Noam Chomsky: 2 Ways Trump Is Pushing the Doomsday Clock to the Brink of Midnight
The following is an transcript of a recent public interview at the University of Arizona with linguist and political commentator Noam Chomsky by Dr. David N. Gibbs.
David Gibbs: The main issue on everyone's minds is the inauguration of Donald Trump as president. The Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists has emphasized the extreme danger that Trump poses, due to the augmented risk of nuclear war and uncontrolled climate change. After inauguration, the Bulletin's metaphoric clock has been repositioned at two and a half minutes to midnight, with "midnight" signifying catastrophe. Do you agree with the Bulletin regarding the alleged dangers posed by the Trump presidency?
Noam Chomsky: One of the dangers is unquestionable. Of the two existential threats—the threats to the termination of the species basically and most other species—one of them, climate change, on that I think there's no basis for discussion. Trump has been very inconsistent on many things; on Twitter he's been all over the place, but some of it is very consistent. That is: Do nothing about climate change except make it worse. And he's not just speaking for himself, but for the whole Republican Party, the whole leadership. It's already had impact, it will have worse impact. We'll talk about this next week, but if there are ways out of this, it's going to be not easy.
With regard to nuclear weapons, it's kind of hard to say. He's said lots of things. As you mentioned, the national security experts are terrified. But they're more terrified by his personality than by his statements. So if you read people like say Bruce Blair[i]1 one of the leading, most sober, knowledgeable specialists, he says, look, his statements are all over the map, but his personality is frightening, he's a complete megalomaniac. You never know how he's going to react. When he learned for example that he'd lost the election by about three million votes, his instant reaction was insanity; you know, three to five million illegal immigrants somehow were organized in some incredible fashion to vote. On any little issue—Miss Universe, or whatever it may be—he's completely unpredictable, he'll go off into outer space. His guru Steve Bannon is worse, he's much scarier. He probably knows what he's doing.
Over the years, there's been case after case when there were very narrow decisions that had to be made about whether to launch nuclear weapons in serious cases. What is this guy going to do if his vaunted negotiating skills fail, if somebody doesn't do what he says? Is he going to say, "Okay we'll nuke them? We're done?" Remember that in any major nuclear war, the first strike destroys the country that attacks; it's been known for years. The first strike of a major power is very likely to cause what's called nuclear winter, leads to global famine for years and everything's basically gone. Some survivors straggling around. Could he do it? Who knows.
Some of his comments can be interpreted as potentially reducing the threat of nuclear war. The major threat right now is right on the Russian border. Notice, not the Mexican border, the Russian border. And it's serious. He has made various statements moving towards reducing the tensions, accommodating Russian concerns and so on. On the other hand, you have to balance that against expanding our nuclear forces, add to our so-called depleted military, which is already more powerful than the rest of the world combined; attack in Syria, send forces to Syria, start bombing. Who knows what could be next? Michael Flynn, national security advisor,[ii] [his reaction] to the Iranian missile test the other day was very frightening. Now the missile test is ill-advised, they shouldn't have done it. But it's not in violation of international law or international agreements. They shouldn't have done it. His reaction suggested maybe we're going to go to war in retaliation. Would they do it? If they did, you don't know what's going to happen next. Everything could blow up.
This crazy ban on the seven states, where we can't accept immigrants, almost every analyst points out the obvious: It just increases the threat of terror. It lays the basis for terror. It's just like the atrocities in Abu Ghraib and Bagram and Guantanamo. They're the most fabulous recruiting techniques for Al Qaeda and ISIS. Everyone knows it. Now, you ban not the whole Muslim world. You ban seven states, seven states that have not been responsible for a single terrorist act. Those are the seven he banned. But, you leave the ones that really are responsible, like Saudi Arabia, which is the center for propaganda and funding and so on for radical Islamic Jihadism, well you can't touch them because of business interests, also they have oil and so on and so forth. There's actually an article in the Washington Post, I don't know whether it's tongue in cheek or not, which said the criterion for being on the list of banned states is that Trump doesn't have business interests there. Maybe. But it's this kind of wild unpredictability, megalomania, thin-skinned craziness that really has me worried, more than his statements. Now, on the climate change there's just nothing to say, he's perfectly straightforward.
Gibbs: Let us turn to the role of the media in reporting alleged Russian interference in the US electoral process. Mainstream journalists have called Trump a puppet of Russia, a modern version of the Manchurian Candidate. Others have criticized the media for accepting unsubstantiated claims about Russian influence, and reporting such claims as facts. Norman Solomon and Serge Halimi, for example, stated that press reporting on this issue amounts to a mass hysteria reminiscent of the McCarthy era, while Seymour Hersh called the media reporting on Russia "outrageous."[iii] What is your view of this situation?
Chomsky: My guess is that most of the world is just collapsing in laughter. Suppose all the charges are true, I mean every single one, it is so amateurish by US standards that you can hardly even laugh. What the US does is the kind of thing I described in Italy in 1948. Case after case like that, not hacking or spreading rumors in the media; but saying look, we're going to starve you to death or kill you or destroy you unless you vote the way we want. I mean that's what we do.
Take the famous 9/11, let's think about it for a minute. It was a pretty awful terrorist act. It could have been a lot worse. Now let's suppose that instead of the plane being downed in Pennsylvania by passengers, suppose it had hit its target, which was probably the White House. Now suppose it had killed the president. Suppose that plans had been set for a military coup to take over the government. And right away, immediately 50,000 people were killed, 700,000 tortured. A bunch of economists were brought in from Afghanistan, let's call them the "Kandahar Boys," who very quickly destroyed the economy, and established a dictatorship which devastated the country. That would have been a lot worse than 9/11. It happened: the first 9/11, it happened on September 11, 1973, in Chile. We did it. Was that interfering or hacking a party? This record is all over the world, constantly overthrowing governments, invading, forcing people to follow what we call democracy, as in the cases I mentioned. As I say, if every charge is accurate, it's a joke, and I'm sure half the world is collapsing in laughter about this, because people outside the United States know it. You don't have to tell people in Chile about the first 9/11.
Gibbs: One of the surprises of the post-Cold War era is the persistence of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization and other U.S.-led alliances. These alliances were created during the Cold War mainly or exclusively for containing the claimed Soviet threat. In 1991, the USSR disappeared from the map, but the anti-Soviet alliance systems persisted and in fact expanded. How do we account for the persistence and expansion of NATO? What in your view is the purpose of NATO after the Cold War?
