Top 10 Climate Deniers in the Trump Administration
By Mary Mazzoni
More than 97 percent of climate scientists agree the planet is warming and that human activity is largely responsible. For perspective, that's as conclusive as the link between cigarette smoking and lung cancer.
This scientific consensus is accepted by people and their governments in virtually every corner of the world, with one notable exception. In the U.S., a small subset of the population continues to sow doubt about accepted climate science. This includes groups of so-called climate skeptics, think tanks largely funded by the fossil fuel industry, and yes, politicians.
From Republican Sen. James Inhofe's infamous snowball demonstration to House Science Committee Chairman Lamar Smith's claim that federal scientists falsified climate data, American politicians are among the leading voices spreading easily debunked misinformation about climate change. Rather than rallying with other countries in pursuit of a low-carbon economy, and devising ways to transition workers from dirty energy jobs to healthier and better-paying options, these individuals continue to perpetuate a nonexistent debate.
Unfortunately for the American public, this trend has only accelerated in the Trump administration. Even as Americans become increasingly concerned about climate change, Trump stacked his administration with one climate denier after another. We've already seen the effects, from the U.S. pulling out of the Paris climate agreement to the dismantling of the Clean Power Plan, and the nominees are still coming in. Here are 10 for the wall of shame.
1. Scott Pruitt, Administrator of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency
Scott Pruitt sued the EPA 14 times as Oklahoma attorney general, and now he's tasked with running it—though critics say he's running it into the ground.
In August, the New York Times described a covert effort to "roll back regulations, close offices and eliminate staff" at the agency. "Mr. Pruitt is taking extraordinary measures to conceal his actions," wrote Coral Davenport and Eric Lipton of the Times, citing interviews with more than 20 current and former agency employees.
While privately dismantling the EPA, Pruitt continues to publicly cast doubt on climate science. Most recently, he questioned whether the EPA had engaged in "a robust, meaningful discussion" before releasing a 2009 document linking manmade climate change to human health risks that now heavily influences U.S environmental policy.
2. Rick Perry, Secretary of the Energy Department
Perry consistently denied the existence of manmade climate change during his 15 years as governor of Texas. Some hoped he might have turned the corner when he acknowledged humanity's role in our changing climate during his Senate confirmation hearing, but it appears he will keep the same tone as head of the department he once vowed to eliminate.
In June, Perry told CNBC he does not believe carbon dioxide emissions are the main driver of climate change, instead putting the blame on "ocean waters." He has also continued his outspoken support for fossil fuels, arguing last week that they are the only way to electrify the developing world and even saying fossil fuels can help combat sexual assault (seriously).
3. Sonny Perdue, Secretary of the Agriculture Department
Perdue's USDA suggested that staffers find alternatives to the term "climate change," according to a string of emails obtained by the Guardian. The agency pushed back on these reports, saying: "These emails, sent in the first days of the new administration to a small number of agency staff, did not reflect the direction of senior agency leadership."
But it seems Perdue didn't get the memo: He praised Trump's decision to exit the Paris climate agreement and supported the nomination of talk radio host and non-scientist Sam Clovis for the USDA's top science spot, before Clovis pulled out over ties to the Russia probe.
4. Ryan Zinke, Secretary of the Interior Department
Interior Sec. Zinke downplayed global temperature rise and its contribution to glacial melting during a budget hearing in June. When pressed by Sen. Al Franken about melting in his state's Glacier National Park, Zinke said it's a "consistent melt" that began "right after the end of the Ice Age"—adding that he watched glaciers melt while "eating lunch."
This bizarre conclusion flies in the face of data from the U.S. Geological Survey, which shows that the park's glaciers have shrunk by an average of 39 percent since 1966. A USGS research ecologist told the Huffington Post that the glaciers "are already at the point of no return" and will all but disappear "within 20 years." But Zinke appears unconcerned by such findings and later proposed reducing the size of several national monuments and opening them up to drilling and mining.
