There are wild no penguins in the United States. But many penguin species are in danger -- some dramatically -- and all populations are dropping fast. What to do, what to do?

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service this week proposed protecting seven penguin species under the Endangered Species Act. Six would be declared "threatened" species, while the seventh, the African penguin, would be listed as "endangered." The action follows a lawsuit, and resulting court order, to review the penguins' need for protection.

To be honest, this move would do little to directly protect penguins in the wild, although it would "raise awareness about the species and could give the U.S. leverage in international negotiations to protect them from fishing, habitat loss, development and other threats," according to a report from The Associated Press.

But this decision also does something else: it insulates the United States from further protecting the penguins by declaring that global warming is not responsible for the penguins' decline. Although FWS said it "considered information on longer term climate change impacts to these species," it officially declared that the relevant threats to the penguins include "commercial fishing, competition for prey, habitat loss, disease, and predation."

Of course, many environmental groups disagree. The Center for Biological Diversity, which first filed the lawsuit responsible for this week's decision, points out that "abnormally warm ocean temperatures and diminished sea ice have wreaked havoc on the penguins' foods supply." The CBD also maintains its position that the Endangered Species Act "has an important role to play in reducing greenhouse gas pollution by compelling federal agencies to look at the impact of the emissions generated by their activities on listed species and to adopt solutions to reduce them."

Of course, the Interior Department has already made it clear that it will not allow the Endangered Species Act to be used to regulate emissions and global warming.

Story by John Platt. This article originally appeared in Plenty in December 2008.

Copyright Environ Press 2008