Chomsky: We have official answers to that. It's a very interesting question, which I was planning to talk about but didn't have time. So thanks. It's a very interesting question. For fifty years, we heard NATO is necessary to save Western Europe from the Russian hordes, you know the slave state, stuff I was taking about. In 1990-91, no Russian hordes. Okay, what happens? Well there are actually visions of the future system that were presented. One was Gorbachev. He called for a Eurasian security system, with no military blocs. He called it a Common European Home. No military blocs, no Warsaw Pact, no NATO, with centers of power in Brussels, Moscow, Ankara, maybe Vladivostok, other places. Just an integrated security system with no conflicts.
That was one. Now the other vision was presented by George Bush, this is the "statesman," Bush I and James Baker his secretary of state. There's very good scholarship on this incidentally. We really know a lot about what happened, now that all the documents are out. Gorbachev said that he would agree to the unification of Germany, and even adherence of Germany to NATO, which was quite a concession, if NATO didn't move to East Germany. And Bush and Baker promised verbally, that's critical, verbally that NATO would not expand "one inch to the east," which meant East Germany. Nobody was talking about anything farther at the time. They would not expand one inch to the east. Now that was a verbal promise. It was never written. NATO immediately expanded to East Germany. Gorbachev complained. He was told look, there's nothing on paper. People didn't actually say it but the implication was look, if you are dumb enough to take faith in a gentleman's agreement with us, that's your problem. NATO expanded to East Germany.
There's very interesting work, if you want to look into it by a young scholar in Texas named Joshua Shifrinson, it appeared in International Security, which is one of the prestige journals, published by MIT.[iv] He goes through the documentary record very carefully and he makes a pretty convincing case that Bush and Baker were purposely deceiving Gorbachev. The scholarship has been divided on that, maybe they just weren't clear or something. But if you read it, I think it's quite a convincing case, that they were purposely setting it up to deceive Gorbachev.
Okay, NATO expanded to East Berlin and East Germany. Under Clinton NATO expanded further, to the former Russian satellites. In 2008 NATO formally made an offer to Ukraine to join NATO. That's unbelievable. I mean, Ukraine is the geopolitical heartland of Russian concern, quite aside from historical connections, population and so on. Right at the beginning of all of this, serious senior statesmen, people like Kennan for example and others warned that the expansion of NATO to the east is going to cause a disaster.[v] I mean, it's like having the Warsaw Pact on the Mexican border. It's inconceivable. And others, senior people warned about this, but policymakers didn't care. Just go ahead.
Right now, where do we stand? Well right at the Russian border, both sides have been taking provocative actions, both sides are building up military forces. NATO forces are carrying out maneuvers hundreds of yards from the Russian border, the Russian jets are buzzing American jets. Anything could blow up in a minute. In a minute, you know. Any incident could instantly blow up. Both sides are modernizing and increasing their military systems, including nuclear systems.
So what's the purpose of NATO? Well actually we have an official answer. It isn't publicized much, but a couple of years ago, the secretary-general of NATO made a formal statement explaining the purpose of NATO in the post-Cold War world is to control global energy systems, pipelines, and sea lanes. That means it's a global system and of course he didn't say it, it's an intervention force under U.S. command, as we've seen in case after case. So that's NATO. So what happened to the years of defending Europe from the Russian hordes? Well, you can go back to NSC-68,[vi] and see how serious that was. So that's what we're living with.
Right now the threat to our existence is Muslim terrorists from seven states, who have never had a single terrorist act. About half the population believes that. I mean you look back at American history and American culture, it's pretty striking. I mean this has been the safest country in the world forever, and the most frightened country in the world. That's a large part of the source of the gun culture. You have to have a gun when you go into Starbucks, because who knows what's going to happen. It just doesn't happen in other countries.
There's something deeply rooted in American culture. You can pretty much identify what it was. You take a look at the history. Remember, the U.S. is not a global power until pretty recently. It was internal conquest. You had to defend yourself against what the Declaration of Independence, Thomas Jefferson, an enlightened figure, called the attacks of the "merciless Indian savages," whose known way of warfare was torture and destruction. Jefferson wasn't a fool. He knew that it was the merciless English savages who were carrying out these acts. That is in the Declaration of Independence, recited piously every July Fourth, the merciless Indian savages with no reason at all were suddenly attacking us. I mean, you can imagine the reasons. That's one. Also you had a slave population, you had to protect yourself against them. You needed guns. One consequence of that was in southern culture, possession of a gun became kind of a sign of manhood, not just because of slaves but other white men. If you had a gun, you're not going to push me around. You know, I'm not one of those guys you can kick in the face.
There was another element, which was kind of interesting. In the mid to late nineteenth century, the gun manufacturers recognized that they had a limited market. Remember that this is a capitalist society, you've got to expand your market. They were selling guns to the military. That's a pretty limited market. What about all the rest of the people? So what started was all kinds of fantastic stories about Wyatt Earp and the gunmen and the Wild West, how exciting it was to have these guys with guns defending themselves against all sorts of things.
I grew up in that, when I was a kid. My friends and I used to play cowboys and Indians. We were cowboys killing the Indians, following the Wild West stories. All of this combined into a very strange culture, which is frightened. You look at the polls today, I think half the population supports this ban on these dangerous immigrants who are going to come in and do something, who knows what. And meanwhile the countries that really have been involved in terrorism, they're out. It's kind of like I think it was Oklahoma banning Sharia law. Now there's probably fifty Muslims in Oklahoma, and they have to ban Sharia law, you know. This terror which is all over the country is constantly incited. The Russians were part of NSC-68, is a dramatic case. And that case, like most propaganda wasn't totally fabricated. The Russians were doing a lot of rotten things, you can point to them. But the idea that if you consider what Hans Morgenthau called "I called abuse ofe reality," the picture of the world was almost the opposite of what they presented. But somehow this sells and is continually repeated, at least in this kind of situation.