5. David Bernhardt, Deputy Administrator of the Interior Department
Bernhardt drew criticism for his former lobbying work on behalf of energy interests, and senators drilled him on climate change during his confirmation hearing in June. While Bernhardt acknowledged the existence of climate change and said the contribution of science was "very significant," he noted that policy decisions would be made according to the administration's agenda as much as allowed under the law, Science magazine reported.
6: Jeff Sessions, Attorney General
As attorney general, Sessions' duties include enforcing U.S. environmental laws. Too bad he called the scientific consensus behind manmade climate change "deliberate misinformation" and said carbon dioxide is "really not a pollutant" because it's "a plant food."
7. Rex Tillerson, Secretary of State
As the CEO of ExxonMobil, Tillerson acknowledged man's role in climate change and even called for a carbon tax. But critics often point to his penchant for downplaying climate science and calling for a slower approach to reducing greenhouse gas emissions.
"[Tillerson] comes across as very responsible because he's not accusing scientists of cooking up a one-world government," Stephen Lewandowsky, a psychologist at the University of Bristol who has studied efforts to sow doubt on climate science, told InsideClimateNews. "People breathe a sigh of relief—'He's not crazy'—but people don't follow through to see what he's saying is complete nonsense."
8. Jim Bridenstine, Nominee for NASA Administrator
If Republican Congressman Jim Bridenstine seems like an odd pick to head the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, that's because he is. Bridenstine is a former Navy pilot, but unlike prior administrators, he has no scientific background. He regularly denies basic climate science and even introduced legislation to scrap NASA's earth sciences division altogether. While Bridenstine tried to take a softer stance during his confirmation hearing last week, some senators appeared unconvinced.
9. Kathleen Hartnett White, Nominee for Chair of the Council on Environmental Quality
The Council on Environmental Quality, a key White House office that coordinates policy approaches around energy and the environment, may soon be in the hands of Kathleen Hartnett White. White opposed regulating carbon dioxide as a pollutant in her role as chairman of the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality, calling CO2 "an odorless, invisible, beneficial and natural gas." She also takes issue with international climate panels convened by the United Nations, dismissing their findings as "not validated and politically corrupt."
10. Robert Phalen, Nominee for EPA Scientific Advisory Board
Earlier this month, EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt fired a handful of university researchers from the EPA's Scientific Advisory board and apparently forgot to tell them—at least two told the Huffington Post they learned about their dismissal from reporters. This came after Pruitt released new rules barring scientists who receive EPA research funding from sitting on the board and suggesting how their research be applied, opening the door for more industry-friendly advisers. University of Minnesota professor Deborah Swackhamer, a former chair of the board and one of those recently let go, called the move "scientific censorship."
The 17 new appointees named for the board include red-state regulators and industry representatives. Robert Phalen, one of the only academics nominated, frequently spoke in opposition to air pollution-related regulations as a researcher with the University of California, Irvine, and in 2012 asserted, "Modern air is a little too clean for optimum health."
Former Vice President Al Gore, one of the leading voices fighting for action on climate change, met with President Trump during the transition to try to influence his thinking. "I haven't had any conversations with [Trump] since his speech to withdraw from Paris," Gore told the Guardian last month. "I tried my best and thought he'd come to his senses but I've been proven wrong."
Reposted with permission from our media associate AlterNet.
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By Ana Maldonado-Contreras
- Your gut is home to trillions of bacteria that are vital for keeping you healthy.
- Some of these microbes help to regulate the immune system.
- New research, which has not yet been peer-reviewed, shows the presence of certain bacteria in the gut may reveal which people are more vulnerable to a more severe case of COVID-19.
You may not know it, but you have an army of microbes living inside of you that are essential for fighting off threats, including the virus that causes COVID-19.
