BACK STORY with DANA LEWIS

WORLD ECOLOGICAL EMERGENCY

February 26, 2021 Dana Lewis Season 3 Episode 14
BACK STORY with DANA LEWIS
WORLD ECOLOGICAL EMERGENCY
Chapters
3:40
Jeff Opperman WWF
19:34
Rod Schoonover/Council Strategic Risks
BACK STORY with DANA LEWIS
WORLD ECOLOGICAL EMERGENCY
Feb 26, 2021 Season 3 Episode 14
Dana Lewis

On this Back Story with Dana Lewis, environment groups warn 1/3 of the Worlds fresh water fish are going extinct. 

We talk to rivers expert Jeff Opperman of the WWF who says  that 80 freshwater species — which make up more than half of all the world’s species — have already been declared extinct, with 16 disappearing in 2020 alone.

And a new report from the Council For Strategic Risks warns ecological disasters are threatening national security.   Dr. Rod Schoonover is a former Director of Environment and Natural Resources at the National Intelligence Council,

Show Notes Transcript Chapter Markers

On this Back Story with Dana Lewis, environment groups warn 1/3 of the Worlds fresh water fish are going extinct. 

We talk to rivers expert Jeff Opperman of the WWF who says  that 80 freshwater species — which make up more than half of all the world’s species — have already been declared extinct, with 16 disappearing in 2020 alone.

And a new report from the Council For Strategic Risks warns ecological disasters are threatening national security.   Dr. Rod Schoonover is a former Director of Environment and Natural Resources at the National Intelligence Council,

Speaker 1:

That today, there are threats to security of a new and unprecedented kind. These threats do not divide us. They are threats, which should unite us no matter from which parts of the world we come for the faces or they are rising global temperatures, the despoiling of the ocean that vast universal Lada on which people everywhere dependent for their food changes in the pattern of weather worldwide, the pay, no regard to national boundaries, but the concern forests into deserts, drown, great cities and lead to the extermination of huge numbers of the other creatures with which we share this planet . No matter what we do now, some of these threats will assuredly become reality within a few short years.

Speaker 2:

Hi everyone. And welcome to another edition of backstory. I'm Dana Lewis. That was sir David Attenborough, speaking to the UN security council. This week. The broadcaster in conservation has told the UN security conference regarding the impact of climate change that the world must unite against environmental threats. Sir, David Attenborough notes, consequences of climate change do not respect national boundaries, but instead will cause havoc worldwide. And it's happening in California. Forest fires in Texas winter storms this year alone has seen a series of devastating climate disasters in various parts of the world. Heat waves in India, Pakistan in Europe, flooding in Southeast Asia from Mozambique to Bangladesh, millions of people have already lost their homes, livelihoods and loved ones as a result of more dangerous and more frequent extreme weather events increases of air and water. Temperatures lead to rising sea levels, supercharged storms, and higher wind speeds, more intense and prolonged droughts and wildfire seasons heavier precipitation and flooding. The evidence is overwhelming and results are devastating. Global warming is not a debate it's science. And if you're still wondering if it's occurring, then you're vastly uninformed and misled by fringe political leaders who place profit over environmental concerns. The number of climate related disasters has tripled in the last 30 years, get this between 2006 and 2016. The rate of global sea level rise was two and a half faster than it was for almost all of the 20th century. More than 20 million people are forced from their homes by climate change. The United nations environment program estimates that adapting to climate change and coping with damages will cost developing countries 140 to $300 billion per year. By 2030 on this backstory, we talked to an expert on national security and the environment and the world wildlife fund on how freshwater fish are now going extinct by the dozens.

Speaker 3:

All right , Jeff Opperman is the world wildlife federations freshwater lead scientist, and Jeff you're based in Ohio. Yes, that's correct. Thanks for doing this. I am shocked by the numbers. I mean your, the WWF and 16 conservation groups came up with this report and they're saying , uh , that a third, a third of freshwater fish species are threatened by extinction.

Speaker 4:

Yeah, it's , it's a pretty grim statistic and it really, there has been a raft of studies that have shown that , uh , freshwater ecosystems and freshwater species are more imperiled than their counterparts , uh, on land or in oceans. And it's really, it's something that most people are not aware of , um, in part, because freshwater species and ecosystems are literally literally hidden beneath the surface, so to speak. Um, but whenever scientists look into these kinds of patterns , uh, the, the greatest threats , the greatest risk of extinction, the greatest declines, all are happening in freshwater ecosystems like lakes and rivers.

