It is horrifying that we have to fight our own government to save the environment. Ansel Adams
Yet, despite our many advances, our environment is still threatened by a range of problems, including global climate change, energy dependence on unsustainable fossil fuels, and loss of biodiversity. Dan Lipinski
Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has. Margaret Mead
Did anybody notice the news last week? In California … about the Oroville Dam, north of Sacramento? More than 190,000 people were forced to leave their homes under an evacuation order. The fear was that a largely earthen emergency spillway could collapse and cause catastrophic floods on the Feather River.
And what of the bushfires and bats in Australia, in the midst of one of the most ferocious heatwaves on record? Parts of South Australia and Victoria reached 46 °C (115° F), while New South Wales and Queensland recorded temperatures above 47 °C (117° F). At least five towns in New South Wales and four in Queensland had their hottest day ever recorded over the weekend. As Ed McMahon used to say to Johnny Carson, “how hot WAS it?” Well, it was so hot that thousands of bats dropped dead from the heat in eastern Australia, falling from the trees. The latest heatwave has led to people being admitted to hospitals as well as blackouts due to excessive use of air-conditioning. It has also sparked dozens of bush fires in New South Wales that firefighters are still trying to contain.
Why am I writing about this now? What is the connection between a potential dam failure/flood in California and a heat wave in Australia? Climate change. Pure and simple … climate change brought about, at least in part, by the habits of mankind and his obdurate burning of fossil fuels, as well as other things that produce excess carbon emissions, thus causing a greenhouse effect and destroying the ozone layer of the earth’s atmosphere. As to why I am writing about this now … first, the two above-mentioned incidents were widely reported, but little noted here in the U.S., where the masses were consumed by Trumpy Tweets and scandals involving national security advisor Michael Flynn, spokesperson Kellyanne Conway, and the contentious confirmation hearings of Betsy DeVos and Jeff Sessions. The stories of a heatwave in Australia and a narrowly-averted disaster in California, along with that of six tornadoes in and around New Orleans were apparently not all that interesting.
In recent news, on Monday, 23 January, just after Trump’s inauguration, employees at the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) received the following memo:
I just returned from a briefing for Communication Directors where the following information was provided. These restrictions are effective immediately and will remain in place until further direction is received from the new Administration’s Beach Team. Please review this material and share with all appropriate individuals in your organization. If anyone on your staff receives a press inquiry of any kind, it must be referred to me so I can coordinate with the appropriate individuals in OPA.
- No press releases will be going out to external audiences.
- No social media will be going out. A Digital Strategist will be coming on board to oversee social media. Existing, individually controlled, social media accounts may become more centrally controlled.
- No blog messages.
- The Beach Team will review the list of upcoming webinars and decide which ones will go forward.
- Please send me a list of any external speaking engagements that are currently scheduled among any of your staff from today through February.
- Incoming media requests will be carefully screened.
- No new content can be placed on any website. Only do clean up where essential.
- List servers will be reviewed. Only send out critical messages, as messages can be shared broadly and end up in the press.
I will provide updates to this information as soon as I receive it.
Meanwhile, on 03 February, Florida representative Matt Gaetz introduced a bill that would terminate the EPA by the end of 2018. Terminate. No more research, no more directives, no more scientific studies. Nada. Zip. Zilch. The bill is co-sponsored by representatives Barry Loudermilk of Georgia, Thomas Massie of Kentucky, and Steven Palazzo of Mississippi.
Gaetz, a freshman in Congress, said the EPA’s rules and regulations designed to protect the environment actually hurt people and that the agency has “violated the sovereignty of the states.” Democrats in Congress are not overly concerned that the EPA will be abolished, as Gaetz’ freshman status likely means that he will not have the political clout to push his bill through. Additionally, to completely abolish the EPA would require repealing a number of laws entrusting the agency with a number of specific environmental responsibilities.
However, Trump still appears to be set to chop the EPA’s budget drastically, and then there are the braying duo, Ebell and Pruitt … . Pruitt has spent the better part of his career as attorney general of Oklahoma suing the EPA … in fact he has filed a total of 14 lawsuits against the EPA. And now he will, in all likelihood, run the agency.
The full senate is set to vote this week on the confirmation of Trump’s choice to lead the EPA, climate-change denier and supporter of the fossil fuel industry, Scott Pruitt. Trump already placed another climate change denier, Myron Ebell, in the position of director of the Center for Energy and Environment. I have written about both Ebell and Pruitt in the past few months.
Recently Pruitt acknowledged the existence of climate change, though he argued that the role of human activity is subject to debate. Just last year he referred to climate change as a ‘religious belief’. During his confirmation hearing, Pruitt was asked by Senator Bernie Sanders about his personal opinion on the link between climate change and human activity, Pruitt demurred, claiming his opinion would be immaterial to his job as EPA administrator. I love Sanders response:
“Really? You are going to be the head of the agency to protect the environment, and your personal feelings about whether climate change is caused by human activity and carbon emissions is immaterial?”
Much can and should be argued in favour of continuing research into climate science, additional regulations to reduce carbon emissions, and a number of other initiatives for which the EPA has been responsible, but I and others have said it all before. The question before us today is what will happen to the EPA and how will it affect the earth’s future? Fortunately, other nations are taking climate change seriously and will continue to do so even if the U.S. backs out of the Paris Climate Accord. However, every nation needs to do its part, lest heat waves, droughts, floods, and melting polar ice caps become the norm. It is interesting that the representative who wants to do away with the EPA is from Florida, a state where they are already fighting against rising sea levels.
We can hope that the senate, seeing the chaos the Trump administration has been this past week, has begun to shed its collective rose-tinted glasses and will vote with their minds and consciences when the Pruitt confirmation comes to the floor for a vote, but I am not counting on it. Perhaps somebody should take them, in their stuffy suits and ties, to Australia and leave them for a week … then perhaps they would understand. Probably not, but it is fun to think about, yes?