As federal policy ignores climate change, Puerto Rico shows US territories are the most vulnerable

by | Jan 28, 2019 | Federal Government | Comments

As the government of the United States government pursues policies that ignore the threat from climate change, recent studies indicate that climate change is impacting US territories like Puerto Rico, in areas that are often overlooked.

In a recent report from the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America (PNAS), huge numbers of insects have been lost from El Yunque—the only tropical rainforest under the US National Forest system. Invertebrates such as beetles and bees have dramatically decreased by 45% according to PNAS biologists. These same biologists have implicated climate change as the principal actor to blame.

Within the past 40 years, temperatures in El Yunque have risen by four degrees Fahrenheit. Invertebrates are intolerant of temperatures outside a narrow band, as they cannot regulate their body temperature. With a climate hostile to their basic needs, insect numbers have dramatically declined.

Biologists warn, however, that these small beings hold an incredibly important role in global ecology and their decline should be a worldwide concern. As they note, insect declines have decimated food webs in areas of significant decline. Despite the hyper alarming findings, these biologists lament the “deaf ears” from Washington in reference to President Trump’s skepticism of climate change and his reluctance to tackle the issue.

In the absence of federal action, these biologists recommend insect conservation to help combat the decline.They imply, however, that government action is wholly necessary to tackling the specter of invertebrate collapse as well as the underlying problem created by climate change. Eventually, according to the scientists, the government will have to react because an insect collapse stands to threaten the food supply.

As the Fourth National Climate Assessment points out, the scale of climate change’s wrath will likely depend on decisions made today. While advances have been made, they do not nearly approach the scale required to appropriately tackle the climate question. Sweeping transformations of the energy sector needed as part of the response to mitigating the climate challenge—not just in Puerto Rico, but globally—are hampered by the Trump administration’s general reluctance to approach the issue especially in the energy sector. Governmental inaction in all of these issues puts territories like Puerto Rico in an especially vulnerable position as climate change continues to take its toll on the planet.

Now in the 116th Congress, the era of Republican unified government is over. Some Democrats have proposed the boldest action on climate change yet in the form of the “Green New Deal.” Representative Alexandria Ocasio Cortez (D) of New York’s plan to tackle the climate question represents what would be a landmark piece legislation in the environmental sphere. While it may be difficult to see the Green New Deal passing a Republican-led Senate or President Donald Trump’s desk, climate change will likely take center stage in the new Congress’s agenda.