Speaker 3:

How do we get to this idea of saying that they are threatened by extinction? Is there any kind of overstate in there, or do you believe that these are kind of, these are genuine, accurate numbers?

Speaker 4:

Well, scientists do have , uh , thresholds of population sizes that are , um, that they use to , to use tobacco expressions like threatened with extinction. So for example, I UCN as , um , what they call the red list and they have classifications of, of species. Um, and I'm forgetting the specific classifications, but essentially things like threatened at risk of extinction. Um, you know, different gradations, different levels.

Speaker 3:

They're not there , they're not endangered, they're saying threatened by extinction

Speaker 4:

Classification

Speaker 3:

Severe as it gets, right.

Speaker 4:

I mean, that's based on , um, trajectories it's based on total population sizes to be classified in that category is , is meaning you have moved beyond , uh , endangered that you , you know, moving into something where you truly at risk of extinction.

Speaker 3:

And as we say, this is just not a one conservation group just is 16, very reputable conservation groups around the world, talking about this. Why is it happening? Let's talk about it.

Speaker 4:

So there's a pretty diverse range of , of drivers and threats to freshwater ecosystems. Um, so most people instinctively think about water pollution. You know, they think that, well, if , if freshwater ecosystems are declining, it's because of , of dirty water and certainly water pollution is a major factor. Um, and in some parts of the world, more than others, but even in places that have really cleaned up their waters, you're still seeing , uh , ecosystems that aren't really recovering or , or, or, you know, species that are threatened because there are so many other threats, including the infrastructure that we use to manage our rivers. So that's the dams and levees . And we use this infrastructure generally to control where water goes. We, you know, we like to put water in certain places and keep water from going to other places, but ecosystems have always thrived on conductivity of water. Being able to , uh, you know, move to, to connect from rivers, to wetlands or for fish to be able to swim up long distances on rivers and our infrastructure, our dams, and our levees , our flood walls, all of those are intended to fragment. Um, and so will ecosystems thrive on connectivity. Our infrastructure is intended to, to separate and pragmatic . And that that has, has , has major , uh, disruptions for how freshwater ecosystems function. So there's something you could have very clean water, but if you have a fragmented system , uh , species like fish are going to have a lot of problems.

Speaker 3:

I live on a farm North of Toronto , uh , what , I'm not in London, that's where I grew up. And we have a beautiful river that runs through there. And it's, it runs for miles it's North of Toronto and Ontario. And , um, you know, when I took my kids there, they were like, let's dam this, you know, and make a pie . Right. And then , um, put fish in it. And then the conservation people, I mean, they're really great. I think in Canada, generally, they came through and they walk those farms and they came through and said, can we walk across the farm ? And we started talking about the river with my kids, which is a great education. And they were saying, don't it don't clear the grass away from it. Um , and then they started showing us all the species, a little fish in there that we didn't even realize w w were there and they're traveling, you know, dozens and dozens of miles. The best thing you can do with a river is let it run.

Speaker 4:

Yeah. It's funny. I mean , little kids have that instinct. Um , I think you, you see it anywhere. Um , small streams, if you're in a park, you'll see, you often see remnants of where somebody's , uh , piled up the stones. And so sure there is this instinct it's kind of , you know, beavers had the same instincts . They see running water, they want to dam it up. Um, but exactly, I mean, let the rivers flow and when they can connect different parts of the landscape, that's when ecosystems are at their most productive and diverse

Speaker 3:

Affiliations of large species weighing more than 60 of fallen, more than a catastrophic 94%. And then they talked about 80 freshwater species under pressure with 16 already disappearing in 2020. I mean, what are we doing? So the first,

Speaker 4:

The first that you cited was about, you know, what I called megafauna. So literally just big animals. Um, and , and for freshwater fish, megafauna are particularly hit hard. The 94% decline since 1970, you cited a lot of that has to do with what I was just talking about. Um, the fragmentation, so big animals in particular need room to roam, right? I mean, we think about , uh, the , the big carnivores , um, you know, you still have , um , well, North of Ontario, you still have wolves and such. Uh , but in most of the United States, the landscape is fragmented. And so we , we can't support wolves. Um, you know, tigers are being hemmed in the landscape, you know, tigers need vast space. Well, freshwater fish megaphone are the same thing. They need large areas and they need them to be connected. They need to move from one to the other, like the Mekong giant catfish.

