Tag Archives: climate change

Don’t Drink The Water

The mismatch between science, reason and the Trump Administration grows wider every day, especially–but certainly not exclusively– when it comes to the environment.

Our Buffoon-in-Chief was just at Davos, where attendees identified climate change as the most significant challenge facing humans. That followed a speech by Trump in which he dismissed climate science as a “hoax.”

For the past three years, this administration has been dismantling the EPA and ridding the federal government of those pesky scolds we call scientists. Meanwhile, recent discoveries suggest previous estimates of the extent to which our waterways have been dangerously polluted were unrealistically low.

The contamination of US drinking water with manmade “forever chemicals” is far worse than previously estimated with some of the highest levels found in Miami, Philadelphia and New Orleans, said a report on Wednesday by an environmental watchdog group.

The chemicals, resistant to breaking down in the environment, are known as perfluoroalkyl substances, or PFAS. Some have been linked to cancers, liver damage, low birth weight and other health problems.

The findings here by the Environmental Working Group (EWG) show the group’s previous estimate in 2018, based on unpublished US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) data, that 110 million Americans may be contaminated with PFAS, could be far too low.

Worse still, scientists tell us that it is nearly impossible for Americans to avoid drinking water that has been contaminated with these chemicals, which were used in manufacturing products like Teflon and Scotchguard.

So where is the EPA?

The EPA has known since at least 2001 about the problem of PFAS in drinking water but has so far failed to set an enforceable, nationwide legal limit. The EPA said early last year it would begin the process to set limits on two of the chemicals, PFOA and PFOS….

In 2018 a draft report from an office of the US Department of Health and Human Services said the risk level for exposure to the chemicals should be up to 10 times lower than the 70 PPT threshold the EPA recommends. The White House and the EPA had tried to stop the report from being published.

Far from protecting the millions of Americans who are imbibing contaminants, Trump’s EPA is rolling back federal protections of the nation’s waters. According to NPR,

The Environmental Protection Agency is dramatically reducing federal pollution protections for rivers, streams and wetlands – a move welcomed by many farmers, builders and mining companies but opposed even by the agency’s own science advisers.

EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler, who announced the repeal of an earlier Obama-era rule in September, chose to make the long-anticipated announcement Thursday in Las Vegas, at the National Association of Home Builders International Builders’ Show.

The biggest change is a controversial move to roll back government limits on pollution in wetlands and smaller waterways that were introduced less than five years ago by President Barack Obama.

The Obama executive action, which broadened the definition of “waters of the United States,” applied to about 60% of U.S. waterways. It aimed to bring clarity to decades of political and legal debate over which waters should qualify.

Well, if there is one fight the Trump administration has clearly won, it’s the fight against clarity. But I digress…

In a draft letter posted online late last month, the 41-member EPA Science Advisory Board, which is made up largely of Trump administration appointees, said the revised definition rule “decreases protection for our Nation’s waters and does not support the objective of restoring and maintaining ‘the chemical, physical and biological integrity’ of these waters.”

Fourteen states have sued over the rollback, arguing that by returning the U.S. to standards of 1986, the EPA is ignoring subsequent studies demonstrating how smaller bodies of water connect with and impact the larger ones that are more typically targeted for regulation.

“This regressive rule ignores science and the law and strips our waters of basic protections under the Clean Water Act. Attorneys general across this nation will not stand by as the Trump Administration seeks to reverse decades of progress we’ve made in fighting water pollution,” New York Attorney General Letitia James, who spearheaded the suit, said in a statement.

We can only hope the suit isn’t heard by one of Trump’s new judges…..

 

Ideology And Climate Change

Most of Australia appears to be on fire. The extent of the devastation is hard to comprehend–as this is written, 24 people have been killed, 15.6 million acres burned (so far), hundreds if not thousands of homes destroyed, and an estimated billion animals killed.

Yet, as Vox reports, government officials in Australia continue to downplay the link between climate change and the wildfires– Prime Minister Scott Morrison insists that the country doesn’t need to do more to limit its greenhouse gas emissions. The government is apparently willing to shirk its duty to protect the population and the environment in order to protect the country’s powerful mining sector.

