Grizzly bears, sea turtles, and sandhill cranes—these kinds of critters most likely come to mind when endangered species are mentioned.
In the endangered species business they are known as “charismatic megafauna” and are often plastered across fundraising appeals. However, as the federal list of regulated species swells, fewer of its denizens are generally awe inspiring.
Indeed, today, federally regulated invertebrates and plants now outnumber the total number of listed mammals, birds, reptiles, amphibians, and fish combined—and, the latter often fail to clear the majestic hurdle themselves.
For those of us fascinated by creepy crawlies, perhaps a beetle is just as interesting as a bear or bird. For others, however, this may seem more like the disingenuous “bait and switch” sales tactic that the Federal Trade Commission says is “to switch consumers from buying the advertised merchandise, in order to sell something else, usually at a higher price or on a basis more advantageous to the advertiser.”
Appealing or not, these critters can have such adverse consequences that the Texas Comptroller maintains a website so that Texans can see what the next regulatory plague may be. Just this year, Texans have—in the name of a dime-sized, underground spider known as the Bracken Cave meshweaver—jettisoned highway improvements. Similarly, in the name of the Houston toad, recovery efforts were slowed in the wake of horrendousTexas wildfires that destroyed 1,700 homes.
The green community is readying to add to these Endangered Species Act injustices, fashioning a new weapon—the American burying beetle. As one liberal blogger puts it, the beetles “have earned the attention both of TransCanada and of environmental groups dedicated to protecting endangered species and interested as well in stopping the [Keystone XL] pipeline’s construction.” [emphasis added].
The beetle’s scientific name is Nicrophorus americanus, and in various government reports it is known as the ABB. As its scientific name hints (nekros: Greek for dead, dying person, corpse), the ABB is one of many species of carrion beetle which in turn are just a few of the thousands of kinds of North American beetles. American burying beetles depend upon carrion—rotting flesh, burying it, and laying eggs nearby. When ABB larvae hatch, a snack awaits them in the form of regurgitated flesh. While of interest to beetle enthusiasts, carrion beetle behavior (Warning: Not charismatic!) isn’t the stuff of fundraising appeals.
The ABB is thought to have once inhabited a good part of theUnited Statesfrom the plain states to the East and the South. Today, it is known to occur in a few states—predominately the plains states north of Texas.
This beetle’s plight is poorly understood. To wit, from one 50- page government beetle report, “little is known about the demographic status of the ABB in other states and counties where it is believed to be present. Whether ABB populations (and range) are expanding, stable, or contracting in size and vital rates (survival, reproduction, and movement) is virtually unknown for the ABB in much of Arkansas and Kansas and parts of Nebraska and Oklahoma.”
Despite a clear informational void, government experts have reached some interesting conclusions. For example, while the beetles continue to exist in Oklahoma even though they seem to have vanished from many other states, the same government document alarmingly reports that “land in Oklahoma is 97 percent privately owned” and that Oklahoma “is the third largest gas producing state in the nation.”
The message is obvious: Private property and gas production (wells, pipes, etc.) belong to the villain. Strangely, after looking at the Department of Energy’s map of U.S. gas pipelines and knowing that we have evidence of these beetles in more Oklahoma counties than anywhere else, it might be more logical to conclude that other states don’t have enough gas pipelines for the critter to survive.
While it is likely a silly argument that this beetle’s preferred habitat is dotted with pipelines, it’s as reasonable as the idea that the greens seek to stop the Keystone Pipeline for the beetle. It is not about the beetle or even really about the effect of the pipeline on habitat. It is about what would flow through the pipeline—energy. From the radical greens’ view, what is worst about this energy isn’t even that it would be a source of CO2. What is worst is that it would be affordable and reliable.
Physicists define energy as the capacity to do work. The more we have, the more we can do—the more we can improve the well-being of humans. It has brought us out of the cave and lifted us up—shielding us from hot and cold, freeing us to travel far and wide, and providing an abundance that could not have been dreamed of a half century ago. Energy makes progress itself possible.
As energy consumption increases, so does wealth, and as wealth increases, so does human lifespan—perhaps the single most important environmental metric there is. Fortunately, North America has been blessed with an amazing abundance of buried energy resources: coal, gas, oil, shale, and uranium—enough to last centuries.
The greens, however, wish for it to stay right where it is—buried. From its inception, many in the modern environmental movement have not been concerned about the well-being of mankind. Sure, they will warn of something causing cancer or of some vista our grandchildren should see that might disappear, but this is really another bit of bait and switch. From their perspective, progress is illusory and mankind is not something to be saved but fettered.
As John Muir, founder of the Sierra Club put it, “Man is always and everywhere a blight on the landscape.” As Paul Ehrlich, a more contemporary green, puts it, “We’ve already had too much economic growth in theUS. Economic growth in rich countries like ours is the disease, not the cure.”
Quite simply, to stop the environmental destruction they believe is taking place, they seek to unplug the shining city on the hill. While many extreme environmentalists will claim that they are for energy but that it just needs to be alternative energy, the reality is that without some as of yet unknown discovery in physics—geothermal, solar, wind, and others would be better described as alternatives to energy.
Certainly, there are limited times and places where alternative energy works just fine, but there is no way these sources can provide an affordable and reliable alternative to our current fuel supply.
Alternative energy is again the bait offered by the greens as what is really for sale, the switch, is economic stagnation. They may package it as “sustainability,” but it is still a pig with lipstick. And, the pig of economic hardship generally comes with increases in all sorts of human misery: unemployment, bankruptcy, alcoholism, drug use, dropouts, domestic violence, divorce, and on and on.
The reality is that environmental policy—no matter how good for flesh-eating beetles—can’t be good for the environment if not good for people. The modern environmental movement, however, may have finally found its perfect mascot: the burying American beetle—or something like that.
As senior advisor for strategic outreach, Robert Gordon establishes and builds working relationships with new audiences and potential allies in championing ideas and policy solutions from The Heritage Foundation that are rooted in individual freedom, limited government, free markets, a strong national defense and traditional values.
Before joining Heritage in 2008, Gordon directed several conservation organizations and, from 2003 to 2006, served on committee staff in the House of Representatives. Working for the House Committee on Resources, he helped craft the Threatened and Endangered Species Recovery Act (HR 3824), which passed the House with substantial bipartisan support. He also assisted in the committee’s oversight and investigative duties, including international environmental programs and funds derived from excise taxes on hunting and fishing.