Tag Archives: environment

F**k The Planet

Back in 1992, when I became Executive Director of Indiana’s ACLU, I made it a rule to avoid using the word “outrageous” (a term which had evidently been a favorite of my predecessor), because I believed–and still believe– that when you label every policy or court decision with which you disagree outrageous, pretty soon no one pays any attention to you. You become the crank who cries wolf.

On the other hand, sometimes “outrageous” fits. It was the very first word that came to mind when I read this recent news item from PBS.

GENEVA (AP) — Almost every country in the world has agreed on a legally binding framework for reducing polluting plastic waste, with the United States a notable exception, United Nations environmental officials said Friday.

An agreement on tracking thousands of types of plastic waste emerged at the end of a two-week meeting of U.N.-backed conventions on plastic waste and toxic, hazardous chemicals. Discarded plastic clutters pristine land, floats in huge masses in oceans and entangles wildlife, sometimes with deadly results.

The framework will affect a broad range of products and industries, including health care, technology, aerospace, fashion, and the food and beverage industry. Refusing to get on board won’t allow the few non-signatory countries, like the United States, to escape its impact, because most of them ship plastic waste to countries that have signed on.

Norway led the initiative, which was first unveiled in September. As the report noted, the relatively short period of time from introduction to approval was a blistering pace by traditional U.N. standards–especially for an agreement that is legally binding.

The refusal of the Trump Administration to sign on to yet another global agreement–one that we will necessarily obey anyway–is simply a way of giving the middle finger to science, the United Nations, and our allies. It’s of a piece with Trump’s constant efforts to roll back domestic environmental protections. The President sneers when the threat of climate change is raised, and when it comes to protecting citizens from environmental hazards, his EPA demonstrates weekly that it is firmly in the pocket of chemical and fossil fuel companies.

The Trump Administration’s entire approach to environmental policy deserves to be labeled “outrageous.”

Contrast this fast and loose approach by people who evidently don’t care about the world their grandchildren will inhabit to the campaigns of the Democrats running for President, all of whom give evidence of taking environmental issues seriously.

Look, for example, at Jay Inslee’s campaign.

Gov. Jay Inslee (D-WA), candidate for the Democratic nomination for POTUS is near the back of the pack, polling at 1%. But his new Evergreen Economy Initiative is so very bold, matching the size of the response to the huge size of our climate crisis, that he has now moved into 2nd place in my own 2020 preferences. Warren is still first, but I hope she adopts a climate plan as bold as this. It dwarfs the Green New Deal.  The details are here.

It is not socialist, and does not rely entirely on governmental central planning, but it is a WWII sized effort based on the original New Deal.  It aims to revitalize Labor by repealing all “right to work” laws.It invests $9 Trillion in infrastructure (super high speed rail, better/smarter power grids, zero emission vehicles, green buildings, water conservation, etc.) and green energy production. It aims to get to a zero emission economy by 2030. The plan includes a carbon tax and plans to cap methane emissions and HFCs.

There is a “G.I. Bill” component aimed at coal communities to help them transition to new technologies and not be simply left behind (as they are now with all the coal plant closings).I think there needs to be a similar effort for places Alaska and the Gulf Coast to be quickly weaned off oil & natural gas.

Governor Inslee is highly unlikely to secure the Democratic nomination, but a number of the provisions of his bold initiative are likely to find their way into the platform of whoever does become the nominee.

Sometimes, the consequences of our choices in the voting booth aren’t terribly clear. That won’t be a problem in 2020. No one who cares about the environment, or the future of the planet (or, for that matter, human decency) can justify a vote for Trump or his enablers.

That word I tried so hard to avoid–outrageous– accurately describes both this utterly corrupt administration and the voters who continue to support it.

 

 

 

Meanwhile, Behind The Scenes…

While most of our media is caught up in “Mueller frenzy,” and Trump continues to suck all the oxygen out of the room, I thought I’d just share some underreported information about what our disgraceful federal government has been doing largely out of public view.

The Guardian is one of the few publications that seems to be following the day-to-day efforts of the Trump Administration to thwart global environmental efforts.

The United States and Saudi Arabia have hamstrung global efforts to scrutinise climate geoengineering in order to benefit their fossil fuel industries, according to multiple sources at the United Nationsenvironment assembly, taking place this week in Nairobi.