There’s a strong scientific consensus that links climate change to the number and severity of the wildfires.In its 2018 “State of the Climate” report,  the Australian Bureau of Meteorology warned that climate change had already ushered in a long-term warming trend and was also responsible for changes in rainfall that increase the risks of wildfires.

It isn’t only Australia. The effects of climate change are appearing everywhere. In Indonesia, the capital city of Jakarta is sinking so quickly that officials are working to move it to another island. Pictures of Venice are heartbreaking. Other examples abound.

Here in the United States, the Trump administration is responding by rolling back numerous environmental measures that had been put in place both to combat pollution and address climate change. It sometimes seems as if the administration is trying to poison the air and water and actually accelerate climate change.

Sane people faced with an existential threat don’t behave this way. What explains it?

The Roosevelt Institute attributes this inexplicably destructive behavior to neoliberal ideology.

In Transcending Neoliberalism: How the Free-Market Myth Has Prevented Climate Action, Roosevelt Fellow Mark Paul and Anders Fremstad of Colorado State University present a coherent account of how neoliberalism has contributed to inaction. To do so, they explore three tenets of neoliberal ideology that have stymied action to address the climate crisis:

Decentralize democracy: A feature of the neoliberal order in the US has been the systematic decentralization of government. Neoliberals have promoted federalism to address “government failure” and subject the state to market forces, exacerbating the race to the bottom in climate policy.

Defund public investment: Neoliberals dismantled the Keynesian consensus that the state has a major role to play in providing public goods, stabilizing the macroeconomy, and solving coordination problems. In the neoliberal order, government investments are rejected as expensive and wasteful, crowding out productive private investments.

Deregulate the economy: Neoliberalism has launched a concentrated attack on government’s ability to regulate the economy. Ignoring the ability of regulations to positively shape markets, neoliberals dismiss government intervention as “red tape” that merely increases the cost of doing business.

Those tenets of neoliberalism have been mainstays of Republican policy at least since Reagan. To them, however, you have to add the rabid anti-intellectualism of the Trump administration–an anti-intellectualism married to an obsessive determination to undo anything Barack Obama accomplished. Trump has persistently worked to drive scientists out of government agencies, despite (or perhaps because of) the fact that those agencies’ effectiveness depend upon sound scientific evidence.

As the New York Times, among others, has reported,

In just three years, the Trump administration has diminished the role of science in federal policymaking while halting or disrupting research projects nationwide, marking a transformation of the federal government whose effects, experts say, could reverberate for years.

Political appointees have shut down government studies, reduced the influence of scientists over regulatory decisions and in some cases pressured researchers not to speak publicly. The administration has particularly challenged scientific findings related to the environment and public health opposed by industries such as oil drilling and coal mining. It has also impeded research around human-caused climate change, which President Trump has dismissed despite a global scientific consensus.

What is it that Neil DeGrasse Tyson always says? Reality doesn’t care whether you believe it or not.

If climate change makes the Earth uninhabitable–a result that is looking more and more likely– the cause will be stubborn ignorance and the willful elevation of ideology over evidence.

It’s Not Easy Being Green

I recently received an email announcing this year’s “Greening the Statehouse” event sponsored annually by the Hoosier Environmental Council.

Greening the Statehouse will be held at the IMMI Conference Center in Westfield, Indiana on November 16th. The day will be filled with informative panels, presentations, and a keynote address all focused on solutions to the climate crisis. As you may recall, GTS is a full day that also includes a light breakfast and lunch. You can learn more at www.hecweb.org/gts

In my more optimistic moments, I think Americans are finally taking environmental concerns–notably, climate change–seriously. It is past time to do so.

I’ve followed the work of organizations like the Hoosier Environmental Council, and shared the dismay of rational people as we’ve watched the current administration not only block progress, but gleefully regress.

I know I’ve written this before, but the climate calculation is simple.

What will happen if the 97% of climate scientists who warn about climate change are proven wrong (or, as conspiracy theorists would have it–plotting to fool us for some mysterious reason), and we nevertheless listen to them?