Gibbs: During the Cold War, the political left generally opposed military intervention. After 1991, however, the anti-interventionist movement collapsed and in its place has emerged the idea of humanitarian interventionism, which celebrates intervention as a defense of human rights. Military actions in the Balkans, Iraq, Libya have all been presented as acts of humanitarianism, which aimed to liberate oppressed peoples, and these interventions were at least initially popular among political liberals. Proposals for augmented U.S. intervention in Syria often invoke the humanitarian principle. What is your view of humanitarian intervention?
Chomsky: Well, I don't quite see it like that. Now, if you look back to the anti-intervention movements, what were they? Let's take the Vietnam War – the biggest crime since the Second World War. Those of you who are old enough will remember what happened. You couldn't be opposed to the war for years. The mainstream liberal intellectuals were enthusiastically in support of the war. In Boston, a liberal city where I was, we literally couldn't have a public demonstration without it being violently broken up, with the liberal press applauding, until late 1966. By that time there were hundreds of thousands of American troops rampaging in South Vietnam. South Vietnam had been practically destroyed. The leading, the most respected Vietnam historian, military historian Bernard Fall[vii] – he was a hawk incidentally, but he cared for the Vietnamese—he said it wasn't clear to him whether Vietnam could survive as a historical and cultural entity under the most massive attack that any region that size had ever suffered. He was talking about South Vietnam, incidentally. By that time, we did begin to get some protests. But not from liberal intellectuals; they never opposed the war.
In fact, it's pretty dramatic when you get to 1975, very revealing, the war ends. Everybody had to write something about the war, what it meant. And you also had polls of public opinion, and they're dramatically different. So if you look at the writings of intellectuals, there are two kinds. One said, l"Look, if we fought harder we could have won." You know, the stab in the back. But the others, who were way at the left, people like Anthony Lewis of the New York Times, way out in left stream, his view in 1975 was the Vietnam war began with blundering efforts to do good. But by 1969, it was clear that it was a disaster, that was too costly to us. We could not bring democracy to South Vietnam at a cost that we were willing to accept. So it was a disaster. That' is the left extreme.
Take a look at public opinion. About 70 percent of the population, in the polls, said the war was fundamentally wrong and immoral, not a mistake. And that attitude lasted as long as polls were taken in the early '80s. The pollsters don't ask reasons, they just give numbers. So why did the people think it was fundamentally wrong and immoral? The guys who ran the polls, John E. Rielly, a professor at the University of Chicago, a liberal professor, he said what that means is that people thought too many Americans had beenwere being killed. Maybe. Another possibility is they didn't like the fact that we were carrying out the worst crime since the Second World War. But that's so inconceivable that wasn't even offered as a possible reason.
Now what happened in the following years? Well, I think that among the educated classes it stayed the same. You talk about humanitarian intervention, it's like Vietnam was a humanitarian intervention. Among the public, it's quite different. Take the Iraq War, , it's the second worst crime after the Second World War. It's the first time in history, in the history of imperialism, there were huge demonstrations, before the war was officially launched. Actually it was already under way. But before it was officially launched, there were huge demonstrations everywhere. I think it had an effect. The public still was split.
And [after Vietnam] the type of interventions that are carried out are designed so as not to elicit public reactions. In fact, it was stated early in the first Bush [presidency], Bush I, in one of their documents they pointed out in the future, US wars are going to be against much weaker enemies. And they have to be won quickly and decisively before a popular reaction develops. And Iif you take a look, that's what's done. Look at Panama, for instance, over a couple of days; and Kosovo, no American troops. You wrote a great book about it.[viii] But I'm not convinced that it's different from what it was.
Gibbs: With the end of the Cold War, there has been a decline of activism in the US and elsewhere around the issue of nuclear disarmament. Once again, this state of affairs differs from the period of the Cold War, when there was a mass movement that opposed nuclear weapons – recall the Freeze movement from the 1980s—but this movement largely disappeared after 1991. The danger of nuclear war remains as high as ever, but there is little public engagement on this issue, it would seem. How would you explain the disappearance of the anti-nuclear movement?
Chomsky: Well that's absolutely right. The peak of anti-nuclear popular activism was in the early '80s, when there was a huge movement. And the Reagan administration attempted decided to defuse it and partially succeeded, by presenting the illusion of Star Wars, SDI, that somehow we're going to eliminate nuclear weapons. The Reagan administration picked up the rhetoric of the anti-nuclear movement; they said "Yyeah, you're right." We have to eliminate nuclear weapons. And the way we're going to do it is by having SDI, TStar Wars, the Strategic Defense Initiative, which prevent nuclear weapons from impacting. Well, that did defuse the movement.
And whthen the Russians collapsed, and it looked like as if maybe we can reduce the nuclear tensions. And for a while they actually were reduced. There was a reduction of nuclear weaponsreally were reduced on both sides. Various steps were taken. Nowhere near enough, but some of them were taken.
On the other hand, it's very important to understand the official position of the United States. You should read it. So in 1995, this is Clinton, a very important document came out, still classified, but large parts of it were declassified. It's called "Essentials of Post-Cold War Deterrence."[ix] What does post-Cold War deterrence mean? Deterrence means use of nuclear weapons. This was released by the Strategic Command, which was in charge of nuclear weapons planning and running nuclear weapons. I wrote about it when it came out and have been writing about it since. . Since then, I've never seen a reference to it. But it is an amazing document. Here's what it says basically: It says we have to maintain the right of first strike, the right of the first use of nuclear weapons, even against nonnuclear powers. Nuclear weapons, they point out, are really constantly used, because they cast a shadow over other military actions. In other words, when people know we are ready to use nuclear weapons, they're going to back off if we do something aggressive. So basically, nuclear weapons are always being used.
Now that's a point that Dan Ellsberg has made for years. He said it's kind of like if you and I go into a grocery store to rob it, and I have a gun. The guy may give you the money in the cash register. I'm using the gun even if I don't shoot. Well that's nuclear weapons — essential to post-war deterrence — they cast a shadow over everything. Then, it goes on to say that we must present a national persona of being irrational and vindictive, because that's going to terrify people. And then, they'll back off. And this is not Trump, this is Clinton. It's not Nixon, you know. We have to be irrational and vindictive, because that's going to frighten people. And we have to maintain this for years. And then we'll be able to carry out the actions that we want to carry out.
