Heating up the planet: An update
Bob Sheak, July 30, 2018
We are living in a geological epoch of human-generated increasingly disruptive and catastrophic climate changes that pose an existential threat to humanity. The International Union of Geological Sciences is considering the evidence on whether the earth has entered a new geological epoch, one often referred to as the Anthropocene. This is an epoch in which the activities of humans have become the dominant force, an increasingly deleterious one, in shaping the planet. The concept was first introduced by climatologist Paul Crutzen in 2000. Ian Angus, author of the 2016 book facing the Anthropocene: fossil capitalism and the crisis of the earth system, was interviewed about the concept on The Real News. (http://therealnews.com/t2/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=31<emid=74&jumival=17159). He gives us some context.
“ANGUS: Well, geologists divide the history of the entire Earth, the billions of years that our planet has been here, into various divisions which mark the different stages of life and the conditions of life in the history of our planet. We have for the last 12,000 years been in what’s called the Holocene, that came about when the Ice Ages ended. All the glaciers retreated, and we’ve had 12,000 years of relatively stable climate. Everything’s been very predictable. It’s the period in which agriculture was invented and all large civilizations were born, and that’s called the Holocene epoch. It basically means the area of recent human activity.
“What became clear in the late 20th century to some scientists was that humanity’s activities have become so great that they were actually changing the way that the world functions. Not just changing individual environments or ecosystems but changing fundamental things about the way the world works. Global warming being the best known of those, but of course the destruction of the ozone layer, and so on. So, the Holocene epoch, scientists began to argue, was coming to an end. We had moved out of that period of long-term stability and we’re moving into a very different time.
In short, human activities have come to represent the dominant forces in shaping the earth’s ecosphere. And, insofar as global warming goes, the principal proximate causes stem from the emissions of greenhouse gases from burning fossil fuels. But the deeper causes lie in our political economy, dominated by those who run the mega corporations in a never-ending race for profits, the rich whose thirst for wealth and power is never sated, elected officials who end up representing the few over the many, and a narcissistic President who surrounds himself with right-wing ideologues who reject or disregard the warnings of scientists about global warming. Amidst it all, the problem of global warming and its many effects are accelerating and causing increased devastation of ecosystems and enormous harm to more and more of the planet’s human population and other living things. While the issue of climate change, which at its fundamental level is about global warming, is not an issue that gets much attention in the media or in politics, it is an issue that taking humanity toward civilizational collapse, if not species extinction.
This dire situation was given dramatic confirmation last November when, as reported by Sydney Pereira for Newsweek, 15,000 scientists signed a letter “pleading for humans to cut greenhouse gas emissions, phase out fossil fuels, reduce deforestation, and reverse the trend of collapsing biodiversity.” The letter also said we are running out of time: “‘Soon it will be too late to shift course away from our failing trajectory, and time is running out.” And: “We must recognize, in our day-to-day lives and in our governing institutions, that Earth with all of its life is our only home” (http://www.newsweek.com/how-save-humanity-15000-scientists-urge-action-vast-human-misery-takes-over-709403).
Greenhouse gases build up in the atmosphere
Perhaps the most important – and direct – example of human-generated climate change is the accumulation of greenhouse gases in the earth’s atmosphere. The greenhouse gases include carbon dioxide [the most widespread greenhouse gas], methane, water vapor, nitrous oxide, and ozone. The buildup of these gases in the earth’s atmosphere heat up the planet beyond what is normal, leading to a plethora of increasingly disruptive and catastrophic effects that threaten to destroy the basis for anything like complex social organization while seriously disrupting the lives of many millions of people and worse.
Let’s focus on carbon dioxide, CO2. Joseph Romm writes: “At the dawn of the Industrial Revolution 250 years ago, CO2 levels in the atmosphere were approximately 280 parts per million (ppm) (Climate Change: What Everyone Needs to Know, pp. 1-2). Indeed, he writes, “going back a total of 800,000 years – CO2 levels generally never exceeded 280-300 ppm” (p. 16). Now, as reported by Doyle Rice in USA Today on May 4, 2018, carbon dioxide comprised 410 ppm. Rice cites the Scripps Institute of Oceanography as his source and notes that, according to Scripps, this quantity is the “highest in at least the past 800,000 years.” Be clear, there is agreement on this mind-boggling point by major scientific sources on climate change, with virtual unanimity among climate scientists.