How Do Resident Bacteria Keep You Healthy?<p>Our immune defense is part of a complex biological response against harmful pathogens, such as viruses or bacteria. However, because our bodies are inhabited by trillions of mostly beneficial bacteria, virus and fungi, activation of our immune response is tightly regulated to distinguish between harmful and helpful microbes.</p><p>Our bacteria are spectacular companions diligently helping prime our immune system defenses to combat infections. A seminal study found that mice treated with antibiotics that eliminate bacteria in the gut exhibited an impaired immune response. These animals had low counts of virus-fighting white blood cells, weak antibody responses and poor production of a protein that is vital for <a href="https://doi.org/10.1073/pnas.1019378108" target="_blank">combating viral infection and modulating the immune response</a>.</p><p><a href="https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0184976" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">In another study</a>, mice were fed <em>Lactobacillus</em> bacteria, commonly used as probiotic in fermented food. These microbes reduced the severity of influenza infection. The <em>Lactobacillus</em>-treated mice did not lose weight and had only mild lung damage compared with untreated mice. Similarly, others have found that treatment of mice with <em>Lactobacillus</em> protects against different <a href="https://doi.org/10.1038/srep04638" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">subtypes of</a> <a href="https://doi.org/10.1038/s41598-017-17487-8" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">influenza</a> <a href="https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.ppat.1008072" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">virus</a> and human respiratory syncytial virus – the <a href="https://doi.org/10.1038/s41598-019-39602-7" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">major cause of viral bronchiolitis and pneumonia in children</a>.</p>
Chronic Disease and Microbes<p>Patients with chronic illnesses including Type 2 diabetes, obesity and cardiovascular disease exhibit a hyperactive immune system that fails to recognize a harmless stimulus and is linked to an altered gut microbiome.</p><p>In these chronic diseases, the gut microbiome lacks bacteria that activate <a href="https://doi.org/10.1126/science.1198469" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">immune cells</a> that block the response against harmless bacteria in our guts. Such alteration of the gut microbiome is also observed in <a href="https://doi.org/10.1073/pnas.1002601107" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">babies delivered by cesarean section</a>, individuals consuming a poor <a href="https://doi.org/10.1038/nature12820" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">diet</a> and the <a href="https://doi.org/10.1038/nature11053" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">elderly</a>.</p><p>In the U.S., 117 million individuals – about half the adult population – <a href="https://health.gov/our-work/food-nutrition/2015-2020-dietary-guidelines/guidelines/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">suffer from Type 2 diabetes, obesity, cardiovascular disease or a combination of them</a>. That suggests that half of American adults carry a faulty microbiome army.</p><p>Research in my laboratory focuses on identifying gut bacteria that are critical for creating a balanced immune system, which fights life-threatening bacterial and viral infections, while tolerating the beneficial bacteria in and on us.</p><p>Given that diet affects the diversity of bacteria in the gut, <a href="https://www.umassmed.edu/nutrition/melody-trial-info/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">my lab studies show how diet can be used</a> as a therapy for chronic diseases. Using different foods, people can shift their gut microbiome to one that boosts a healthy immune response.</p><p>A fraction of patients infected with SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19 disease, develop severe complications that require hospitalization in intensive care units. What do many of those patients have in common? <a href="https://www.cdc.gov/mmwr/volumes/69/wr/mm6912e2.htm" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Old age</a> and chronic diet-related diseases like obesity, Type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular disease.</p><p><a href="http://doi.org/10.1016/j.jada.2008.12.019" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Black and Latinx people are disproportionately affected by obesity, Type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular disease</a>, all of which are linked to poor nutrition. Thus, it is not a coincidence that <a href="https://www.cdc.gov/mmwr/volumes/69/wr/mm6933e1.htm" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">these groups have suffered more deaths from COVID-19</a> compared with whites. This is the case not only in the U.S. but also <a href="https://www.washingtonpost.com/world/europe/blacks-in-britain-are-four-times-as-likely-to-die-of-coronavirus-as-whites-data-show/2020/05/07/2dc76710-9067-11ea-9322-a29e75effc93_story.html" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">in Britain</a>.</p>