That's our nuclear weapons strategy, as of the early post-Cold War years. And I think this is a real failure of the intellectual community, including scholarship and the media. It's not like you had headlines all over the place. And it's not secret, the documents are there. And I think that's probably the right picture. You know, people talk about Nixon's "madman theory." We don't really know much about that. It was in memoirs, by somebody else.[x] But this is real. This is the real mad man theory. We have to be irrational and vindictive, so people don't know what we're up to. This is not Trump and Bannon, it's from the Clinton era.
Gibbs: I think we have time for one more question. In popular discussion, the phrase "national security" has come to mean security against military threats almost exclusively. This narrative downgrades the significance of nonmilitary threats, such as climate change, antibiotic resistant bacteria, or viral epidemics. It would seem that there is an imbalance between perceived military threats, which receive overwhelming governmental funding and press attention on the one hand, and nonmilitary threats, which receive relatively little on the other hand. How do we account for the apparent overemphasis on military threats?
Chomsky: Well [with] military threats, you can see them actually, you can imagine it. People don't think about it enough. But if you think about it for a minute, you can see that a nuclear attack could be the end of everything. These other threats are kind of slow, maybe we won't see them next year. Maybe the science is uncertain, maybe we don't have to worry about it. Climate change is the worst, but there's others.
Take pandemics. There could easily be a severe pandemic. A lot of that comes from something we don't pay much attention to: Eating meat. The meat production industry, the industrial production of meat, uses an immense amount of antibiotics. I don't remember the exact figure, it's probably like half the antibiotics. Well antibiotics have an effect: They lead to mutations that make them ineffective. We're now running out of antibiotics that deal with the threat of rapidly mutating bacteria. A lot of that just comes from the meat production industry. Well, do we worry about it? Well, we ought to be. You go into a hospital now, it's dangerous. We can get diseases that can't be dealt with, that are moving around the hospital. A lot of that traces back to industrial meat production. These are really serious threats, all over the place.
Take something you really don't think about: Plastics in the ocean. I mean plastics in the ocean have an enormous ecological effect. When geologists announced the beginning of a new geological epoch, the Anthropocene, humans destroying the environment, one of the main things they pointed to is the use of plastics in the earth. We don't think about it, but it has a tremendous effect. But these are things you don't see right in front of your eyes. You need to think about them a little, to see what the consequences are. It's easy to put them aside, and the media don't talk about them. Other things are more important. How am I going to put food on the table tomorrow? That's what I've got to worry about, and so on. It's very serious, but it's hard to bring out the enormity of these issues, when they do not have the dramatic character of something you can show in the movies, with a nuclear weapons falling and everything disappears.
Professor Chomsky approved this transcript for publication. The interview is presented in full, with only very slight editing for style. Reposted with permission from our media associate AlterNet.
[i] For the recent opinions of Princeton University nuclear weapons specialist Bruce G. Blair, see Blair, "Trump and the Nuclear Keys," New York Times, October 12, 2016.
[ii] Note that Michael T. Flynn resigned as national security advisor on February 13, 2017, several days after this interview took place
[iii] See Solomon, "Urgent to Progressives: Stop Fueling Anti-Russia Frenzy," Antiwar.com, December 21, 2016, http://original.antiwar.com/solomon/2016/12/20/urgent-progressives-stop-fueling-anti-russia-frenzy/ ; Halimi, January, 2017, ; Jeremy , "Seymour Hersh Blasts Media for Uncritically Reporting Russian Hacking Story,"
[iv] The End of the Cold War and the U.S. Offer to Limit NATO Expansion," International Security 40, no. 4, 2016.
[v] On George F. Kennan's warning about the dangers of NATO expansion, see Thomas L. Friedman, "Foreign Affairs: Now a Word from X," New York Times, May 2, 1998.
[vi] 6 Here, Chomsky references the National Security Council memorandum NSC-68, one of the key documents of the Cold War. This document was the topic of Chomsky's lecture, which preceded the interview. The document text is now fully declassified and available online. See "A Report to the National Security Council – NSC 68," April 14, 1950, made available through the Harry S. Truman Presidential Library, https://www.trumanlibrary.org/whistlestop/study_collections/coldwar/documents/pdf/10-1.pdf.
[vii] Regarding Bernard Fall's writings on Vietnam, see Fall, Last Reflections on a War. Garden City, NY: Doubleday, 1967.
[viii] The book Chomsky references with regard to the Kosovo intervention is David N. Gibbs, First Do No Harm: Humanitarian Intervention and the Destruction of Yugoslavia. Nashville, TN: Vanderbilt University Press, 2009.
[ix] This e full text of this declassified document is now available online. See U.S. Department of Defense, Strategic Command, "Essentials of Post-Cold War Deterrence," 1995 [no exact date indicated], made available through provided by the Federation of American Scientists, Nuclear Information Project, http://www.nukestrat.com/us/stratcom/SAGessentials.PDF.
[x] The idea that President Richard Nixon subscribed to a "madman" theory of international relations first appeared in the memoir by former Nixon aide H. R. Haldeman, in Haldeman and Joseph DiMona, The Ends of Power. New York: Times Books, 1978, p. 98.
U.S. Sen. Jon Tester introduced legislation on Tuesday to protect more than 30,000 acres of public land bordering Yellowstone National Park. These public lands in Montana's Park County are the targets of two industrial scale gold mine proposals, which would threaten the national park, the clean water of the Yellowstone River, wildlife and the local economy. The legislation does not affect any recreational use of the land, including hunting or fishing.
Sen. Tester's legislation followed actions made in the fall of 2016, when U.S. Departments of Interior and Agriculture began a two-year time-out on gold exploration and mining, on the public land near Yellowstone National Park.
"The people in Park County are standing together and saying industrial gold mining doesn't make sense on the doorsteps of Yellowstone. Our river, our wild lands and our wildlife are too valuable to gamble," said Michelle Uberuaga, executive director of the Park County Environmental Council.
"Our local elected officials and the county commission are standing with us and we're grateful to have Sen. Tester's leadership in Washington, DC. Now we need to see this to the finish line," she added.
More than 300 local businesses of the bipartisan Yellowstone Gateway Business Coalition asked for the action, citing risks to their livelihoods and to the strong regional economy. The local calls for action were echoed on a national level, for the potential impacts to the world's first national park and surrounding wildlife habitat, as well the Yellowstone River and its world-famous fishery.