Global temperature continues to rise
According to evidence compiled through 2016 by Al Gore in his recent book, AnInconvenient Sequel Truth to Power, “16 of the last 17 hottest years ever measured with instruments (a practice that dates back to 1880) have occurred in the past 17 years. And the hottest of all was 2016. The second hottest was the year before, and the third hottest was the year before that.” Well, the pattern continues.
The staff at Climate Central report on data for the first six months of 2018 from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. They write: “Globally, the past four years have been the hottest on record, and 2018 so far is coming in as the 4th hottest. All time record heat has peppered the Northern Hemisphere this summer” (http://www.climatecentral.org/gallery/graphics/2018-global-heat-so-far).
NOAA reports on July 2018:
“Record heat felt across the continents. Record-warn YTD [Year to date, June 2018] average temperatures dominated across the world’s oceans, New Zealand and some areas of North America, Asia, and Australia. Europe had its second-warmest June on record, with several countries logging average temperatures among the sixth warmest on record for the month. Africa, Europe and Oceania had a YTD average temperature ranking among the five highest since continental records began in 1910” (http://www.noaa.gov/news/june-2018-was-5th-warmest-on-record-for-globe).
A growing number of hot days
The number of extremely hot days is on the rise, according to Climate Central’s analysis of 244 cities across the country. The chief finding: “73 percent experience more extremely hot days than they did a half-century ago. This is happening in both rural and urban locations. And often there is not much of a breeze to help cool people, ‘meaning the body does not get a chance to recover from the heat of the day which increases the risk of heat-related illnesses like heat stroke’” (http://www.climatecentral.org/gallery/graphics/extremely-hot-days-on-the-rise).
There are more hot nights
Along with hotter days, nights are getting hotter as well. Georgina Gustin writes that temperatures are rising during the night around the world. She refers to a 2015 NOAA report: “As the world warms, nighttime temperatures are slightly outpacing daytime temperatures in the rate of warming” (https://insideclimatenews.org/news/09072018/heat-waves-global-warming-overnight-high-temperatures-impact-health-wildfire-wildfires-agriculture).
The consequence is that homes and people have “little chance to cool off,” so that “when external temperatures stay above 80 degrees, internal body temperatures don’t have a chance to cool.” And, Gustin adds, “If humidity is also high—as was the case in Quebec this week—the body perspires more, but the humidity means sweat can’t evaporate, cranking up internal temperatures even more. Recent research has shown that higher nighttime temperatures can also mean less sleep, potentially adding more physical stress on the body.” There is also an impact on some crops, as “warmer nighttime temperatures also increase transpiration from some crops, drying them out, introducing health problems and lowering yield.” Accompanying the higher temperatures, various molds and rusts on plants like cotton and wheat “are more likely to flourish in warmer conditions.” Higher nighttime temperatures also intensify wildfires, according to the U.S. Forest Service scientists. Gustin quotes Park Williams, researcher at Columbia University’s Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory, who says “Warmer nights, especially when combined with dry conditions, can allow fires to continue spreading quite rapidly after sunset.”
The effects of global warming are truly worldwide
There is a lot more being reported from progressive media on the present manifestations of global warming, not so much on mainstream media. For example, Julia Conley writes for Common Dreams as follows: “Climate scientists sounded alarms on Tuesday [July 24] as reports circulated of extreme weather and record-breaking high temperatures all over the globe, with dozens of deaths and thousands of hospitalizations reported in some countries.” Conley quotes Caroline Rance of the Friends of the Earth Scotland: “There is no doubt that the prolonged extreme temperatures and floods we are witnessing around the world right now are a result of climate change.” Rance also believes that the temperature records that are being broken across the globe are “exactly as climate science has long warned, and with devastating consequences.” Here are examples of the effects of unbridled climate change from Conley’s report.
“Greek Interior Minister Panos Skourletis called the wildfires that have killed at least 74 people “a biblical disaster” in an interview with Sky News. The fires began late Monday afternoon near Athens, and have injured nearly 200 and sent thousands of people racing toward the Aegean Sea to escape in boats, makeshift rafts, and even by swimming.