Speaker 3:

They're obviously not going to be in rivers most of them. Right. I mean, we're talking about something that big, you're probably talking about the great lakes and Canada, for instance. No , we are talking to , sorry. Yeah .

Speaker 4:

We're talking to rivers about some of this megafauna . I mean, the , um, the , the Mekong giant catfish, it's a, it's an herbivore, it eats plants and algae in rivers, but it weighs as much as a grizzly bear. Uh, the Mekong freshwater stingray , uh, is this massive flat, you know , stingray shape that it could drape over a King size bed and be touching the floor. That's how massive they are. Um, the , the beluga sturgeon , um, it's mostly in the ocean, but it's an abdomen. So it swims up rivers to spawn. Um, and this, this was the size of a great white shark. So , so rivers, big rivers are capable of supporting , uh , huge, huge animals.

Speaker 3:

Yeah . Yeah. That's incredible. And I mean, there's so much going on and even big buddies too . I mean, as the rivers flow into the great lakes that, you know, they've been, they , the , the water levels have been, I've been falling. Um, there's a lot of fish farming going on, which adds to huge pollution inside the great lakes as well. Um, and, and overfishing , although, you know, some people saying in the pandemic, there's actually been some positive things and that is, there's been less tourism and less people putting pressure on the ecosystem.

Speaker 4:

Well , yeah, there's a lot of interesting stories that come out about how our presence , um , affects animals and their behavior. And this was, I think one of it is one of the interesting insights , um, uh , you know, just our presence, just the sounds that we make , uh , the boat noises, the movements , uh , species, adjust their behavior to avoid those things, realizing that, you know, our presence does influence and hopefully there's ways that we pick up important insights from that. Um, and you know, it's important that we're also, people are out enjoying lakes and rivers and fishing and taking advantage of all that because we need people to, to really be connected, another form of conductivity . We need people connected to their lakes and rivers. Uh, but if we have insights about how, you know, movements or , or people's behavior can be adjusted to make it better for , uh, for , uh, animals, that would be great.

Speaker 3:

Is there a way to just not talk about this, but if you were to press the button and give me your headline solution , um, that probably on the top of your list, what we need to do right now, like yesterday to save these species, what is it?

Speaker 4:

Um, let's see . We can have a , um, a headline that says , um , solar panels save migratory fish. And, you know, that might be a bit of an unexpected headline, but what I'm talking about here is , is, and I keep talking about is this idea of, of migratory fish and large fish. They need room to roam. They need the conductivity that he feel swim up rivers. Um, and the , the biggest source of fragmentation of big rivers has been hydro-power dams. Um, and there are still thousands of hydropower dams planned , uh, in represent around the world. So only about a third of long rivers are still considered free flowing , meaning they're not fragmented by dams. And many of them

Speaker 3:

Is that like over the last hundred years or so, or that we've ,

Speaker 4:

Yes, I would say because I'm capable of fragmenting, a big river has only been possible , uh, since the early 19 hundreds, if we start thinking about, you know , Hoover dam at its time was the, this incredible engineering accomplishment for, cause it was a big dam on a big river. And so since then the 1920s, 1930s , um, there have been dams we've damned most of our major rivers, most of, you know, Daniel Bryan , most of Europe's major rivers. And so if you look at a map of the long pre flying rivers, those that remain are in the Amazon basin, they're in the Congo basin. There's a few in Asia. And then in the far North in Siberia and flowing towards the Arctic ocean where there really aren't people, but where there are people , uh , it's really the tropics that we have these long free-flowing rivers. That's exactly where the proposals for future hydro-power dams, the tributaries of the Amazon, the Mekong river, the Irrawaddy Burr . These are also the rivers that still support huge migratory runs of fish. Uh, and, and, and the big freshwater megafauna, the giant catfish , um, and hydro-power is increasingly less competitive as a source of energy compared to wind and solar because their prices, their cost has dropping so precipitously. And there's been a range of battery storage and other storage options and grid management, it's call it the renewable revolution and this renewable revolution is making it so that countries don't have to make this really tough decision. Do we dam this river to get a lot of electricity, but we lose all the, so many of the values of this river often displacing, you know , big lots of communities and farmland, but fragmenting the river and losing the fisheries countries. Don't have to make that trade off anymore because we have a lot more, we have a lot more diverse sources of low carbon energy now. So that would be my headline. You know, solar panels saves the catfish or something like that.