What if we proceed to clean up our air and water, improve conservation and move to cleaner energy sources–and then find out that all those scientists were wrong?

In that case, we’ll be “stuck” with a healthier, cleaner environment–air our children and grandchildren can breathe and water they can drink; cheaper and more reliable energy sources, and fewer pesticides in our foods. Bummer. True, the bottom lines of fossil fuel companies will shrink, and they might lose some of the 60 billion dollars in yearly subsidies we taxpayers provide them, but those are the breaks in a market economy.

On the other hand, what if all those climate scientists are right, and we follow what passes for policy in the Trump administration–“saving” coal, subsidizing fossil fuels, failing to clean up our waterways, rolling back air pollution standards…and issuing warnings that wind turbines cause cancer?

In that case, we’ll hasten the time the earth can no longer support human life, at least not human life and civilization as we know it.

This “risk to reward” ratio seems like a no-brainer to me, and I am cautiously optimistic that most people are getting the message. The children certainly are–and it may be the children who save us. Greta Thunberg, the remarkable Swedish teenager, minced no words at the recent climate action summit in New York, telling world leaders “You have stolen my dreams and my childhood with your empty words.” She accused them of ignoring the science behind the climate crisis, saying: ‘We are in the beginning of a mass extinction and all you can talk about is money and fairy tales of eternal economic growth – how dare you!”

Can we dare to hope that at least some of them were listening to her? Can we dare to hope that enough of us are working on voter turnout in 2020–turnout that will dislodge the corrupt and incompetent Trump Administration and install a scientifically-literate one in its place? Can we dare to hope that a majority of earth’s population has come to understand the magnitude–and imminence–of the threat?

I’m writing this in Indiana, where temperatures were in the nineties the first week of October.

If you can, go Green the Statehouse.

 

Subsidizing Our Own Destruction

That biblical admonition about “love of money” being the root of all evil continues to be pertinent.

We are now experiencing the initial effects of climate change–effects that scientists have warned about for many years–and sane people know that much worse is to come. Yet rather than directing resources to measures that will ameliorate it, governments all over the globe are continuing to subsidize behaviors that are known to make the problem worse.

The public is providing more than $1m per minute in global farm subsidies, much of which is driving the climate crisis and destruction of wildlife, according to a new report.

Just 1% of the $700bn (£560bn) a year given to farmers is used to benefit the environment, the analysis found. Much of the total instead promotes high-emission cattle production, forest destruction and pollution from the overuse of fertiliser.

The security of humanity is at risk without reform to these subsidies, a big reduction in meat eating in rich nations and other damaging uses of land, the report says. But redirecting the subsidies to storing carbon in soil, producing healthier food, cutting waste and growing trees is a huge opportunity, it says.

The report rejects the idea that subsidies are needed to supply cheap food. It found that the cost of the damage currently caused by agriculture is greater than the value of the food produced. New assessments in the report found producing healthy, sustainable food would actually cut food prices, as the condition of the land improves.

To add insult to injury, in the U.S., those subsidies disproportionately fatten the wallets of big corporate farming operations–not the small family farms urban folks envision when the subject is raised.

Nor is our pell-mell race toward self-destruction limited to farming. When I was researching my most recent book, I was astonished by the enormity of the subsidies of fossil fuels. Despite the fact that climate change is already affecting America’s weather, increasing the urgency of efforts to reduce carbon emissions and increase the development and use of clean energy sources, the United States spends billions of dollars a year subsidizing fossil fuels. The International Monetary Fund estimates that the United States has spent more subsidizing fossil fuels in recent years than it has on defense spending. The IMF found that when indirect subsidies for coal, oil and gas were factored in, subsidies reached $649 billion in 2015, a year when Pentagon spending was $559 billion.

Most inexplicable of all is the fact that that amount includes 2.5 billion per year specifically earmarked for searching out new fossil fuel resources.