“Entire towns have been wiped out by the blazes, which have been made worse by a recent drought and heatwaves that have sent temperatures into the hundreds.
“In Japan, at least 65 people have been killed in the past week by an “unprecedented” heatwave, according a weather agency spokesperson. Temperatures as high as 106 degrees have sent more than 22,000 people to hospitals—more than any other year since the country began recording cases of heatstroke in 2008.
“In southern Laos, hundreds of people went missing on Monday after flooding caused by heavy rains resulted in a collapsed dam. Thousands of homes were destroyed and an untold number of people were killed as the equivalent of two million Olympic swimming pools of water burst into several villages.
“And in northern Sweden, above the Arctic Circle, more than 50 wildfires have raged in the past several days, forcing dozens of people to evacuate their homes.
“The climate action group Friends of the Earth noted that record-breaking high temperatures have been recorded in a number of other regions and cities in recent days, including the United Kingdom; Ottawa, Canada; Southern California; Ouargla, Algeria; Tibilisi, Georgia; and Sydney, Australia.”
Al Gore’s book, alluded to earlier, is loaded with informative graphs on the pervasive and increasingly catastrophic effects of global warming. Rising ocean temperatures lead to increased water vapor rising from the ocean and contribute to more volatile hurricanes and other severe weather events. There is an unending flow of information on extreme temperatures, draughts, wildfires, floods, mudslides, and storms. Here is another example from Gore’s book:
“The crops we eat today were patiently selected over hundreds of years during the Stone Age. These food crops thrive in the natural conditions in which they evolved. Now that we are changing those conditions, many of these crops are becoming stressed, especially by higher temperatures. And they are not giving us the same yields or nutrient quality” (p. 102).
Temperatures, already high, are projected to go up faster than ever
Given current rising levels of greenhouse emissions, continued heavy reliance on fossil fuels, along with soil-destroying agribusiness, unprecedented deforestation, methane-generating landfills, warming oceans, temperatures around the world will continue going up. In one of his regular in-depth reviews of scientific studies dealing with the changes accompanying global warming, Dahr Jamail finds that ample research indicates that “global temperature projections could double as the world burns” (https://truthout.org/articles/global-temperature-projections-could-double-as-the-world-burns).
As indicated, there are already – and increasingly will be – dire consequences. For example, Jamail refers to studies of how high and rising temperatures will reduce food production. He refers to two new studies investigating corn and vegetables, “both published in the prestigious Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences,” which show that “anthropogenic climate disruption” (ACD) “will increase the risk of simultaneous crop failures for the four biggest corn exporters (US, China, Brazil, Argentina) suffering yield losses of 10 percent or greater increases from 7 percent at 2degreeC [Centigrade] warming of 86 percent at 4degreeC.” Another study “showed that global crop yields could be reduced by nearly one-third with a 4degreeC temperature increase.”
The problem is already apparent in the “drying wells and sinking land at the heart of the most productive farmland in the US, the Central Valley of California,” where
“[l]arge portions of the San Joaquin Valley have already sunk nearly 30 feet since the 1920s, with some areas having dropped a staggering three feet over just the last two years. All of this is the result of farmers’ relentless pumping of groundwater to offset the lack of snowpack and rainfall, both of which stem largely from ACD. It is important to note that the groundwater the farmers are using accounts for between 30 to 60 percent of the water that all Californians use each year, depending on how much rain and snow the state gets. The US Geological Survey stated that the pumping and resultant sinking of the San Joaquin Valley is ‘one of the single largest alterations of the [planet’s] land surface attributed to mankind.’”
Jamail gives further examples of the threatening effects of rising temperatures. Here are just a few.
“Nearly 1 billion people across South Asia are at risk of seeing their already desperate plight worsen, according to a recent World Bank Report. The report pins the cause on increasing temperatures and precipitation changes stemming from ACD, if major changes are not made to current global emission rates.
“Baobab trees that live for millennia and are common throughout sub-Saharan Africa are now rapidly dying off, and scientists are pointing to ACD as the cause. A recent report showed that of the 13 oldest baobab trees, four have died in just the last dozen years, and five others are on their way out, given that they have already lost their oldest stems.