The world’s two biggest oil producers reportedly led opposition against plans to examine the risks of climate-manipulating technology such as sucking carbon out of the air, reflective mirrors in space, seeding the oceans and injecting particulates into the atmosphere.

Geoengineering is the name given to technical efforts to stop or reverse climate change; as scientists have proposed various methods, concerns over the potential for dangerously negative global effects have increased. Assessing the risks of proposed massive environmental interventions would certainly seem prudent–but the fossil fuel industry has seized on these proposals as a way to justify further expansion of their industries, and they aren’t interested in risk assessments that might cast doubt on that expansion. Full steam ahead.

Add that to the administration’s other efforts to sabotage environmental measures.

This was not the only agenda item in Nairobi that Trump administration diplomats were accused of watering down; they were also accused of undermining efforts to ensure strong environmental governance. “They are trying to remove all targets and timelines,” said one senior delegate.

An ambitious Indian resolution to phase out single-use plastics by 2025 has been diluted to resolving to “significantly reduce” them by 2030, said another delegate. The US was supported by Brazil and at least four other countries in pushing back the deadline and making the language more vague.

On marine waste, a Norwegian proposal to build an effective global strategy for dealing with plastics that enter the oceans has also met with resistance from the US. “They want to postpone measures so they can protect their industry,” said an ambassador from a large developing country.

In yet another example of being on the wrong side of history, there is the administration’s push-back against women’s rights. 

US officials in New York are attempting to water down language and remove the word “gender” from documents being negotiated at the UN, in what is being seen as a threat to international agreements on women’s rights.

In negotiations at the Commission on the Status of Women(CSW), which resume at UN headquarters this week, the US wants to replace “gender” in the forum’s outcome document with references only to women and girls.

The move follows similar attempts by the US last year to change languagein documents before the UN human rights council.

In draft documents, seen by the Guardian, the US is taking a step further at CSW by refusing to reaffirm the country’s commitment to the landmark Beijing declaration and platform for action, agreed at the fourth world conference of women held in 1995.

After all, why would practitioners of “locker room talk” and predatory sexual behavior want to empower women?

Under the Trump administration, US negotiators have found themselves more aligned with countries including Iran, Saudi Arabia and Russia than European nations. These countries consistently seek to undermine agreements on women’s rights at the UN, specifically around reproductive health and rights. This year’s US delegation includes Valerie Huber, a proponent of abstinence-only sex education and now a senior policy advisor in the Department of Health and Human Services, and Bethany Kozma, an anti-choice activist and senior advisor for women’s empowerment at the US Agency for International Development.

Just file these “factoids” in the growing category “why the world no longer looks up to the United States.”

 

 

Meanwhile…

Like Nero fiddling while Rome burned, most of America is transfixed and distracted by the daily Gong Show in Washington.

It’s bad enough that–while the news focuses on the President’s most recent bizarre and misspelled tweet storm– cabinet members are busily rolling back regulations protecting citizens from contaminated air and water, protecting students from predatory “educators,” or protecting irreplaceable national lands from being ravaged and looted by fossil fuel interests.

Worse, we are also being distracted from emerging reports about changes to our planet that should terrify us.

The world’s insects are hurtling down the path to extinction, threatening a “catastrophic collapse of nature’s ecosystems”, according to the first global scientific review.

More than 40% of insect species are declining and a third are endangered, the analysis found. The rate of extinction is eight times faster than that of mammals, birds and reptiles. The total mass of insects is falling by a precipitous 2.5% a year, according to the best data available, suggesting they could vanish within a century.

The planet is at the start of a sixth mass extinctionin its history, with huge losses already reported in larger animalsthat are easier to study. But insects are by far the most varied and abundant animals, outweighing humanity by 17 times. They are “essential” for the proper functioning of all ecosystems, the researchers say, as food for other creatures, pollinators and recyclers of nutrients.

We are beginning to see reports of the collapse of insect populations, and the researchers who authored the report say that the phenomenon extends globally–far beyond the specific collapses that have been documented. As the article in the Guardian put it,

The researchers set out their conclusions in unusually forceful terms for a peer-reviewed scientific paper: “The [insect] trends confirm that the sixth major extinction event is profoundly impacting [on] life forms on our planet.

“Unless we change our ways of producing food, insects as a whole will go down the path of extinction in a few decades,” they write. “The repercussions this will have for the planet’s ecosystems are catastrophic to say the least.”