Speaker 3:

I was just talking to a security expert this week , um, on the converging risks of, of , uh, of ecological disruption. And that's what the council of strategic risks in the , in the United States, I'm going to run that interview together with yours. But it's interesting that they're saying, you know, it shouldn't be a conservation conversation that takes place outside of all the other critical , uh, organizations of government now, because these big con conversations about conservation, because they're not being had in the right places. What you're seeing is threats to national security of all sorts of countries, because it goes beyond just what species you want to protect, but the displacement of people, the lack of water , um, it , I mean, it's, it's threatening the planet.

Speaker 4:

Well, this, this report, the forgotten Fisher's report does a really good job of highlighting the nutritional value. The food security value of rivers and dams often are built in one country and then affect food security value of a downstream country. Um, and, and all of that is directly related to stability security. So, yeah, it's exactly, I think we need to not just be trying to get the ministry of environment to be talking about these issues or making decisions , uh, we need to be talking to, you know , the minister is of , uh, of finance and planning and energy , um, and you know , agriculture or the people that oversee food security because the rivers and things like fisheries are fully integrated into the economies and security and stability of countries. So yeah, we need to, we need to not just think that this is about protecting species, which is important is it's central to the , uh, you know, functioning and stability of many countries. And we need to

Speaker 3:

Support conservation groups and organizations like the world wildlife Federation and , uh, and , and , uh, Jeff Offerman for his, his work in there. But, you know, one thing, a lot of people don't know about Jeff, which I've now learned about because of the person from the WWF told me that you have put together a history of beer through beer labels . And I actually, because I had a few minutes before, before the interview took a look at it, and , uh, your research has obviously flawed because I did see any Canadian

Speaker 4:

Beer in there. I have right above me here. I have my collection of , uh , of river and fish themed beer bottles. I do have a Canadian one. Um, I think it was a little complicated because it, it, it had a hydropower dam on the labels . So it's a river themed, but yeah, I wasn't sure if I could work into the conservation , you don't remember the name of the beer dude . It might take me a second to find it

Speaker 3:

Worry , don't worry. I know it's a long list. And then you have also on YouTube put together a list of river song .

Speaker 4:

Well, I think the, both the beer labels and the river songs, what they speak to is this incredible intertwining of culture and rivers from time immemorial. Uh , we are river species. We are river Valley species. That is where , uh, the first settlements occurred. That is, they've always been the areas of incredible productivity, whether it's fishing or , or waterfowl or , or during the dry season at transportation. Right. And , and so really we as civilizations grew up around rivers. And so I, you know, I sort of reflected , uh, we, we paint our oranges or origins. And so that's why we put it on our beer, our beer labels, it's, it's reminding us of where we come from. We come from, you know , uh, people settled along rivers to brew beer and we wrote songs about it. Yeah. So there's the, the, the number of songs about rivers is really quite amazing. Go sit on the road

Speaker 3:

Bank and have a beer and sing a song and don't build a bloody band .

Speaker 4:

Yeah. A lot of ways to connect to your river. And , uh , and if we can avoid disconnecting our rivers, that's, that's a bonus Jeff

Speaker 3:

Men from the world wildlife Federation. Great to talk to you. Thanks.

Speaker 4:

Yeah. Thank you. Great. Yeah. Great to talk with you.

Speaker 3:

Joining me now is rod Scoonover the author of the report, the security risk that binds us. Hi rod, you're in Washington,

Speaker 5:

I'm in Washington. Happy to be with you.

Speaker 3:

You were also the former director of environment and natural resources at the national intelligence council, right.

Speaker 4:

It really interests me that we now begin to look at ecological disruption , uh , and

Speaker 3:

Networks that you talk about fraying, eco ecological networks as security, risks, nation security risks, right? Why is that?

Speaker 5:

Well, I mean, it has to do with , uh, human's relationship with , uh, with the, with the planet that's changing under our feet. And so basically , uh, you know, the , the overarching concept is that humans, human activities are producing new and , and rapid and foundational changes across multiple art systems and the atmosphere, water the ocean, and in our biological systems as well,

Speaker 6:

You wrote the U S and international security communities need to treat ecological disruption and climate change as conduits of national security threats, rather than mere environmental concerns. We always looked at these as some kind of security threats in the sense that, you know, there have been tensions over water and between States and , uh , sure . In migration people displaced generally because of environmental issues.