“A very disconcerting study coming out of Northwestern University has warned that even slight increases in temperatures could lead to the extinction of bees across the US Southwest in the very near future. Over a two-year period, the study simulated the predicted warmer future climate, and the results are shocking: 35 percent of the bees died the first year, and 70 percent died the second year.
“Adding insult to injury, another recent report warned of something we’ve known for years now: that warming temperatures could increase the spread of bark beetles, which are well-known for how effectively they decimate forests.
“Meanwhile, Atlantic puffins, which were nearly decimated by hunters about a century ago, had made a comeback thanks to a protection program run by the National Audubon Society. But now, according to a recent report, they are likely on their way out again due to ACD impacts.”
“In the US, the Rio Grande River (the fourth-longest river in the country) is vanishing before our eyes. Authorities recently warned that the river likely won’t make it out of Colorado into New Mexico this summer, let alone further down into Texas or Mexico. This means that farmers in the already drought-prone region will be struggling with their crops through a summer of extreme drought.”
“Another report on the ramifications of sea level rise in the US warned that more than 150,000 homes and businesses could face more frequent high tide flooding within 15 years, and the number of homes and businesses impacted by this could well double by 2045. It is worth noting that these projections are not based on worst-case sea level rise estimates, which have thus far themselves not been keeping pace with reality.”
“Wildfires in California this summer have already scorched more than two times the five-year average of land burned this year, and that is only as of July 1.”
“To underscore everything in this month’s dispatch, an international team of researchers from 17 countries recently published their findings in Nature Geoscience, which showed that global temperatures could eventually double those that have been predicted by climate modeling. According to their findings, sea levels could rise by six meters or more, even if the world meets the 2°C maximum temperature rise level set by the Paris climate agreement.”
It becomes increasingly unlikely that global warming and its effects can be curtailed, let alone reversed?
If unmitigated, and mitigation seems less and less likely, the unfolding climate changes threaten to destroy more and more habitats, more and more species, and generate economic, social, and psychological havoc for and massive dislocations of billions of people. This is happening already. Such conditions, under current political and economic arrangements, are likely to continue to unfold and be irreversible. For many of us, this may not be new information, especially for those who pay attention and try to be informed, including those who been active in parts of the broad environmental sustainability movement, or involved in organic agriculture, diets for a healthy planet, renewable energy, and efforts to build resilient communities. We’ll see whether these pro-environmental activities make enough of a difference to forestall system-wide collapse. At the present, unfortunately, they do not.
What is clear is that opportunities for mitigation and the achievement of a durable world are diminishing. According to some researchers, the human species is facing a prospect of extinction if current economic and political institutions are not soon transformed (e.g., Roy Scranton, Learning to Die in the Anthropocene). We seemed to be increasingly locked into a political economy that revolves around the profit-first policies of mega-corporations in a capitalist system predicated on the assumption that there is no viable alternative to ever-more growth, regardless of the environmental consequences. The government, most important the federal government, works to advance the interests of the mega-corporations and business enterprises generally, dismissing or ignoring environmental crises. Economic power is translated into political power. Ashly Dawson provides a fitting one-sentence summary of what is happening in our political-economic system in his book, Extinction: A Radical History: “As capitalism expands…it commodifies more and more of the planet, stripping the world of its diversity and fecundity” (p. 13).
Of course, human-generated climate disruption is not the only ominous issue before us. It may be, for example, Trump will foment nuclear war anytime he feels like it and destroy much of human life – and more. This nuclear-nightmare is discussed by experts in the recently published book, Rocket Man: Nuclear Madness and the Mind of Donald Trump. Here the focus is on climate changes.
You can be sure of one thing. Donald Trump doesn’t believe that humans play a significant role in the changing climate, which is contrary to the scientific evidence and to the mounting manifestations of global warming. He is a premier climate denier. Reporting for the Washington Post in March 22, 2016, during Trump’s primary campaign to be the Republican presidential nominee, Brady Dennis points to some of Trump’s statements on the climate. Trump said that he is “‘not a believer’ that humans have played a significant role in the Earth’s changing climate.” On one of the “Fox and Friends” programs in early 2016, he said that “climate change ‘is just a very, very expensive form of tax. A lot of people are making a lot of money.’” Dennis also alludes to the now infamous Trump tweet that climate change is a “hoax…created by and for the Chinese in order to make U.S. manufacturing noncompetitive.” Then, at the end of Trump’s visit with the Washington Post editorial board on March 2016, he repeated his basic belief, namely, that “I’m not a big believer in man-made climate change.” Of course, Dennis points out, we know that my-facts-are-the-only-facts Trump is unconcerned that his views put him “at odds with the vast majority of the world’s scientists” (https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/energy-environment/wp/2016/03/22/this-is-the-only-type-of-climate-change-donald-trump-believes-in/?utm_term=.3d7bea7576dc).