"National Parks Conservation Association applauds Sen. Tester for taking the next step in opposing industrial gold mines next to Yellowstone," commented Stephanie Adams, Yellowstone program manager for the National Parks Conservation Association.
"Concerns over the threats to Yellowstone and its nearby communities and waterways have been echoed by Interior Sec. Ryan Zinke, Montana Gov. Steve Bullock and Sen. Steve Daines. It is time for our elected officials at all levels to stand together in forever protecting these priceless lands."
Sen. Tester's legislation protects private property rights while enacting a permanent withdrawal on the public lands.
"Legislation is needed to permanently prevent private corporations from industrializing public lands in the heart of the Yellowstone ecosystem," said Jenny Harbine, attorney for Earthjustice.
"The introduction of legislation is a crucial first step and now we must all fight for Congressional approval of this critical protection for some of our nation's most-prized wild lands."
Mayors from across the nation joined with the Sierra Club's Ready for 100 campaign Wednesday to announce a new effort to engage and recruit mayors to endorse a goal of transitioning to 100 percent renewable energy.
Ahead of the U.S. Conference of Mayors annual meeting in Miami Beach in June, the launch of Mayors for 100% Clean Energy aims to demonstrate bold local leadership and showcase the depth and breadth of support from city leaders for a transition to 100 percent renewable energy.
The new initiative is co-chaired by Mayor Philip Levine of Miami Beach, Mayor Jackie Biskupski of Salt Lake City, Mayor Kevin Faulconer of San Diego and Mayor Stephen K. Benjamin of Columbia, South Carolina. Benjamin is also a vice president of the U.S. Conference of Mayors.
"We have already taken steps to expand renewable energy and we will continue to improve our infrastructure and innovate clean energy solutions for a stronger Miami Beach," said Mayor Levine. "Climate change may be the challenge of our generation, but it is also the opportunity of a lifetime. The transition to clean and renewable energy will both help Miami Beach confront climate change and strengthen our local economy."
Mayor Biskupski noted that cities contribute about 75 percent of human greenhouse gas emissions, and said Salt Lake City is warming at a rate twice as fast as the global average.
"We can't ignore climate change because climate change is not ignoring us," she said. "Among many other risks, we face water shortages, decreased snowpack and threats to our $1 billion ski industry. Cities must adapt to cope with these threats, and that's also why we must take action to mitigate them."
Noting that San Diego has become a leading city for solar energy capacity, Mayor Faulconer said that business and environmental groups are cooperating to achieve a mutually beneficial goal of 100 percent renewable energy.
"Clean energy isn't just the right thing to do, it's the smart thing to do," he emphasized. "We're going green not only because it supports clean air and water, but because it supports our 21st century economy."
Mayoral leadership has been a powerful driver of city-wide action on climate change and clean energy in municipalities across the country. The Mayors National Climate Action Agenda (Climate Mayors) founded by Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti, former Houston Mayor Annise Parker and former Philadelphia Mayor Michael Nutter, recently released an electric vehicle request for information to demonstrate demand to automakers for nearly 115,00 vehicles that could be electrified in 30 cities.
Now the co-chairs of Mayors for 100% Clean Energy, a number of whom are Climate Mayors, are further demonstrating their commitment to lead nationally on the shared challenge of reducing climate pollution and contributing to Climate Mayors' framework of local leadership and action.
"Mayors can lead our nation toward a healthier, stronger and more prosperous country by championing a vision of 100 percent clean, renewable energy in their communities," said Sierra Club Executive Director Michael Brune. "Cities don't need to wait for Washington, DC to act in order to move the ball forward on clean energy."
Twenty-six cities across the U.S. have now committed to transition to 100 percent clean and renewable energy. This growing list of cities most recently includes South Lake Tahoe, California, which last week unanimously voted to transition entirely to renewable energy by 2032. Other big cities including Los Angeles and Denver are studying pathways to 100 percent clean energy. Earlier this month, Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel announced a commitment to transition Chicago municipal buildings and operations to 100 percent clean and renewable energy by 2025.
Despite the numerous controversies and vocal opposition swirling around President Donald Trump's pick to head the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), Senators voted 52 to 46, largely along party lines, in February to confirm Oklahoma Republican Scott Pruitt as EPA administrator.
It now appears that Koch Industries—the oil and gas conglomerate owned by billionaire brothers Charles and David Koch—directly lobbied Congress to confirm Pruitt and spent millions to influence anti-environmental initiatives, a disclosure report shows.
As The Intercept reported:
"The firm's latest disclosure form reports that its in-house corporate lobbying team spent $3.1 million to influence lawmakers over the first three months of the year on a variety of issues affecting its bottom line, including the EPA's Clean Power Rule on carbon emissions, carbon pricing, the Clean Air Act and 'nominations for various positions at the Department of Energy.'"
"This is exactly what we mean when we talk about oligarchy. Multi-billionaires and corporations should not have the power to pick and choose who is in charge of our federal agencies," Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders said in response to The Intercept's report. "But that is exactly what happened—Koch Industries spent millions on lobbying Congress to confirm Scott Pruitt, our head of the Environmental Protection Agency who doesn't believe in environmental protection."
Koch Industries has contributed $38.5 million to federal candidates over the last 25 years and spent another $117 million since 1998 on lobbying. DeSmog reported in February that the company's deep pockets are contributing campaign funds to four GOP representatives who have introduced legislation to completely abolish the EPA.
"It's clear that Trump doesn't represent working families. His agenda benefits the Koch brothers and their billionaire [friends]. Our job is to stand together to defeat the drift toward oligarchy and create a vibrant democracy—not one controlled by corporate interests," Sanders said.
Pruitt has reported ties to the fossil fuel industry and he repeatedly sued the EPA when he was Oklahoma Attorney General. In 2014, he was caught sending letters on state government letterheads to President Obama and federal agency heads asserting that the EPA was overestimating the air pollution from drilling for natural gas in Oklahoma. As it turns out, the letter was written by lawyers for one of the state's largest oil and gas companies, Devon Energy.
Following Trump's executive order, Pruitt plans to kill the Clean Power Plan, an Obama-era regulation designed to reduce carbon pollution from power plants. Pruitt also challenged the plan when he was Oklahoma AG.
Pruitt said in March that he does not believe carbon dioxide is a primary contributor to climate change.
