JOSHUA TREE, Calif. — Brendon Cummings, a self-admitted tree-hugger, has a particular affinity for one tree in particular — the Joshua Tree, an iconic symbol of the Mojave Desert.
Cummings, who is the director for the Center for Biological Diversity, estimates there are perhaps tens of millions of Joshua Trees in Southern California. However, he also said that, in just a few decades, they could all disappear — every single one of them.
"We could lose all, or virtually all of the Joshua Trees by the end of this century," warned Cummings.
He is talking about total extinction: a Joshua Tree apocalypse.
The culprit is the usual suspect, global climate change. It turns out the desert is getting too hot for juvenile trees to grow, and all-too-frequent forest fires are taking their toll as well.
Cummings said that even if we magically reversed climate change overnight, half of all Joshua Trees would still disappear.
For that reason, Cummings has petitioned the state of California to list the Western Joshua Tree as an "endangered species."
Cummins said he is battling powerful economic interests who wish to cut down the trees to make way for development. Even the solar and wind industries are against the listing, as they already have plans to build on land covered with Joshua Trees.
Sure, Cummings is an environmentalist, but he insists the solar and wind companies can find other places to build their renewable energy farms.
The California Fish and Game Commission, the regulatory body with the power to protect a species, has already met twice on the matter, to listen to all sides of the argument.
They will meet for a third and final time to give their verdict.
"I'm absolutely nervous," admits Cummings, two days before the final meeting.
Does Cummings come out on top? Watch to find out.
CORRECTION: A previous version of the embedded video report accompanying this story contained a graphical error that incorrectly suggested the California Solar Energy Industries Association had opposed the listing of the Western Joshua Tree as an "endangered species." It has not taken such a position. The graphic should have shown the logo for the Solar Energy Industries Association, which has opposed the listing. The error has been corrected in the video report. (Oct. 8, 2020)