Oil Change International calculates that permanent tax breaks to the US fossil fuel industry are seven times larger than those for renewable energy. Several of those fossil fuel subsidies make it profitable to extract resources that it would not otherwise be cost-effective to extract.  Energy experts tell us that, at current prices, the production of nearly half of all U.S. oil would not be economically viable, but for federal and state subsidies.

The Obama administration had proposed to eliminate 60% of federal fossil fuel industry subsidies, but–surprise!– that proposal went nowhere.

During the 2015-2016 election cycle oil, gas, and coal companies spent $354 million in campaign contributions and lobbying. The industry received $29.4 billion in federal subsidies in total over those same years – reaping a 8,200% return on investment.

It is difficult to argue with the conclusion of the OCI report: “Removing these highly inefficient [fossil fuel] subsidies – which waste billions of dollars propping up an industry incompatible with safe climate limits – should be the first priority of fiscally responsible climate, energy, and tax reform policies.”

Our first priority should be the election of lawmakers who will not be seduced by “love of money” and who will work to save the planet for our children and grandchildren.

 

 

Climate Insanity

In Trump’s America, and especially in the wake of the increasing white nationalist mayhem he is encouraging, it’s easy to lose sight of the other damage being done by this utterly corrupt administration.

Take the administration’s wholesale rejection of science.

As Europe tightens restrictions on herbicides and pesticides found to be harmful to humans, the EPA rolls back similar restrictions. The panel of scientists that used to advise policymakers about such threats has been replaced by former lobbyists and industry hacks. Worse still, the administration refuses to admit that climate change is real. It has buried reports from reputable scientists, including those working for the Pentagon.

Last month, The Guardian carried a column by a scientist fired by the administration for insisting on reporting the facts.

The Trump administration’s hostility towards climate science is not new. Interior climate staffer Joel Clement’s reassignmentand the blocking of intelligence aide Rod Schoonover’s climate testimony, which forced both federal employees to resign in protest, are just two of the innumerable examples. These attempts to suppress climate science can manifest themselves in many ways. It starts with burying important climate reports and becomes something more insidious like stopping climate scientists from doing their jobs. In February 2019, I lost my job because I was a climate scientist in a climate-denying administration. And yet my story is no longer unique.

This is why on 22 July I filed a whistleblower complaint against the Trump administration. But this is not the only part to my story; I will also speak to Congress on 25 July about my treatment and the need for stronger scientific integrity protections.

I have worked at the National Park Service (NPS) for a total of eight years. I started out as an intern during the Bush administration, where I experienced nothing like this. I returned in 2012 after earning my PhD, when the NPS funded a project I designed to provide future sea level and storm surge estimates for 118 coastal parks under different greenhouse gas emissions scenarios. This kind of information is crucial in order for the NPS to adequately protect coastal parks against the future effects of the climate crisis.

I handed in the first draft of my scientific report in the summer of 2016 and, after the standard rigorous scientific peer review process, it was ready for release in early 2017. But once the new administration came into power, publication was repeatedly delayed, with increasingly vague explanations from my supervisors. So for months, I waited. And waited. I was still waiting when I went on maternity leave almost a year later in December 2017.

While she was on her maternity leave, she received an email from an NPS colleague, warning her that “senior leadership” was changing her report without her knowledge, eliminating all references to the human causes of the climate crisis. As she points out in her column, this went far beyond normal editorial adjustment. It was climate science denial, and she initiated a months-long battle over her findings.

Senior NPS officials tried repeatedly, often aggressively, to coerce me into deleting references to the human causes of the climate crisis from the report. They threatened to make the deletions without my approval if I would not agree, to release the report without naming me as the primary author, or not release it all. Each option would have been devastating to my career and for scientific integrity.

She stood firm. The NPS was forced to publish the report as written–and then the retaliation began. There were pay cuts. Her research funding was terminated. She eventually joined the growing exodus of scientists from federal agencies.

I think it was Neil DeGrasse Tyson who said “Reality doesn’t care if you believe in it.” While this administration protects the bottom lines of its donors, sea levels continue to rise, the planet continues to warm, and life on earth gets more precarious.

Trump and his “best people” aren’t just corrupt and inept; they are insane–and our children and grandchildren will suffer the consequences.