In the meantime, Trump and his administration, along with his right-wing supporters in the Republican Party, the rich, the bulk of the corporations, and most of his grassroots supporters either deny that there is human-caused climate change altogether or say that we cannot deal with it now because it would be too economically expensive and disruptive to do so. They also sometimes justify their position by thinking of nature as something humans are destined to control and as a virtually unlimited cornucopia of resources from which to draw for profit and consumption.
Sophia Tesfaye reminds us in a report for Salon (March 30, 2018) that Trump once called global warming a “‘hoax’ manufactured by the Chinese” during his presidential campaign. In then in a tweet on December 28, 2017, he said: “In the East, it could be the COLDEST New Year’s Eve on record. Perhaps we could use a little of that good old Global Warming that our Country, but not other countries, was going to pay TRILLIONS OF DOLLARS to protect against. Bundle up!” Tesfaye also refers to evidence that climate change/global warming denial is not limited to the White House, referring to how “Trump has pushed Republicans to be more extreme on issues concerning the environment, specifically climate change.” She also refers to a Gallup poll, writing as follows.
“Only a third of Republicans said they worry about climate change or even acknowledge that it is already happening, down 3 percentage points from the year prior. Just 35 percent of Republicans believed global warming was caused by humans, compared with 40 percent at about this time in 2017, a few months before Trump took office.”
“In 2017, 53 percent of Republicans agreed that most scientists believe climate change is occurring. That number declined 11 percentage points during Trump’s first year in office to 42 percent in 2018. Just to clarify: A majority of Republicans now reject not merely the idea that climate change is real, but the idea that most scientists believe it is real. That suggests an imperviousness to fact that goes well beyond unorthodox opinion into outright delusion.”
Tesfaye also points out:
“Although last year was the second warmest year on record, behind only 2016, nearly 70 percent of Republican respondents told Gallup that the threat of climate change is ‘exaggerated,’ an increase from 66 percent last year. Only 4 percent of Democrats shared that view.”
Such denialist positions are clearly reflected in the U.S. Congress, where, Tesfaye writes, “more than 59 percent of Republicans in the House, and 73 percent of Republicans in the Senate, doubt humans’ impact on climate change…. During Trump’s first 100 days, the House and Senate voted against environmental protection 42 times. Trump’s pick to lead the Environmental Protection Agency, Scott Pruitt [no longer there], has removed numerous references to climate change from EPA documents, and reportedly ordered staffers to cast doubt on the scientific consensus about climate change and mankind’s role in the crisis.” As a result of Trump’s leadership, “the Republican Party [has] become the only major party in the developed world to reject the science on climate change….”
And, to the detriment of most people, the fossil fuel industry could not have a greater champion that Trump. Steve Cohen of Earth Institute provides a telling summary, pointing out as well that Obama could also be faulted (https://phys.org/news/2018-02-trump-energy-dominance-future-fossil.html).
“The Trump Administration is doing everything it can to encourage drilling for fossil fuels on federal lands and everywhere else. They are reversing regulations on methane release, deep-sea drilling rigs and anything else they can think of to lower the cost of drilling and decrease its occupational and environmental safety. Trump and his folks want to achieve the global macho goal of being the biggest fossil fuel exporter in the world. Big oil exports, big nuclear button, big crowds–there seems to be a theme. In real terms, the policy of encouraging exports of fossil fuels is similar to one that was more quietly pursued as “energy independence” by the Obama administration. According to CNBC’s Tom DiChristopher:
“In substance, energy independence and dominance are not so different. And while the Trump administration has sought to differentiate itself from the Obama White House, its position on U.S. energy exports is very similar in some regards… There is no doubt that Trump touts this revolution more stridently than Obama. But while the messaging is different, U.S. energy posture has not changed much between administrations… To be sure, the Obama administration tried to regulate greenhouse gas emissions from the oil and gas sector. It also stopped issuing leases for coal mining on federal land and scaled back plans for offshore drilling auctions following the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill. But Obama also lifted a 40-year ban on exporting U.S. crude oil in 2015, paving the way for a surge in shipments. Oil and gas industry employment boomed under Obama’s watch, until a protracted oil price downturn led to mass layoffs.”