The Intercept also detailed how Pruitt's nomination as EPA head was strongly backed by industry groups:
"The American Energy Alliance, an advocacy group founded by former Koch Industries lobbyist Tom Pyle, issued a letter in support of Pruitt along with other Koch-backed conservative nonprofits. America Rising Squared, a political research outfit that has harassed environmental activists, formed a special website—now deleted—to respond to criticism of Pruitt's record."
Enbridge Energy Partners' aging Line 5 pipeline, which runs through the heart of the Great Lakes, has spilled more than 1 million gallons of oil and natural gas liquids in at least 29 incidents since 1968, according to data from the federal Pipeline Hazardous Materials Safety Administration obtained by the National Wildlife Federation.
Built in 1953, the 645-mile, 30-inch-diameter pipeline carries petroleum to eastern Canada via the Great Lakes states. As it travels under the Straits of Mackinac, a narrow waterway that connects Lake Michigan and Lake Huron, Line 5 splits into twin 20-inch-diameter, parallel pipelines.
Line 5 opponents fear that a spill in the Great Lakes, which contains 21 percent of the world's surface fresh water, would be an ecological disaster. Notably, the straits' strong currents reverse direction every few days and a spill would quickly contaminate shoreline communities miles away.
Enbridge is behind a number of major spills, most notoriously in 2010 when an Enbridge line spilled more than 800,000 gallons into the Kalamazoo River in Michigan—creating the biggest inland oil spill in U.S. history.
"We have a pipeline system with a history of problems running through our country's largest source of surface freshwater, and it happens to be operated by the company responsible for one of the largest inland oil spills in North America," said Mike Shriberg, executive director for the National Wildlife Federation's Great Lakes Regional Center.
"This pipeline system places the Great Lakes and many local communities at an unacceptable risk. The state of Michigan needs to find an alternative to this risky pipeline to protect our drinking water, health, jobs and way of life."
The National Wildlife Federation has released a new interactive map showing what has spilled from Enbridge's pipeline system, the repair methods that have been used, and how leaks and defects are being discovered.
The conservation organization noticed from the records that only one of the 29 recorded incidents was detected by a remote pipeline detection system. By contrast, 15 releases were detected by local personnel or the public.
"This new information causes us grave concern about the integrity of the inland pipe system, inconsistencies with spill reporting, and the effectiveness of leak detection systems, repair methods, and long-term planning for the integrity of the decades-old pipeline system," said Beth Wallace, the National Wildlife Federation pipeline safety specialist who discovered the newly released data.
Wallace added, "a significant number of these releases note manufacturing and construction defects, as well as weld failure, which calls into question the overall integrity of the Line 5 system."
Last September, Enbridge filed a work plan with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency identifying 18 "holidays" on Line 5—an oil and gas industry term that refers to areas on a pipeline where anti-corrosive coating is missing. However, Enbridge's director of integrity programs Kurt Baraniecki said at a Pipeline Safety Advisory Board meeting last month that the report used imprecise language.
Enbridge has dismissed the National Wildlife Federation's findings.
"This is not new information and we have addressed this issue many times in the past," company spokesperson Ryan Duffy said via email to MLive. "Over the past fifteen years, there have been three incidents on Line 5 that have resulted in a total of approximately 21 barrels of product being released off the mainline. All of the product released during these three incidents was recovered. There has never been an incident on Line 5 at the Straits."
Still, as InsideClimate News reported, Line 5 is facing mounting political pressure. In January, the Bad River Band of the Lake Superior Tribe of Chippewa Indians in northern Wisconsin voted not to renew easements that allowed the pipeline to pass through tribal lands. Also in January, U.S. Reps. Dave Trott (R-Mich) and Debbie Dingell (D-Mich) introduced legislation calling for a shutdown of the pipeline if a federal study determines it poses significant threat to the Great Lakes.
Enbridge is not the only pipeline company facing opposition over fears of contamination. On Tuesday, a coalition of more than two dozen organizations launched a new campaign to challenge Energy Transfer Partners' (ETP) operations.
Dallas-based Energy Transfer Partners is the company behind the controversial Dakota Access Pipeline, the proposed Bayou Bridge Pipeline and the under-construction Rover Pipeline, which just spilled 2 million of gallons of drilling fluids into two of Ohio's wetlands on April 22.
ETP is expected to vote to merge with Sunoco Logistics on Wednesday.
"Energy Transfer Partners and Sunoco Logistics have a damning history of pipeline fires, leaks, and spills, causing millions of dollars in property damage and leaving thousands of gallons of hazardous products in the environment," said Marc Yaggi, executive director of Waterkeeper Alliance, one of the participating organizations. "These incidents demonstrate a blatant disregard for the communities and waterways impacted by these pipelines."
Lena Moffitt, director of Sierra Club's Beyond Dirty Fuels campaign, said momentum has been building across the nation.
"From Standing Rock, to Texas, to Ohio, to towns across the country, people are mobilizing against Energy Transfer Partners and its reckless agenda that has threatened our communities, our clean air and water, and our climate," Moffitt said. "We the people are organized, we are determined, and together, we will stop Energy Transfer Partners' dirty and dangerous plans."
Trump Signs Executive Order Targeting National Monuments, Could Open Up Lands for Oil and Gas Development
The review enables the Department of Interior to examine whether any of the monument designations have led to a "loss of jobs, reduced wages and reduced public access."
"The Antiquities Act does not give the federal government unlimited power to lock up millions of acres of land and water," President Donald Trump said during a brief ceremony today flanked by Vice President Mike Pence and Sec. of the Interior Ryan Zinke. He added that it was "time to end this abusive practice."
The 1.35-million acre Bears Ears National Monument in Utah is one of the first targets for review. The monument was created by President Obama last year and has sparked major controversy between Republican lawmakers and conservationists. Utah Gov. Gary Herbert and Utah's congressional delegation led by Congressmen Rob Bishop and Jason Chaffetz and Senators Orrin Hatch and Mike Lee have launched a campaign to abolish national monument. More than 270 million acres of American land and waters are potentially at risk—an area two and a half times the size of California.
GOP lawmakers have accused President Obama, who designated more monuments than any other president, of abusing the Antiquities Act to protect land from fossil fuel development.
