“Are we able to meet the challenge?” Gaylord Nelson asked on April 22, 1970. Can we create an environment of decency with respect for all other human beings and all other living species? We have seen many successes that indicate we can meet the challenge of protecting life on Earth. Since the Marine Mammal Protection Act was passed in 1972, many marine species, including gray whales, humpback whales, sperm whales, and elephant seals have rebounded and now abundant in may areas of the globe.
“Are we able?” Since the passage of the Endangered Species Act the following year, in 1973, the extinction rate has declined in the US—and species from the bald eagle to the have recovered.
These acts, like all legislation are imperfect, but it’s important to note that at the time of Nelson’s speech many species were on the verge of extinction. Just about all of the great whales had been hunted to near extinction. Many seals and sea lions had just about disappeared from rookeries around the country.
“Are we willing?” Senator Nelson followed. Sometimes.
Despite the Endangered Species Act, hundreds, perhaps thousands of species have gone extinct, in areas beyond the borders of the U.S. Here in North America, we’ve lost populations and subspecies, such as the dusky seaside sparrow.
Senator Nelson’s question remains: Are we willing to expand the rights of human beings to other species? Can we get to zero extinction?