More evidence on how Trump and his administration are unrelenting and systematic in taking the country and the world toward the edge of collapse
#1 – Cutting the budgets of agencies created to protect the environment.
Brady Dennis reports that the White House is seeking to cut more than $2.5 billion from the fiscal 2019 budget of the Environmental Protection Agency. This represents “an overall reduction of more than 23 percent.” This proposed cut follows how the agency’s personnel have already been reduced by buyouts and retirements and that “staffing is now at Reagan-era levels.” Trump reduced EPA’s budget by 31 percent in 2018, while “cutting 3,200 positions, or more than 20 percent of the agency’s workforce.” ” (https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/energy-environment/wp/2018/02/12/trump-budget-seeks-23-percent-cut-at-epa-would-eliminate-dozens-of-programs/?utm_term=.c485a84041fb).
According to environmental groups, the goal of the Trump administration is to “gut federal environmental safeguards.” Dennis quotes Fred Krupp, president of the Environmental Defense Fund, who said “this budget shows the administration doesn’t value clean air, clean water, or protecting Americans from toxic pollution.” Some EPA programs would be eliminated, others would have their budgets severely reduced. Here’s what Dennis writes:
“The administration’s plan would cut several dozen programs altogether. Among them: funding for state radon-detection initiatives; assistance to fund water system improvements along the U.S.-Mexico border; and partnerships to monitor and restore water quality in the Gulf of Mexico, Puget Sound and other large bodies of water. Funding for the restoration of the Chesapeake Bay would fall from $72 million to $7 million, and a similar program for the Great Lakes would be cut from $300 million to $30 million — although neither would be wiped out.”
With respect to climate change specifically, the Trump budget “would eliminate — or very nearly eliminate — the agency’s programs related to climate change. Funding for the agency’s Office of Science and Technology would drop by more than a third, from $762 million to $489 million. And funding for prosecuting environmental crimes and for certain clean air and water programs would drop significantly.”
#2 – Trump administration eviscerates and dismantles environmental regulations
One of the most impressive decisions of the Obama administration was to increase the federal fuel-efficiency standard and to allow states like California to institute even higher standards.
Now the Trump administration wants to eliminate these progressive initiatives. Juliet Elperin, Brady Dennis and Michael Laris report for the Washington Post on July 24, 2018, that the Trump administration officials “are preparing to issue a proposal within days to freeze fuel-efficiency standards for cars and light trucks for six years and challenge the right of California and other states to set their own tailpipe standards.” If actually implemented, it “would amount to one of the biggest regulatory rollbacks of the Trump presidency” (https://www.macomldaily.com/news/nation-world-news/trump-administration-to-freeze-auto-fuel-efficiency-standards/article_781a52af-f82d-596c-8ef3-5127fd3ebc13.html). The pending proposal is based on an analysis by the Transportation Department’s National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) and the Environment Protection Agency.
The proposal will recommend freezing miles-per-gallon-standards “at Model Year 2020 levels through 2026,” which “translates into maintaining a fleetwide average of 35 mpg for six years, rather than raising it to about 50 mpg by 2025.” The chief public justification of Trump’s agencies is that higher standards would drive the price of new cars up, making them unaffordable for many people. There is a debate over how much the cost of cars and trucks would rise because of the Obama’s fuel-efficiency standards. But, fundamentally, the move reflects the administration’s right-wing ideology, namely, the desire to achieve wholesale deregulation of the economy and its complete disregard of how carbon emissions from cars and light trucks contribute to global warming.
