Earth’s Emergency Room: Saving Species as the Planet and Politics Get Hotter

By Lowell E. Baier

Earth’s Emergency Room: Saving Species as the Planet and Politics Get Hotter [Rowman & Littlefield; April 16, 2024] is a celebration of 50 years of the Endangered Species Act of 1973 (ESA). Author, attorney, and environmental historian Lowell Baier provides an insightful and entertaining history of the ESA’s dramatic highs and lows. He profiles his own work with the ESA from its inception to the present, and with the key figures who shaped its history, from field biologists to Presidents of the United States. Baier calls on all Americans to embrace a spirit of bipartisanship and conservation to strengthen the law that has been the Earth’s emergency room for half a century.

The ESA is one of our most cherished and reviled laws. It mandates protection and preservation of all the nation’s species and biodiversity, whatever the cost. It has been a lightning rod for controversy and conflicts between capitalism and conservation. Earth’s Emergency Room tells the story of this law over the last half-century through the experiences of author Lowell Baier.  Living and working in the world of Washington, DC politics since 1956, Baier personally knew many of the people who shaped the postwar era. He explains their personalities and interests, his experiences with them, and their roles in creating, implementing, and defining the ESA.

The ESA has become highly controversial. Although it passed Congress with overwhelming support, species such as the black-footed ferret, snail darter, and northern spotted owl embroiled it in controversy. Recounting the stories of these species, Baier lets us into the real stories, human priorities, and personal relationships that shaped the law.

Much resistance to the ESA stems from its initial rigidity, which was a result of the command-and-control mentality of World War II. Much of the opposition to it today is based in the American West, where the legacy of the hardships of the frontier lingers in a strong sense of independence and suspicion of government.

Earth’s Emergency Room reflects on the differences between the era of the ESA (the 1960s and 70s) and today. Baier explains, “We have lost our national unity, bipartisan spirit, and clarity of purpose. In 1973 Congress made a moral pronouncement on behalf of the American people, that it was important to protect the Earth’s species. Today, we know that to be truer than ever, but we have lost our perspective. Only by recapturing the moral authority of the past, and acting as a united people, can we preserve the ESA and guarantee that it will continue to be an effective emergency room for the Earth’s imperiled species.”

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