Speaker 5:

Sure. So, I mean, certainly some parts of that, like water , uh, and, you know, some elements of, of climate change easily enter into the typical security doctrine, right? Like , uh, people can think about water security issues because they understand that people and nations have tensions over , uh, over water shortages or water stress. Um, so yeah, certainly water , uh, the water story is not new, but I think a lot of people don't look at , um, deforestation or fisheries declines, or, you know, extinction rates of organisms , uh, as being anything more than an unfortunate , uh , phenomenon happening that may or may not have an effect to people , uh, in this country and others.

Speaker 6:

And you're telling them, and you're telling governments, if you are not an environmental leaning government, you better wake up anyway, because this can affect the security of your nation.

Speaker 5:

Right. And not just be just to be clear. I mean, although it is easily discussed in a , in an environmental framework, I don't really see it that way. I see it as a , uh , a set of issues that said the stresses that are affecting people, societies and the systems that they're dependent on. And so , um, you know, in terms of economics and labor and food security , uh , these are all issues that , um, countries , national leaders not only should care about , uh, they do care about it, but they'd often don't tie these things together. And so, you know, you very , you know, if you're, if you've read news stories , um, you know, you can, you can see, you know, every couple of weeks a story about some bad ecological thing happened, and you see some report about just this morning about , uh, something like a third of freshwater fisheries are in jeopardy of extinction. Uh, the consequences to people are enormous. And so, you know, it's just about , uh , you know, helping security , uh, officials and policymakers and the general public make those connections. Uh, these are not just the purview of the, you know , um , headlines and national geographic or some other environmental press. These are things that will affect people

Speaker 6:

When you look at things like snow storms in Texas, or, you know, forest fires in California. Um, you know, you guys can't even agree on that in the United States and , and unite a country on those issues. Um, how in the world do you get kind of global consensus when these, these issues are often just politicized when somebody blames, you know, once Washington blames the state or , um , you know, they w one party , uh , blames the others , environmental , uh, you know , uh, promotion of , uh, of, of green power. Um, and it becomes really politicized, right? And, and there should be consensus, there needs to be dramatic consensus to move forward on some of this,

Speaker 5:

Right. I mean, it's, you're, you're putting your finger on an enormous problem that we have in terms of , uh, basic statements of fact , uh, being politicized. Now , I, I think there's probably some reasonable disagreement on, you know , the environmental underpinnings of the, you know, that we are Texas , uh, freeze out, but in terms of things like wildfires and , uh, you know, pandemic origins, things like that, I think the more that we Hugh to science and we need science in the, you know, the, the nonpartisan , uh, underpinning of science more than more than ever. And so , uh , but I agree it's a problem. Um, and whether it's, you know , disinformation or information balkanization, or, or what have you , uh, I think it's a great problem of the coming decades. If we can't agree on the, you know, the problem set, it's hard to move to a solution set.

Speaker 6:

That's a , that's a great way to put , uh, this perplexing and disturbing, you know, disinformation age, especially in the U S right now, when, when you try to talk about things like global warming, and the fact that , you know, Biden is reentering the Paris Accords. Uh, meanwhile, the Republican party to a large degree is still in denial of global warming and that, that, you know, more than probably any other lightening rod, and I should be asking you, I'm telling you, I would think that more than any other lightening rod has the ability to displace huge amounts of , uh, economies and cause great insecurity around the globe.

Speaker 5:

Right. I would just add to that, not just has the capacity, but , um, at least a certain amount of that , uh , is almost certain to transpire. And so you , we know , uh, you know , irrespective of which policies in terms of greenhouse gases and, you know , other things with climate change, we know that some fraction of that is going to transpire. And so it's really incumbent on security officials and policymakers to do something about the, the change that is coming. And one thing I will just add , um, you know, I spent a decade in the intelligence community and I did , um , more than my share of briefing of , uh, officials , uh , in both democratic and Republican administrations and also on, on , on the Hill. Um, there's a lot more common ground than I think people realize , um, especially younger , uh, people , uh, even when they're Republican, they very often , uh , embrace , uh, you know, the science and want to do something about it. And so I , I think that

Speaker 6:

There that cause a lot of us feel that, you know , people are living in denial and in Washington , some of them,

Speaker 5:

Some of them, I used to joke that , uh, I had never met a climate denier in Washington , uh, when the doors were closed. Um, uh , but when the doors were open and the cameras were on, it was a different story

Speaker 6:

And they did that because of industry and lobbying pressure.