Furthermore, the agencies plan to “take comment on whether to block California’s right under the Clean Air Act to set its own emissions limit on cars and light trucks and require the sale of a certain number of electric vehicles in the state each year.” According to Elperin and her colleagues, “California, 16 other states and the District are challenging the federal government’s push to revisit the existing emissions standards, which represent the first federal carbon limits on vehicles.” California Attorney General Xavier Becerra is quoted: “The Trump administration’s assault on clean car standards risks our ability to protect our children’s health, tackle climate change, and save hard-working Americans money” (at the pump).
Kieran Suckling, executive director and a founder of the Center for Biological Diversity, provides additional information on the Clean Air Act and California’s fuel-efficiency policy. When interviewed on Democracy Now on July 25, 2018, about what the Trump administration is proposing, she replied as follows.
“Yeah, this is really outrageous, because the way our Clean Air Act works is it allows states to set standards if they’re higher than the federal government. And so, for 48 years running now, California has had a higher standard. It’s had that through administrations Democratic and Republican, conservative and liberal. No one’s had a problem with it, until Trump. And so, partly, this is his effect—efforts to reduce any attempt to control global warming, but it’s also clearly a personal agenda to attack California, which he believes is just generally a hostile element to him personally, and so, consequently, we have this incredibly irrational act, especially when, for example, you’ve got Barrasso [Republican] talking about state’s rights: “Let’s empower the states.” Well, these Republicans only want to empower the states when the states have a lower protective standard. The second a state has a higher standard, all of a sudden all concerns about state rights go out the window, and we have to go to a federal single authority that’s going to reduce environmental protection” (https://www.democracynow.org/2018/7/25/trumps_war_on_the_environment).
#3 – the privatization of public lands
In the interview on Democracy Now, Kieran Suckling also commented on this situation.
AMY GOODMAN: Kierán, what about the record of the interior secretary, Ryan Zinke? You have ThinkProgress saying documents released by the Department of Interior, then retracted a day later, revealed the agency officials dismissed evidence that public lands provide numerous benefits in favor of prioritizing fossil fuel interests, along with ranching and logging, and then CNN reporting Zinke is meeting with people that are not on the public record. For example, met with Congressman Chris Collins, a New York Republican, who was the first in Congress to endorse Trump’s presidential candidacy. That was according to the official calendar. But Zinke’s calendar didn’t show who else was in the room: three representatives of a company that do business with the National Park Service—one of about of a dozen instances uncovered by CNN of Zinke’s calendar omitting who he’s actually meeting with.
KIERÁN SUCKLING: Yeah. Zinke, I think, is going to go down as one of the worst interior secretaries in history. And his actions are very, very similar to what Scott Pruitt was doing over at EPA before he was forced to resign. And that is that he’s aggressively trying to avoid all environmental laws. He’s meeting with industry groups constantly and then hiding that, rather than simply admitting to what he’s doing in public. And the agenda is always the same: You know, what can he do to allow public lands to be destroyed? What can he do to allow more oil and gas drilling, even if it’s polluting local communities, poisoning children? It’s really a disaster.
He has turned this agency, which is supposed to be in charge of America’s land, air, water and species, into a handout program for industry, and then going so far as to just erase all this from his calendar, from his meeting notes, to take decisions from lower officials who are trying to do their job and erase all references to issues which harms their agenda. And in particular what you’ll see is that protecting public lands, especially on national monuments, is really good for local economies, but instead they’ll erase all that information and say, “Oh, this is hurting local economies.” And it’s not just immoral, it’s illegal. And it’s the reason why this agency gets sued so much.
#4 – Opening up the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge
Here is more of what Kieran Suckling had to say on Democracy Now.
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And staying on the Interior Department and Zinke, the department has also commissioned an expedited environmental review of the impact of leasing part of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. Now, this is a decades-long battle that the industry, the oil and gas industry, has not been able to win. What is happening here? And what could be the potential impact of this new expedited review?
KIERÁN SUCKLING: Yeah, this is very concerning. The Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, off the coast of Alaska, has been sought after by the oil industry for many, many decades now and has always been stopped, because it’s such a crown jewel of environmental protection, and there are so many other areas available for drilling. So, Zinke now has expedited efforts to review proposed drilling up there, brought on millions of dollars of new money, which apparently don’t exist to do anything else in government, more staff, and he wants to push through, at a very rapid clip, a decision to open this up to more drilling. And he’s throwing all the environmental standards, review processes out the window. And I think it’s partly because he knows time is limited up there for him, and he wants this to become his legacy, the guy who opened up America’s biggest, most important wildlife refuge to oil drilling.
