Without environmental laws we'd all be breathing polluted air, drinking foul water, and living in a perpetual silent spring -- where nature and wildlife had long ago vanished.
Yet those very same laws that keep our world livable are under assault. Nearly everywhere one looks, environmental regulations and their enforcement are being rolled back, eroded, or just plain ignored.
A recent analysis by Guillaume Chapron and colleagues reveals the growing tide of assaults on environmental laws worldwide and the staggering diversity of tactics being employed. If nothing else, it illustrates the creativity of those who seek short-term profits at the expense of nature.
Taxonomy of Tactics
The array of assaults on environmental protections is so diverse that Chapron and colleagues ended up devising a "taxonomy" simply to categorize them all. And in an effort to stay abreast of all the nefariousness, they have set up a public database to list the attempts.
Here is a quick snapshot of skulduggery -- a laundry list of ongoing efforts to undercut environmental legislation at the expense of the Earth:
Species staring at the abyss of extinction are protected, right? Nope, at least not in the western U.S. states of Idaho and Montana. There, gray wolves -- an endangered species -- can be gunned down if they dare to stray outside of official wilderness areas.
And in Western Australia, an endangered species can actually be driven to extinction if the Environment Minister orders it and Parliament approves it.
Biodiversity is important, right? Not in Canada. There, native fish species that don't have economic or recreational value don't get any legal protection from serious harm.
And in France, shooting migratory birds is illegal. But migrating birds get shot out of the sky anyway because the environment minister has ordered that the law not be enforced.
In South Africa, the environment minister formerly had authority to limit environmental damage and oversee ecological restoration on mining sites. Not any more. That power has been handed over to the mining minister -- who, not surprisingly, is a lot less finicky about environmental stuff.
And in Brazil, the famous Forest Code that has helped to reduce deforestation rates has been seriously watered down. Safeguards for forests along waterways and on hillsides have been weakened, and landowners that illegally fell forests no longer have to replant them.
Forget Climate Change
Worried about climate change? Not in the U.S. Proposed legislation there (U.S. S3071) would prohibit the government from considering climate change as a threat to any species.
Sleight of Hand
In the Indian-Ocean island nation of Mauritius, endangered species are protected by law -- unless it's in the "national interest" not to do so. Although an endangered species, the endemic Mauritius flying fox was annoying commercial fruit farmers, and so the government has allowed more than 40,000 of the animals to be killed -- in the "national interest."
Shoot the Messengers
Environmentalists beware. In the U.K., if proposed legislation passes, conservation groups that lose lawsuits will be hit with heavy financial penalties.
And in many parts of the world, those who dare to criticize sinning corporations are getting hit with SLAPP suits -- strategic lawsuits against public participation. In Peru, for instance, a corporation that was mowing down rainforest to grow 'sustainable' cacao for making chocolate used lawsuits and heavy legal threats to intimidate anyone who dared to decry it.
You can't make some of this stuff up -- and the examples above are only scratching the surface.
Around the world, the laws and regulations that have been established to protect nature are being conveniently downsized, diminished, swept under the carpet, and ignored.
But don't get depressed -- get mad. Make some noise. Yell at your legislators. Organize a boycott.
It does make a difference. Those who are weakening environmental protections can only get away with it if we let them. They'll usually back down -- if we bellow loud enough.