the larger denizens of the Southern Ocean, from fish to seabirds like penguins to seals and cetaceans, and account for 96 percent of some species’ diets. The total biomass of krill is greater than that of any other multicellular animal, and these animals are a key storage bank for carbon dioxide. The humble freshwater mussels who make up the most endangered group of U.S. organisms help keep our rivers clean, but warming waters magnify the myriad threats they already face; three-quarters of flowering plants depend on pollinators, currently in decline around the globe, who happen to be critical to one out of three bites of our food. And though some plant species can migrate to escape inhospitable conditions, that migration occurs—since individuals don’t move—over generations via seed dispersal. The list of our dependencies on the other beings with whom we’ve coevolved is nearly infinite. So visionary policy is called for to protect those other beings and systems—not only for their intrinsic and cultural value but because they’re our life support, worth far more to our continued welfare intact than liquidated for short-term profit. If the goal is a livable future, for which we need to achieve a paradigm shift from exploitation to conservation, the services these networks of life supply need to be fully and properly valued. Their right to exist has to be enshrined in law.Both domestically and internationally, species and ecosystems need to be endowed with legal standing to give local and native stewards the tools to save them from the depredations of industry in the short term and sustain them over the long. Luckily, bestowing legal standing on extra-human parties isn’t a fanciful idea: The U.S. Supreme Court did exactly that in the 2010 case known as Citizens United, when it declared that corporations were legal persons—a decision that hobbled American democracy but also set a neat precedent for extending legal personhood to nonhuman entities. And corporations are clearly more abstract and disembodied than animals: Just a couple of weeks ago scientists and philosophers from many nations published the New York Declaration on Animal Consciousness, which argues for the likelihood of consciousness in all vertebrates and many invertebrates, including cephalopods and insects.  In New Zealand, a river and a rainforest have been awarded personhood; the people of Ecuador, in 2008, voted to modify their Constitution to recognize the right of nature to exist and flourish; in the United States, the Yurok tribe gave personhood to the Klamath River under tribal law in 2019; and in 2010 Pittsburgh became the first major city to recognize the rights of nature. Those rights have also been enacted into law or invoked by courts in Bolivia, Panama, and India. A summit held in mid-April at Brown University was aimed at elevating the agency and visibility of the more-than-human world in climate negotiations. And if species and ecosystems are recognized as entities with rights, their destruction can become a prosecutable offense. Accountability for the violence of what some call “ecocide” should be embedded in international law and civil and criminal codes. Here too, early inroads are being made, for example by the European Union, countries like Finland and Sweden, and the International Criminal Court. Establishing the responsibility of both private and public actors for the lives and natural systems they destroy—for deforestation, deadly heat domes, red tides, mountaintop-removal coal mining in Appalachia, or cobalt mining in Congo, to name only a few culprits—is reasonable and fair. And the prerequisite to that is affirming in our legal codes that all of the life forms surrounding us have value. They’re connected to each other and to our own survival in ways we’ve just begun to fathom. And unless we act swiftly, we may never have the chance to learn more.

GoGreenNation News: "Our lives might be on the line"
GoGreenNation News: "Our lives might be on the line"