Speaker 5:

Well, I mean , uh, presumably I mean, you never know what motivate motivates people to take one position , uh, you know, publicly and another one privately, but , uh, you know , certainly , uh, you know, the way that our politics are run in the United States and you know, how , uh , money fuels it. Uh, I suspect that's part of the, part of you

Speaker 6:

Alarmed at the pace at which we're seeing what you called biological annihilation, and there's a long chart in that report. Um, right . When you go through some of it, are you, are you alarmed at the, the pace, just not, you know, in, in the last 10 years, but even in the last few years, as we're getting better at charting, some of this it's some of the stuff that's pretty shocking,

Speaker 5:

Right? Well, so , uh, the term biological annihilation, isn't the one that I use. It's actually yours by some pretty preeminent ecologist. And , uh, when I read it, when I was still in government, I read the scientific paper. Uh, it just shook me. Um, you know, when you work in this space, you're aware of general global trends , um, and , and ecological trends. But , uh, when you read that kind of language , um , by people who have devoted their life to studying ecological systems , uh, it's very , uh, you know, for me it was , uh , very , uh, sobering. And so yes, I am alarmed , um, by extinction rates. Uh, you, you hear many, and you can read many scientists argue that we're entering our , you know, at the beginning of a sixth mass extinction, if that's true, we're in deep trouble , uh, and it will have more than just affects on societies and nations. I mean, we're really creeping up on existential , uh, you know , crisis the thing about a night about , uh, extinctions of species and populations and, you know, buyer diversity loss, and a lot of those , uh , uh, issues as , uh, you know, the rebound, if we, you know , as societies quit doing some of these, these practices, the rebound is quite rapid, right. If, if we cut down on deforestation, cut down on the wildlife trade, cut down on overfishing and , uh, over logging , uh , nature does rebound. In fact , uh, I think we should see this kind of policy and these kinds of actions as a way to bolster our , um, resilience against , uh, you know, climate change, pandemic risk , uh, you know, et cetera, these other threats , uh, this is one that has a direct human , uh, fingerprint on it that , uh, you know, if you're looking for solutions, you just dial, dial that back

Speaker 6:

To you, talk to you about your recommendations in a second at the end of it, because we need to punch it in . But you also talked about, you know , there's a section in there and pandemics and large-scale epidemics becoming more frequent. And obviously you, you take the position that, you know, the , the, the movie we find ourselves in , uh , COVID-19 along with , um, you know, dingy, cholera , Ebola , uh, that these are all , um, how do you say zoo zoonotic spillover events from animals to humans because , uh , of , of these security threats of, of the environment?

Speaker 5:

Yeah, I mean, basically human activities are increasing the human wildlife interface, and there's a tremendous amount of microbial diversity and the natural systems as we , uh, as we , uh , cross into and lower that threshold between human wildlife and humans and wildlife and livestock. Um, then we expose ourselves to, I think scientists estimate something like 1.7 million under undiscovered viruses that animals and mammals and birds Harbor, and that cannot just pass to us directly, but pass through our , uh, you know, our, our livestock systems. Um, I think a report by the , uh, by IPUs the inter-governmental platform on biodiversity and ecosystem services said they estimated in a special report a couple of years ago that something like , uh , 850,000 viruses could infect humans only. And so, you know, I think it's really incumbent on policymakers and the public to see, to accurately see the , uh, the environment that we're living in, which is one of increasing infectious , uh, human diseases. I mean, we should see COVID-19 as one in an increasing pattern of, of infectious disease risk. And , uh , there's another one looking around the corner. Um, and so we really need to get our act together and understand , uh, not understand the pathogen space, but also , uh, decrease our exposure. And, you know, there's some easy things to do. Uh, but you know, it takes countries talking to each other and it talks, and it takes , um, you know, leaders , uh, doing, doing those kinds of things. But, you know, I, you know, a lot of these issues like the wildlife trade , uh , pandemic risk in the United States are largely bipartisan and they are historically bi-partisan . And so there, there are , uh, opportunities for these , uh, you know, both sides of the aisle to work together if they decide to do so. Uh , but I have found over the years that , uh, the Republican party to be quite strong on , uh, conservation and wildlife and , uh, you know, these sorts of issues.