The article, published in the academic journal Biological Conservation, attributes the dramatic decline of insect populations to intensive agriculture, especially the heavy use of pesticides, although it also found that urbanization and climate change are significant contributors to the problem.

There have been a number of stories about the mysterious loss of bee colonies-indications are that western states like Oklahoma lost half of their bumblebees between 1949 and 2013. But the problem extends far beyond bees, and the consequences of the predicted insect loss would be staggering.

One of the biggest impacts of insect loss is on the many birds, reptiles, amphibians and fish that eat insects. “If this food source is taken away, all these animals starve to death,” he said. Such cascading effects have already been seen in Puerto Rico, where a recent study revealed a 98% fall in ground insects over 35 years.

The new analysis selected the 73 best studies done to date to assess the insect decline. Butterflies and moths are among the worst hit. For example, the number of widespread butterfly species fell by 58% on farmed landin England between 2000 and 2009. The UK has suffered the biggest recorded insect falls overall, though that is probably a result of being more intensely studied than most places.

I strongly advise clicking through and reading the entire, depressing article. At the very least, it will give you something to be depressed about other than the disaster in the White House.

Sometimes You Just Want To Cry…

I drafted this post before I heard yesterday’s news that Ryan Zinke is “retiring.” I’m sure that whomever Trump chooses to replace him will be equally awful, equally corrupt–but at least we may be lucky enough to have a breather before that person ramps up.

Why was I devoting today’s post to Zinke? Let me count the ways….Actually, I don’t have to, because Scientific American has done it for me.

When you think of sensationalism or bias in the media, Scientific American isn’t the publication that first comes to mind. The fact that the magazine’s articles are usually pretty sober and deliberate is why this recent article was especially troubling.

It was titled “Monumental Disaster at the Department of the Interior,” and the sub-head was even more pointed: “A new report documents suppression of science, denial of climate change, the silencing and intimidation of staff.”

Here’s the lede:

This is a tough time to be a federal scientist—or any civil servant in the federal government. The Trump administration is clamping down on science, denying dangerous climate change and hollowing out the workforces of the agencies charged with protecting American health, safety and natural resources.

According to the author, a former employee of the Department, Zinke and the political staff  he has hired have consistently sidelined scientists and experts, “while handing the agency’s keys over to oil, gas and mining interests.”

The only saving grace is that Zinke and his colleagues are not very good at it, and in many cases the courts are stopping them in their tracks. The effects on science, scientists and the federal workforce, however, will be long-lasting.

I never thought I’d be grateful for incompetence, but really, the only thing that is saving American institutions from Trump and the looters he has installed as agency heads is their monumental ignorance of government and policy, and total lack of any managerial ability.

The report, Science Under Siege at the Department of the Interior, was issued by the Union of Concerned Scientists; it documents a number of Secretary Zinke’s more egregious and anti-science policies and practices. It describes “suppression of science, denial of climate change, the silencing and intimidation of agency staff, and attacks on science-based laws that help protect our nation’s world-class wildlife and habitats.”

It would be impossible to cover everything this clumsy political wrecking crew is up to, but the report provides details on the most prominent actions that deserve greater scrutiny, such as: the largest reduction in public lands protection in our nation’s history; a systematic failure to acknowledge or act on climate change; unprecedented constraints on the funding and communication of science; and a blatant disregard for public health and safety.

The author follows a damning list of actions taken by Zinke with a rhetorical question: why? Why would any government official choose to be anti-science, anti-evidence? Why–even if he really doesn’t accept the science of climate change– does Zinke pursue policies that he has to know will foul the air we all breathe and the water we all drink?

He then answers his own question (you knew this already, though, didn’t you?):

Ryan Zinke has been very clear that he is in office to serve the oil, gas and mining industries, not the general public.

One of the ways I’ve been clinging to what remains of my equanimity during the nightmare of this administration is to remind myself that nothing is forever, that although a lot of people are getting hurt in the meantime, most of the horrific policies being pursued by this gang of thugs and looters can be reversed.

But every day we fail to protect the environment, every day we double down on practices that accelerate climate change, is a day we can’t get back.

Trump’s criminal syndicate is willing to destroy the planet our grandchildren will rely upon– presumably the planet their own grandchildren will inhabit–in order to please the fat cats whose campaign dollars are their source of political power.

I really can’t think of anything more vile.