I'm a Pro-Business Republican, but Weakening the Endangered Species Act Will Hurt Us in the Long Run | Opinion

Too often, we humans think of ourselves as outside the natural world, as somehow above it, not part of it. We fall into the false belief that nature is ours to tame, not something to accommodate. This arrogant ideology goes hand in hand with next month's critically ill-informed rollback of the Endangered Species Act planned by the Trump administration.

From the earliest recordings of humankind, our ancestors used natural remedies to heal and promote health. Eucalyptus, turmeric and licorice root are commonly found in ancient and modern medicinal products for their natural benefits. Most of us know the soothing effects of aloe on a sunburn, but you might not know that some snake venoms are being tested for treating certain cancer cells. And hippos produce their own antibacterial, UV ray–reflecting goo that serves as a natural sun protectant.

I'm thankful that scientists have produced alternatives to hippo goo for human skin care, but you can hardly say that human innovation has improved on what this creature does naturally. Animals adapt in remarkable ways that inspire human innovation. Even where we do not automatically benefit from their existence, animals give us opportunities to learn and discover ways to improve life for our own species.

Scientists do not yet fully understand all the ways the animal kingdom improves human existence. In fact, they've come nowhere close to determining the knowledge we have to gain from profitable investment in biological research. As the Trump administration rolls back the scope of the Endangered Species Act, we must look carefully at what we might lose.

Development is great, but at what price? Are we in a position to weigh the costs, and if so, are we entitled to decide for future generations?

Of course, we must support businesses, encourage innovation and foster profitable work in all industries, but we must first pause to wonder: Can the businesspeople and organizations supporting this legislation truly separate themselves from gains of limiting wildlife protection when considering this policy? Our human nature cannot be forgotten as we play these irreversible games with Mother Nature.

Perhaps the best example is the horseshoe crab. Every spring along the New Jersey shore near Cape May, beaches are covered with horseshoe crabs laying their eggs. In some places, it is a challenge to walk without stepping on them. Cape May also happens to be the first stop for migratory birds flying from South America to Canada, and horseshoe crab eggs become their first in-flight meal service.

This natural course is affected by two additional human pursuits. First, the crab's eggs are used by fishermen who catch the bait for commercial and recreational fishermen, who are a large part of the state's economy. On top of that, the blood of the horseshoe crab is used by pharmaceutical companies to test the purity of drugs they want to bring to market. I don't have to explain why it's hard to be a New Jersey horseshoe crab in the spring.

All in all, it's a cycle that demands managing. Birdwatchers flock to the shore to see the migration, an important source of revenue for local businesses. Fishermen could use all the available crab eggs as bait, but the scarcity of eggs would drastically reduce the number of crabs, harming the fishing industry overall, as well as drug companies. Each part of the equation is dependent on the others.

Because there is an overlap between the activities of industries and nature, we need some amount of regulation to promote the well-being of both. To protect the interests of animal and human populations, a robust environmental program is crucial.

Donald Trump
President Donald Trump speaks to the press on the South Lawn of the White House before departing in Washington, D.C., on August 9. Environmental groups are suing the Trump administration for weakening the Endangered Species Act. Nicholas Kamm/AFP/Getty

We lose thousands of species a week. We have already done irreversible damage, and we don't even know what we have lost. This is not just about a tree toad holding up a new development. This matters because we have a duty to be concerned about what that toad means to all the parts of the ecosystem that benefit from its existence. Humans are responsible because we are both the beneficiaries and the stewards of all creatures that make up our environment.

This new policy throws open the doors for the development of areas that house protected species. Yes, it will be great for certain industries. Yes, it will lighten the regulatory burden on some companies, and maybe it will even lead to the creation of new jobs. But we must consider the long-term consequences of ceding to economic pressure.

This policy expedites short-term gains at a cost we are not in a position to measure. As the Trump administration introduces changes that my great-great-great-grandchildren will never be able to reverse, it must consider the impact of the authority it exercises. Our natural surroundings do more than turn a profit.

Christine Todd Whitman is president of the Whitman Strategy Group. She served in the Cabinet of President George W. Bush as administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency and previously was governor of New Jersey.

The views expressed in this article are the writer's own.