Speaker 6:

So some of the things you talk about as heightened action from the us Congress and the executive branch to combat ecological and national security disruptions, what does that mean? Can you translate that into something that a little more digestible you're saying that the government should do

Speaker 5:

Well? I mean, in terms of , um, you know, Congress , uh, the major function that, that Congress can play in this role is funding. Um, one of the, you know, I look at this issue, I don't see , uh, this as an environmental issue that we're just marketing as a national security issue to get more , uh, you know, eyes on it and get more attention to it. Uh, you know, I've looked at this issue for quite some time. It worries me deeply. I see it as a , uh, as a security risk as a societal risk. Um, but when you look at your marks and you look how budgets are drawn in , in the us Congress , um, you know, it's wa it's woefully low for, especially for the return on investment, right? So, you know , uh , things that, you know, like , uh , Marine protected areas or protected areas, which we can see as a completely , um, normally would view as an environmental preservation , uh, action, but the security payoffs are, are enormous , uh , in terms of what I just laid out in terms of pandemic risk and affects the human security and , uh, affects on political stability. And so we need to increase funding for what has historically been considered environmental issues. I think we need something like a tenfold increase over 10 years , uh, in this space in terms of international conservation , uh, disease, ecology, and pandemic , uh , uh, prevention, and then the executive branch , uh they're they largely treat these issues as, as environmental issues. They, they, they don't typically rise to the level that you would involve the secretary of defense, the secretary of state, or the CIA director, but the effects on people and the effects on , uh, on the stability of nations , uh , argue is that it needs to be elevated in terms of , uh, executive branch action and task force and , uh, and ultimately action. Um, so internationally and domestically,

Speaker 6:

I mean, if you don't have their attention now on pandemic issues, you'll never get it right. And although some of them still living in denial and di and debate about what the cause of the pandemic was, I mean, it's , it's hard to make an, exactly an ecological ecological link because we still don't know the sources of the outbreak .

Speaker 5:

Yeah. I mean, the thing is that if you accept , um, you know, COVID 19 is a worst example of, you know, we've had SARS, we've had HIV, we've had chicken Guna , we've had Zika, we've had murders , uh, you know, these are well-established, you both sell anodic and Ebola , of course, two rounds of Ebola. Um, these are well known , established pandemic , uh, of zoonotic origin. And so for me, just, I think are evidence of some other explanation from, you know , uh, other than zoonotic spillover would have to be really, really compelling , uh, to, to , uh , pull us away from what I think is a much more obvious , uh, explanation. Uh, but in some ways it doesn't matter whether, you know, where it came from in terms of its effect on people. I think what it's shown , uh, is a , uh, is the power of, you know, a unseeable , uh, piece of genetic material to bring massive social and economic disruption. And, you know, in the intelligence community, you know, we, we warned about , uh , these events, we warned time and again about , uh , pandemic risk. Um, and so , uh, you know, I was in the intelligence community dealing with both , uh, avian flu , uh, mirror's middle Eastern respiratory syndrome , um, Zika , uh, I left before COVID 19 really? Uh bruited but, you know, I can tell you that , uh , it's, it seems to be a low level issue in the security world until it happens. And then it's the most important thing.

Speaker 6:

Yeah. It brings the economy to its knees there it's it's , uh, th th they just, they just didn't get even genome sequencing , uh , funding and in the U S I mean, the us is far behind other countries, even

Speaker 5:

It's crazy. It's crazy. Um, but, but one, and th and that's just it, I mean , uh, I predictive in a couple of years from now, there will be people in the security community who will have a hard time convincing senior , uh , policymakers , senior officials that pandemics are a national security issue. I mean, it just, I mean, yeah , uh , even the how disrupt, I mean , uh , as disruptive as this event has been the capacity for people to forget and move on. It's enormous. I, I I've seen this firsthand, of course, COVID-19 , uh , is it's many times greater than what I experienced, but even people who were , uh, you know, watching , uh, the , um, just the churn , uh , inside of Africa, you know, a year later , uh, you know , I'm talking about the Ebola , um, uh, epidemic, you know, just a year later, they had moved onto something else.