"By potentially rolling back safeguards for lands and waters that are currently protected from destructive development for generations to come, Trump is carving up this beautiful country into as many corporate giveaways for the oil and gas industry as possible," said Diana Best of Greenpeace USA. "People in this country who cannot afford the membership fee at Mar-a-Lago want safe water they can drink and public lands for their communities to enjoy."
National monument designations have protected some of the most iconic places in the country. Dozens of the nation's most treasured national parks were first protected as monuments, including Grand Teton, Grand Canyon, Bryce, Zion, Acadia and Olympic national parks, explained the Center for Biological Diversity.
Rhea Suh, president of the Natural Resources Defense Council, emphasized that the NRDC will fight the review, and said the president is not authorized to reverse monument designations.
"These public lands belong to all of us," she said. "The U.S. holds them in trust for the benefit of this and future generations. These monuments have been deemed worthy of permanent conservation because of their unique resources and wildlife, ecological importance, and vulnerability to encroachment and destruction. President Trump and Secretary Zinke should not strip away their protection and subject them to industrial exploitation by polluters or other corporate interests."
The Center for Biological Diversity noted that more than 50 national monuments are at risk, including vast marine areas in the Pacific and Caribbean. Congress gave the president the authority to designate national monuments on federally owned land under the Antiquities Act of 1906, which was signed into law by President Teddy Roosevelt, for the express purpose of protecting important objects of historic and scientific importance.
"This is a frightening step toward dismantling the protection of some of America's most important and iconic places: our national parks and monuments," said Kierán Suckling, executive director of the Center for Biological Diversity. "Trump's tapping into the right-wing, anti-public-lands zealotry that will take us down a very dangerous path—a place where Americans no longer have control over public lands and corporations are left to mine, frack, clear-cut and bulldoze them into oblivion. It starts with Bears Ears and Grand Staircase and only gets worse from there."
National monuments are cherished by Americans for their natural beauty and cultural significance.
"There is no need for a review to demonstrate what families across the country already know first-hand—national monuments provide tangible health, natural, and economic benefits," said Michael Brune, Sierra Club executive director. "Protected outdoor spaces drive the outdoor recreation economy which supports 7.6 million jobs and generates $887 billion in consumer spending each year. National monuments and public lands are vital both for the history they preserve and the future they offer.
"Contrary to the Trump administration's thinly veiled hopes," he added, "this review will reveal what studies, surveys and polls have consistently found across the country—a deep, widespread appreciation for our parks, monuments and other public lands, and a popular belief that they should continue to exist."
As thousands of people across the country and in Washington, DC are expected to join the People's Climate March on Saturday, indigenous leaders and climate activists will, as 350.org Executive Director May Boeve points out, "now have to defend our parks and monuments from Big Oil as well."
Tom Goldtooth, executive director of the Indigenous Environmental Network, put it this way. "This is another Trump action that is another act of aggression against the inherent sovereign rights of our Native Nations to protect the traditional cultural areas and sacred places of American Indian and Alaska Native people," he said.
"There are many areas in this country, outside of our reserved lands that are of vital importance to our Indigenous peoples' identity and rich cultural and spiritual history. The 1906 Antiquities Act cannot be stripped on its important historical mandates to designate national monuments to protect areas that have cultural, historical and environmental significance. The act is paramount to all the tribes in this country; for our cultural preservation now and into the future. The frontline Indigenous communities in our network see Trump's actions as a way to open up fossil fuel and extractive mineral development within these national monuments designated under the 1906 Antiquities Act. Trump's action must be stopped."
Companies are also outraged at Trump's latest executive order. "Less than 24 hours after joining with our industry to celebrate the economic power of outdoor recreation, in a hypocritical move, the Trump administration took unprecedented steps that could result in the removal of protections for treasured public lands," Patagonia CEO Rose Marcario said.
"We take this as a sign that Trump and his team prefer to cater to fossil fuel interests and state land grabs for unsustainable development, rather than preserve a vital part of our nation's heritage for future generations by protecting federal lands owned by every citizen."
A study released Wednesday found that, if built, the controversial PennEast Pipeline for fracked gas could contribute as much greenhouse gas pollution as 14 coal-fired power plants or 10 million passenger vehicles—some 49 million metric tons per year.
The analysis, conducted by Oil Change International, showed that federal regulators are poised to rubber-stamp the PennEast Pipeline based on a woefully inadequate climate review that ignores the significant impact of methane leaks and wrongly assumes that gas supplied by the project will replace coal.
The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) is facing a growing backlash across the country over its routine approval of gas pipeline projects that endanger communities and the climate. Today's study comes on the heels of a federal court hearing in which a judge slammed FERC's shallow and dismissive review of the climate impact of the Sabal Trail gas pipeline in the Southeast.
The new analysis counters FERC's final environmental impact statement for the PennEast project released in early April. It applies a methodology recently developed by Oil Change International to calculate the climate impact of gas pipelines from the Appalachian Basin. In contrast to FERC, the Oil Change methodology reflects the evolving analysis of methane leakage and the full lifecycle of pollution that pipelines cause from fracking well to smokestack.
"Our analysis shows that the PennEast Pipeline would cause a massive increase in climate pollution," said Lorne Stockman, lead author of the study and Oil Change International senior research analyst. "The only way FERC can conclude otherwise is by ignoring both science and economics. The PennEast pipeline is not needed, communities don't want it and it will deepen reliance on fossil fuels that we can't afford to burn."
The PennEast Pipeline, backed by a consortium of gas companies, would run roughly 120 miles from northeastern Pennsylvania to Mercer County, New Jersey, carrying up to 1.1 billion cubic feet of gas per day. The New Jersey Rate Counsel has concluded that New Jersey consumers do not need the gas. The project is facing stiff opposition from landowners and community and environmental groups along its route.
The Oil Change analysis found that the pipeline would be responsible for over 49 million metric tons of greenhouse gas emissions by adding up the pollution from gas extraction and processing, pipeline operation, gas combustion at power plants and methane leaked across the gas supply chain.
The study found three major faults in FERC's review:
• FERC fails to acknowledge that methane leakage makes gas as dirty or dirtier than coal, wiping out any potential benefits of switching from coal to gas;
• FERC ignores the market reality that new gas production is likely to compete directly with clean energy and energy efficiency, especially in New Jersey, which has already phased out coal-fired generation;
• FERC fails to count upstream emissions from fracking operations.