#5 – Loading the Supreme Court with right-wing justices
The Trump administration is systematically filling the federal judiciary with “conservative” justices. This means that his pro-corporate, pro-rich, anti-regulatory (e.g., little regulation of fossil fuels) will be further consolidated with the capture by Trump reactionary agenda of the federal judiciary and the Supreme Court. See a current, list as of July 29, at: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_federal_judges_appointed_by_Donald_Trump. Currently, the news is about Trump’s nomination of Brett Kavanaugh to fill an opening on the Supreme Court. Basav Sen, who directs the Climate Justice Project at the Institute for Policy Studies, writes:
“Donald Trump’s Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh isn’t just a likely vote against Roe, or an enabler of brash executive authority. He’s also a vocal supporter of a conservative legal ‘philosophy’ that’s designed to block action on climate change” (https://www.commondreams.org/views/2018/07/19/brett-kavanaugh-would-be-a-disaster).
Sen gives these examples to illustrate his concerns.
“As a D.C. appeals court judge, he argued against the EPA’s authority to regulate greenhouse gases, and wrote the majority opinion striking down the EPA’s attempt to regulate hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs), which are potent climate pollutants used in cooling applications. He even wrote a majority opinion overturning EPA regulation of air pollution that crosses state lines.”
Kavanaugh believes that Congress, not the courts, should be responsible for environmental regulation, that is, as long as Republicans control the U.S. Congress. As it now stands, Congress is controlled by Republicans who support unregulated markets (profits) over the environment and tend to reject the scientifically-established facts that global warming is an significant threat.
#6 – Reducing support for programs to assist low-income countries in dealing with the effects of climate change
In an article in July 7, 2018 issue of The New Yorker, Natalie Meade reports on how the Trump administration and the Republican Congress are cutting support for programs aimed at assisting low-income countries to reduce their greenhouse emissions and cope with the impacts of climate change (https://www.newyorker.com/news/news-desk/trump-cuts-in-climate-change-research-spark-a-global-scramble-for-funds).
Meade describes how the administration is cutting financial support for the Climate Change Adaptation Program, a program, initiated under the Obama administration, to help minimize the impacts of climate change for Central American countries. Similarly, it is reducing the US pledge to the Green Climate Fund, which was created to “among other things, help developing countries invest in renewable and low-emissions technologies. And, in Africa, “the Trump Administration has moved to eliminate all funding for climate-related or environmental projects across the continent.” It also is cutting support for environmental projects in Indonesia, “one of the largest carbon emitters in the world.”
Global warming is not an issue that is likely to sway any election in November 2018 or in 2020. Indeed, we are amid a fossil-fuel boom, which has enabled the U.S. to reduce its reliance on imported oil. The slogan “energy independence” will sit well with many voters. While renewable energy grows in the energy-mix of the economy, it still represents a small portion of all U.S. energy use.
And, very disconcertingly, US consumers are now in the process of driving a lot more fuel-inefficient vans than cars. Consumers want more things at affordable prices, often without much consideration of the environmental impacts. Business interests “develop” every available space and extract every exploitable resource, destroying habitats with little restraint. As temperatures go up, more and more people want air-conditioning, usually from electricity generated by coal or gas. And there are a host of other issues that dominate the news and political narratives.
At the same time, coastal properties will be increasingly vulnerable to rising ocean levels, wildfires will consume more and more forests and destroy many thousands of homes, food prices will be affected by droughts and floods, more and more communities will have trouble accessing fresh water, the air will become more polluted, and the general environmental contexts in which we live will be degraded, faster in some places than others. It is impossible to predict how these conflicting developments will pan out.
However, to address adequately the unfolding and accelerating crises emanating from global warming, there will have to be major transformative institutional changes in our economy encompassing a rapid transition from fossil fuels to renewable energy, a political party that makes the issue of curtailing global warming a priority, a massive social movement educating and organizing people around the issue (and a progressive agenda), and a majority of citizens who see the issue as pressing and are willing to vote for candidates who prioritize it.