Chairman Carper’s Opening Statement: Hearing on Biodiversity Crisis

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Today, the U.S. Senate Environment and Public Works (EPW) Committee held a hearing on the drivers and impacts of biodiversity loss, as well as potential policy solutions. Below is the opening statement of Chairman Tom Carper (D-Del.), as prepared for delivery:

I’m pleased that we are joined today by an esteemed panel of witnesses to examine the important issue of biodiversity loss. Dr. Leah Gerber, Edmund Sullivan, Andy Treharn, and John Schmidt—welcome to the EPW Committee.

“I just want to say that I appreciate that you come to us from across the length and breadth of our great country. That is important because biodiversity loss is a challenge that transcends geographic boundaries and state lines.

“Across our country’s forests, grasslands, deserts, rivers, and oceans—and around the world—the ecosystems that support all life are threatened by heat waves, intense storms, and wildfires. At the same time, wildlife must contend with invasive species—including pests and diseases.

“The more species each ecosystem can sustain—in other words, the greater the biodiversity in each—the greater resilience those ecosystems have to the threats I’ve described. And yet, around the world, biodiversity is declining faster now than at any other time in human history.

“Our changing climate, habitat loss, the spread of invasive species in our increasingly connected world, and pollution—have all contributed to this decline.

“For example, the ocean absorbs almost a third of the carbon dioxide emitted into the atmosphere each year. That carbon dioxide turns into acid in the ocean, threatening species at the base of the ocean food web. That impact on the food web is profound, affecting everything from fish to one of our most beloved species in Delaware—the red knot.

“That same carbon dioxide contributes to global warming, which is causing sea level rise. As the seas rise, they threaten the red knot’s coastal habitat, making this iconic and threatened species even more vulnerable. With limited food sources and diminishing habitat, the incredible 19,000-mile, round-trip migration that red knots make each year has become increasingly difficult, which threatens their long-term survival.

“But, the impact of biodiversity loss extends far beyond this remarkable species going extinct. It also impacts each and every one of us.

“How, you might ask?

“First of all, biodiversity is directly linked to human health. The loss of biodiversity and ecosystem resilience is making animals more susceptible to disease, a particularly troubling development since the vast majority of emerging diseases in people—including potential pandemics—originate in wildlife. We are all too familiar with the consequences of these zoonotic illnesses—COVID-19 is one of them. 

“Noting this threat and many others, the World Economic Forum has named biodiversity loss among the top three risks to humanity in terms of impact, along with weapons of mass destruction and climate action failure.

“One sector at particular risk is agriculture, which—of course—is critical for global food security. Agriculture is the number one industry in my home state of Delaware, as it is for many of my colleagues on this committee. Our agriculture and food systems cannot exist without healthy soils, plant pollination, and pest control—all of which are linked to biodiversity. We simply cannot produce food without the birds, the bees, and even the lowly earthworms and healthy soil bacteria. If we fail them, we ultimately fail ourselves.

“Though the current state of biodiversity decline paints a bleak picture for the future, there is hope. If we take action, we can stem biodiversity loss and prevent the harm that comes with it.

“This is an issue on which our committee has a bipartisan record of success. Last Congress, we enacted into law both the WILD Act and the ACE Act—both of which reauthorized important programs to conserve wildlife and habitat at home and abroad. We also included the first-ever wildlife crossings safety section in a highway bill, which would address the problem of habitat fragmentation.

“As Chairman, I hope that we can build on that record this Congress and am eager to work with all of our members—on both sides of the aisle—to do so.

“We must also ensure that the federal budget provides robust funding for wildlife protection. We know that our conservation laws work best—for both wildlife and people—when the agencies responsible for implementing them have the resources they need to do their jobs effectively.

“What I have described is a moral and practical imperative. And like so many of the issues before our committee, this is a challenge we all face and one we can resolve together. It is no overstatement to say that our lives and livelihoods—and those of our children—hang in the balance.”