Publication Title

Tulsa Law Review


biodiversity, Endangered Species Act

Document Type



Today the Earth faces an extinction event on a scale second only to Earth's largest mass extinction, the Permian-Triassic event, which occurred 250 million years ago. Upwards of 70 percent of the Earth's species could be at risk of extinction with a 3.5°C (6.3°F) rise in temperature, which could occur by the end of this century.

The driver is global warming, caused by anthropogenic greenhouse gas emissions. As such, a rational climate policy is needed immediately to prevent the complete collapse of biodiversity. Yet, the United States—the world's largest cumulative contributor to emissions—is in a state of paralysis when it comes to implementing climate solutions.

This paralysis arises from a complex of cultural, political, and economic origins. It is perhaps understandable that "persons," be they individual humans or corporations, would not respond readily. Humans' ability to fundamentally alter our environs has far outstripped our limited ability to calculate cost/benefit in the abstract and over the long term.

On the other hand, there is no excuse for inaction on the part of government. One of the primary purposes of government is social order. Implicit in the organization of society is that at a collective, governmental level we are better at calculating abstract long-term cost/benefit. The government must therefore take definitive steps in the face of the climate crisis.

This article begins by providing a brief overview of biodiversity, the threats global warming poses to it, and the economic and social costs that the loss of biodiversity will exact on human society. We then review four key examples of ways in which the Endangered Species Act operates, or should operate, to address global warming and greenhouse gas emissions and confer substantial benefits on species threatened by the climate crisis: the listing process, the section 7 consultation process required of federal agencies, the designation of critical habitat, and the preparation and implementation of recovery plans.



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