The $1.2 trillion infrastructure package signed by President Joe Biden will go down in history as a milestone in America’s effort to control the climate crisis forecast by many of the experts.
The bipartisan infrastructure bill could mark a turning point in the way the U.S. regards an equally important environmental issue that many scientists say comprises the flip side of the climate change coin: biodiversity.
The extinction events are underway across the globe and same is true for Indian sub-continent as well. The planet’s flora and fauna are getting depleted by the anthropogenic pressures like unplanned development, land use changes, deforestation, overfishing, and rising temperatures etc.
One million species could be wiped out, many of them in a matter of decades, because of these anthropogenic activities. “The health of ecosystems on which we and all other species depend is deteriorating more rapidly than ever,” Robert Watson, chair of the United Nations’ Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services, said in 2019.
“We are eroding the very foundations of our economies, livelihoods, food security, health, and quality of life worldwide.” Ensuring a liveable planet doesn’t just mean keeping global warming below a certain threshold; it also means stemming the loss of species and shoring up the planet’s biodiversity.
For more than a century, the so called infrastructure projects across the globe have largely sought to stymie nature, not encourage it or coexist alongside it. The road projects in mountainous region like Himalayas have resulted in devastating natural calamities.
Such developmental projects kill hundreds of millions of animals every year. Likewise the constructions of dams for hydropower generation is also dangerous so far as seismic developments are concerned, also prevent fish from getting upstream to spawn, and entire such species are on the brink of collapse.
The unplanned development in fragile ecosystems is like fighting against nature. The time has reached to rectify our mistakes that we have done to harm our mother nature. In this regard US government has taken a positive step by passing the bipartisan infrastructure bill.
Biodiversity experts are of the opinion that by passing this bill, U.S. policymakers took an important step toward stemming the loss of the nation’s species and, perhaps, initiated a shift in the way the country considers the natural world. The bill doesn’t use the word “biodiversity” explicitly, but it will put $40 billion into pots of funding that will go toward projects related to natural infrastructure and conservation.
Not all of the money allocated toward these projects will benefit biodiversity, but a lot of it is aimed at more carefully managing the natural world and protecting habitats. Collin O’Mara, CEO of the National Wildlife Federation, said.
“This bill is using nature as an ally instead of an impediment.” Rusty Feagin, professor of ecology, conservation biology, and engineering at Texas also said “Maybe they’re not talking specifically about biodiversity, but they’re talking about a lot of programs that will benefit biodiversity by improving vegetation and habitat and hydrology and sediment movement,”
The package’s biodiversity-friendly funding includes: (i) $350 million for a new grant program to help wildlife navigate existing road infrastructure via overpasses, underpasses, and fencing, (ii) $8 billion for flood resilience and wildfire prevention and management, (iii) $130 million per year for growing back some of the trees lost to wildfires, (iv) More than $15 billion to reclaim abandoned mines and cap orphaned oil and gas wells, sources of pollution that affect wildlife, people, and the climate, on federal lands, (v) $800 million for a grant program focused on removing, replacing, and restoring old culverts- tunnels or drains that channel water, which are often impediments to fish and other aquatic life, (vi) Roughly $1.5 billion for the Environmental Protection Agency’s geographic programs aimed at conserving ecosystems in the Great Lakes, the Chesapeake Bay, the Puget Sound, the Delaware River Basin, and the Klamath River Basin.
The bill is the single largest investment in conservation in U.S. history-on par with the Civilian Conservation Corps in Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s New Deal, which was responsible for the planting of 3 billion new trees, and bigger than the 2012 RESTORE Act, which directed billions of dollars in funding to ecosystems out of a federal settlement with BP after the Deep water Horizon oil spill in 2010.The credit for passing this bill goes to wildlife groups, conservation biologists, conservation nonprofits, some hunting associations and centrist senators who worked to reach a deal represented states with strong conservation legacies.
The bill’s most important contribution to protecting biodiversity may be how it reframe the conversation around infrastructure in the U.S. in general and as a guide for whole world in particular. The passing of this bill also indicates that at least humans are getting to a point where we’re thinking, how can we do these things to fix damages we’ve already done or how we can stop doing damages?
The extinction crisis is not going to be solved by one infrastructure bill. All the experts are of the opinion that more still needs to be done. There’s more money earmarked for threatened species in the Build Back Better Act, the second half of Biden’s agenda that is currently tied up in congressional negotiations.
Regardless of what happens to the Build Back Better Act, Professor Rusty Feagin thinks the infrastructure package will go down in history as a fork in the road for the U.S. “When you really look at the impact of this, conceptually, over the next couple of decades, it’ll be a turning point in the way we’re driving our economy,” he said. “I think it’ll change it from an economy that’s built to benefit human needs without regard for the natural world to one in which we’re building a better world for humans while also trying to sustain the base on which it relies, which is nature.”
The lesson US has learnt should be followed by other counties of the world as well and also by the countries of Indian subcontinent which have very fragile ecosystems like Himalaya.
Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are the personal opinions of the author.
The facts, analysis, assumptions and perspective appearing in the article do not reflect the views of GK.