Speaker 6:

Is it , um, I guess a hard reality that while people like you are warning that these are national security risks , um, and that you have to change your national security architecture, you have to have , uh, you know, security officials involved in planning for this, right . Um, is it a , is it a hard reality that probably things are going to have to get worse , uh, to drive the point home and, and that the environmental cost, unfortunately , um , in, in the ecological , uh, risks at the same time are, are, are so severe , uh , that we, we may not be able to do 180 degree turn on some of this.

Speaker 5:

Yeah. It's , uh , um, it's difficult. I think you pinned , uh, that , that's a really a great question , uh , because for whatever reason , uh, and I think it's especially bad in the United States, but, you know, organizations , uh, tend to not be very good at strategic planning and mapping out , uh, you know, scenarios and then acting on that information to steer their way through, you know, rough roads ahead, for whatever reason we seem to need to be in a reactive mode. Um, and, you know, with both climate change and ecological disruption, pandemic preparedness , uh, waiting until it's on you to react is the worst pathway through,

Speaker 6:

Is there a, is there a better answer, it does it a restructuring of government , um, or do we take it out of government and make climate emergency something different so that we're able to plan in and head it off because we're not going to, we're just going to, we're going to wait until somebody's thirsty before we talk about clean water.

Speaker 5:

Right. I mean, partially, I mean, there , there's a lot of ways to answer that question, but , uh, certainly , uh, the government is not going to be able to solve these problems by themselves. It will require , uh, other elements , uh, in the public, the private sector. Um, but without the government , uh, we will not , uh, being able to marshal the resources and, you know, the, you know , just the , the will to tackle some of these issues. And it really, I think something like this really has to come from on top. And so the, you know , not to get too wonky here , uh, but in the United States , uh, we have lost the capacity to do long-term strategic planning that , uh , response to climate change response to pandemics toxification of our oceans and, you know , uh , an ecological disruption

Speaker 6:

Or ,

Speaker 5:

Uh, I think we have moved into, I think it's partly political paralysis, but I also think , uh, you know, that it has not been a priority since , uh , maybe , uh, maybe the Eisenhower years , um, you know, there used to be an office inside of the white house who, whose only functioned . And they lasted in between administrations who focused on long-term strategy, but the, but the government is almost purely reactive now and, and responds to the emergency in their inbox or on the front of the New York times or whatever. Um, and the, there are very few entities in the government who are looking at how the future is evolving.

Speaker 6:

Well, rod, you know, I mean, I guess maybe the only good news is that when you pull young people in Europe or you pull people in America or Canada for that matter, that these are big issues for younger people. So maybe we'll just throw these guys the hell out until they start understanding that the environment and ecology and what you talk about, the security risks that , that bind us will eventually get driven home with a new generation hope. Hopefully that fire is lit and it doesn't go.

Speaker 5:

Yeah, I'm, I'm varying , um , optimistic , uh, about , uh, how quickly the , uh, you know , these generations are taking these issues on. And seriously, I think they're seeing it a lot more holistically than I would have expected that they're not seeing it as climate only, or , uh, you know , uh , uh, inequality only there they're able to package a whole number of stresses and things that they see as problematic together. Uh, and , uh, I , I admire that and I, I I'm optimistic my, my three-year-old daughter , uh, uh, needs , uh, that kind of , um, you know, attention and, and , um, really a reprioritization of what's important to people, societies ,

Speaker 3:

Environmental issues. I mean, young people can really relate to them. So rod schooner , the author of the report, the security risk that binds this , uh, and also , uh, you know, writing that for the council on strategic risks. Great to talk. Thanks. Thank you.

Speaker 2:

Our backstory on our fragile world changing so fast. Now, we all have to be concerned by the way, it's the world wildlife fund, not Federation. I must've been thinking of the WWF, but this podcast was not about wrestling. Was it maybe next time that's backstory, please share this podcast and sign up for my daily newsletter. Dana Lewis dot [inaudible] dot com. Dana Lewis dot sub stack.com. I'm trying to give you an idea of what to read what's important, any , and all of that. I tried to list the individual source articles, so you can also read them yourself. Thanks for listening. I'm Dana Lewis reporting from London, and I'll talk to you again soon.

Jeff Opperman WWF
Rod Schoonover/Council Strategic Risks