HOUSTON — This week EHN is publishing letters from eighth grade students at YES Prep Northbrook Middle School in the Houston-area neighborhood of Spring Branch, Texas.English educators Cassandra Harper and Yvette Howard incorporated the environment into a series of lessons in December last year. Each student conducted their own research to begin drafting letters to EHN about their concerns or hopes. EHN reporter Cami Ferrell visited their classrooms to share information about her personal reporting experiences in Houston. The collection of letters, some of which were lightly edited, do not represent the opinions of YES Prep Northbrook or EHN, but are offered here as a peek into the minds of children and their relationship with environmental issues. Read the first, second and third set of letters.Farith JuarezI want to discuss global pollution because it is a severe problem and challenge we all face daily and it does not only affect people, but animals and the environment too. Animals lose their homes due to how much trash we produce and just throw it into places without thinking, whether it is a cup or a plastic bag, it takes months and years for it to decompose. The issue of pollution can affect my community because places like rivers, lakes, ponds, and even sewers are full of trash, making It hard for people to enjoy a day swimming when all the water is dirty and full of trash everywhere you step. Not only is it hard on us, it is especially hard on animals. Imagine having to live in a place where you are constantly surrounded by trash, not only that but animals like turtles can confuse plastic bags with jellyfish and eat them, causing them to choke or suffer health problems in the future. Sometimes in the apartments where I live, the sewers get too full of trash and they start to (spew) all the trash out, making it hard for people who live on the first floor because their apartment may flood, or they cannot get out because of all the water. This problem personally makes me feel hurt because not all manufactured items decompose quickly, it could take years. And by the time that trash is gone, there will be more trash. I am personally worried about our future and the future of our kids because by the time more children are born, they won't be able to know the beautiful Earth we once had because everything will be dirty and full of trash. They won't believe that we once enjoyed life without trash and animals suffering in the dirty water. The government also needs to stop allowing items that take a long time to decompose into the market as well as to stop throwing trash in the water or burning it because it can release harmful chemicals as well as make the earth's atmosphere hotter. I want people to understand that a plastic cup may be the downfall of a whole community or it is one singular trash (item) that (can) take an animal’s life. A thing that all American citizens should be doing is recycling. People need to understand that you can reuse everything, and you will feel better knowing you did not contribute to pollution.- Farith JuarezLucy ElyI am writing to discuss how severe the issue of climate change is, and how we can work to lessen the problem. This is a complex matter that can be made worse by simple decisions we make every day.The main problem is people are producing too much carbon dioxide, causing the planet to heat up, and basically making life more challenging. It harms absolutely everyone on this planet. It personally affects me by making me worry about the future for myself, family, friends, and strangers across the world. In the city of Houston, where I live, there has been an extended drought during spring, summer, and fall. Being just one of the many impacts of climate change.All this terrifies me and makes me feel bad for any ways I’ve possibly contributed to this issue. I’m scared the future won’t be a safe place for all who live here on Earth. I’m worried about future generations suffering, because of the people now and then not doing better. This makes it so important that people can be aware of what is happening, so more things can be done to make the world safer.For example, if climate change were talked about more the government could in theory use someone’s idea to act. I think they could try to make it a requirement to have carbon capture facilities at every place that releases carbon emissions. I want the readers to understand that climate change is real and needs to be taken seriously. - Lucy ElyKeyla CactzoyI am writing to discuss that I have been noticing that summer by summer it is getting hotter and hotter. I am concerned why this is happening. I have also noticed that there have been lots of wildfires which makes me wonder what will happen to the animals' homes? I have been reading articles about animals going to become extinct because of us.Because of people acting like it is not a big deal and not caring about the poor world I feel hopeless as if one day the world would look dead. But it does not have to be this way. We can all put a little effort into the situation, any good little thing you do would be helpful. If people could start learning how to save the world like for example: eat less meat, start using electric cars, and stop leaving trash everywhere. These examples would be more than enough to start taking care of our world, animals, and people.We all have an option to keep hiding from reality like nothing is going on or to be a good person to society and start helping the world out by putting a little effort into the situation. It is your choice in the end just remember that you are doing it for a better future and community and if you think that doing these things will not make a difference just know that it will make a good impact to the world.- Keyla Cactzoy Jessica GodinezRecently we had extreme temperatures in the summer which caused plants to dry up and some people to get heat fevers or skin allergies. Although this keeps happening people don't seem to pay much attention, thinking that soon over time their sickness will wear off, which is obviously not true. If we don't make a change there will be a lot of deaths for animals, plants, and us humans. I feel disappointed (that) people always make their mess not caring who they might put at risk, and they expect other people to clean after them. We can't continue this. We have to keep trying for the better. You might ask, what kind of things do we do to cause climate change? Well, humans like to drive cars because it’s way faster than walking to get to their destination faster. What (some) people don't know is that the back of the car releases carbon dioxide, which is caused by burning gasoline and fuel. That causes air pollution and is one of the major reasons for climate change. We should start making a change by starting to recycle and not throw our trash in our environment like oceans because it can cause animals and plants to suffer. Another thing we can do is protest about climate change to the government and act for ourselves and for the better of our planet.- Jessica Godinez Javier CarrilloThis could affect my community. If climate change gets any worse then that would mean that the weather we know today could get even worse and put thousands if not millions of people’s lives at risk. One example of climate change contributing to the weather is the maximum and minimum temperature in Texas have risen by 2.2 degrees Fahrenheit. This personally makes me feel strange of what is to come, and our lives might be on the line. Who knows, someday if climate change is still a problem, then maybe the sun may be too unbearable to even be in. The most important thing I am worried about is the safety of others today and in the future.To address climate change, it is important that everyone in our community does the bare minimum. Everyone, including you, makes an enormous difference. One way the government should protect the climate is to limit the amount of smoke or smog that is released from smokestacks that are built inside factories. But what can you do? Mostly you can do some simple but highly effective things such as recycling or buying electric cars! It might seem as if you are not doing much but you can make a dramatic difference.- Javier Carrillo

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