Advocates from the region reacted to the study with concern and reiterated their commitment to stopping the pipeline, which has yet to receive key permits from the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection and the Delaware River Basin Commission:
"It is unseemly that the public and nonprofit organizations are having to invest time and money in doing the work FERC should be undertaking," said Maya van Rossum, the Delaware Riverkeeper. "This report demonstrates, yet again, that the PennEast pipeline will help push our nation and world over the climate change cliff. FERC is not only legally required to do the kind of analysis included in this report, but is morally responsible."
Tom Gilbert, campaign director for Rethink Energy NJ and NJ Conservation Foundation, agreed. "It cannot be ignored that New Jersey's greenhouse gas emissions are going up, not down, driven by increased emissions from gas-fired electric plants," he said.
"This report shows that the PennEast pipeline would only further move the state in the wrong direction by increasing carbon emissions and methane leaks, putting public health and safety at risk."
By Graham Readfearn
The New York Times has been defending the paper's hiring of a climate science denier, fighting off its critics with what it claims is a standard fashioned from hardened "intellectual honesty."
While at the Wall Street Journal, Stephens consistently undermined and disparaged climate change, one time describing it as an "imaginary enemy" and another comparing it to religion with a "doomsaying prophecy and faith in things unseen."
Stephens' new boss, editorial page editor James Bennett, told the paper's public editor Liz Spayd: "The crux of the question is whether his work belongs inside our boundaries for intelligent debate and I have no doubt that it does. I have no doubt he crosses our bar for intellectual honesty and fairness."
Suffice to say, there are plenty who disagree. One climate scientist has already canceled his subscription in protest, with others watching closely.
No doubt that Stephens can write—he won a Pulitzer in 2012 for lots of opinions on stuff other than climate.
But like other conservative columnists admired for their poetic prose and strident opinions while attacking climate change, the methods used by Stephens might be compared to those of a fake chef producing a lumpy and unsatisfying word soup.
There's no real care with the preparation and no quality control over the freshness or blending of the ingredients, but these indiscretions are suitably masked with enough flavor-enhancers to give some short-term satisfaction to unsuspecting diners/readers.
But the New York Times should probably be serving up something far more substantial than crap soup and three-day-old bread to its massive audience.
Stephens wrote that a trend in rising global temperatures was "imperceptible" and that the "hysteria" around climate change ignored how this trend could be "a product of natural variation."
There is a mountain of evidence that global warming is not caused by "natural fluctuations" and this evidence has been in existence for decades. To suggest that it isn't, would be to fall below any bar of intellectual honesty erected in the newsroom of the New York Times or in any science academy around the globe.
In the same column, Stephens chose to highlight "the hyping of flimsy studies—melting Himalayan glaciers; vanishing polar ice" that he said were being used to push a political viewpoint.
Stephens was referring to an error on Himalayan glaciers buried away in a UN report, while choosing to ignore the decades-long trend of melting that has been recorded at glaciers all over the planet.
Stephens himself has told Huffington Post that he's an "agnostic" on climate change and said while it "seems" the weight of scientific evidence points to human causes for global warming, that evidence might be wrong because "the history of science is replete with consensus positions that have evolved."
Now, the New York Times' own defense of its hiring of Stephens is almost as redundant as the arguments that Stephens borrows from climate science deniers.
In an interview with the Huffington Post, the New York Time's Bennett said there was "more than one kind of denial."
"And to pretend like the views of a thinker like Bret and the millions of people who agree with him on a range of issues, should simply be ignored, that they're outside the bounds of reasonable debate, is a really dangerous form of delusion," he said.
Let's think about what the New York Times opinion page might look like if we based it on the beliefs of millions of Americans.
According to Gallup polling data, some 20 percent of Americans believe in witches, which is roughly half the number of people who think extrasensory perception is actually a thing.
A poll conducted by Harris in 2016 found that two out of five Americans think ghosts are real. Belief in evolution? That's at 49 percent. Creationism? Some 37 percent are down with that.
Lizard people controlling societies? One in 25 Americans fear their presence, but where's their representation in the New York Times editorials?
Arguing that someone should be hired to the editorial desk of one of the world's most influential newspapers because "millions of people" hold a particular belief is a clear path to supporting the sort of delusional thinking that has more Americans believing in the paranormal than accepting that climate change is mostly human-caused.
That 1970s Cooling Myth
Opinions are worth printing when they're based on the preponderance of credible evidence, not the self-interests of fossil fuel–funded "fellows" at so-called think tanks or the whimsy of attention-seeking contrarians.
In an August 2011 interview on Fox News Business, Stephens told viewers "in the 1970s we were supposed to believe in global cooling."
Were we? Well, if you want to base your intellectually robust opinion on a moldy-old myth based on a couple of 1970s news items, then fine.
Alternatively, read a 2008 review of science papers published between 1965 and 1979 finding that only seven papers were predicting cooling against 44 saying temperatures would rise.
Also in that interview, Stephens lauded an essay by the late author Michael Crichton that attacked the consensus on global warming.
In that essay, based on a lecture, Crichton said: "Whenever you hear the consensus of scientists agrees on something or other, reach for your wallet, because you're being had."
So let's just stop a second and think about what Crichton was advocating here.
The consensus of medical science says smoking will massively increase your risk of getting cancer and heart disease, even if you can't say exactly which cigarette killed your wheezy relative. You're being had, folks.
Crichton was putting up a straw man argument—that science is done by consensus—in order to then attack it.
When people talk about a consensus on the causes of climate change, they're describing the collective findings of thousands of peer-reviewed articles published in leading scientific journals over decades using multiple methods from a diverse set of observations.
The consensus that climate change is caused by humans comes from the long-studied physical properties of greenhouse gases to the measurements of warming oceans, the atmosphere and the places on the planet where there is or was, ice.
Don't get me wrong here, folks. You're free to choose a glib sound bite from a science fiction writer based on a misrepresentation of the concept of scientific consensus.
But take care not to be had by charlatans promising to chat to your very dead Aunty Betty or save your soul from the claws of the lizard people.
I think it might be time someone broke into the editorial office of the New York Times and raised that bar of intellectual honesty.
Reposted with permission from our media associate DeSmogBlog.