Discovering Microbes That Predict COVID-19 Severity<p>The COVID-19 pandemic has inspired me to shift my research and explore the role of the gut microbiome in the overly aggressive immune response against SARS-CoV-2 infection.</p><p>My colleagues and I have hypothesized that critically ill SARS-CoV-2 patients with conditions like obesity, Type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular disease exhibit an altered gut microbiome that aggravates <a href="https://theconversation.com/exercise-may-help-reduce-risk-of-deadly-covid-19-complication-ards-136922" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">acute respiratory distress syndrome</a>.</p><p>Acute respiratory distress syndrome, a life-threatening lung injury, in SARS-CoV-2 patients is thought to develop from a <a href="http://doi.org/10.1016/j.cytogfr.2020.05.003" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">fatal overreaction of the immune response</a> called a <a href="https://theconversation.com/blocking-the-deadly-cytokine-storm-is-a-vital-weapon-for-treating-covid-19-137690" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">cytokine storm</a> <a href="http://doi.org/10.1016/S2213-2600(20)30216-2" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">that causes an uncontrolled flood</a> <a href="http://doi.org/10.1016/S2213-2600(20)30216-2" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">of immune cells into the lungs</a>. In these patients, their own uncontrolled inflammatory immune response, rather than the virus itself, causes the <a href="http://doi.org/10.1007/s00134-020-05991-x" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">severe lung injury and multiorgan failures</a> that lead to death.</p><p>Several studies <a href="https://doi.org/10.1016/j.trsl.2020.08.004" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">described in one recent review</a> have identified an altered gut microbiome in patients with COVID-19. However, identification of specific bacteria within the microbiome that could predict COVID-19 severity is lacking.</p><p>To address this question, my colleagues and I recruited COVID-19 hospitalized patients with severe and moderate symptoms. We collected stool and saliva samples to determine whether bacteria within the gut and oral microbiome could predict COVID-19 severity. The identification of microbiome markers that can predict the clinical outcomes of COVID-19 disease is key to help prioritize patients needing urgent treatment.</p><p><a href="https://doi.org/10.1101/2021.01.05.20249061" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">We demonstrated</a>, in a paper which has not yet been peer reviewed, that the composition of the gut microbiome is the strongest predictor of COVID-19 severity compared to patient's clinical characteristics commonly used to do so. Specifically, we identified that the presence of a bacterium in the stool – called <em>Enterococcus faecalis</em>– was a robust predictor of COVID-19 severity. Not surprisingly, <em>Enterococcus faecalis</em> has been associated with <a href="https://doi.org/10.1053/j.gastro.2011.05.035" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">chronic</a> <a href="https://doi.org/10.1016/S0002-9440(10)61172-8" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">inflammation</a>.</p><p><em>Enterococcus faecalis</em> collected from feces can be grown outside of the body in clinical laboratories. Thus, an <em>E. faecalis</em> test might be a cost-effective, rapid and relatively easy way to identify patients who are likely to require more supportive care and therapeutic interventions to improve their chances of survival.</p><p>But it is not yet clear from our research what is the contribution of the altered microbiome in the immune response to SARS-CoV-2 infection. A recent study has shown that <a href="https://doi.org/10.1101/2020.12.11.416180" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">SARS-CoV-2 infection triggers an imbalance in immune cells</a> called <a href="https://doi.org/10.1111/imr.12170" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">T regulatory cells that are critical to immune balance</a>.</p><p>Bacteria from the gut microbiome are responsible for the <a href="https://doi.org/10.7554/eLife.30916.001" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">proper activation</a> <a href="https://doi.org/10.1126/science.1198469" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">of those T-regulatory</a> <a href="https://doi.org/10.1038/nri.2016.36" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">cells</a>. Thus, researchers like me need to take repeated patient stool, saliva and blood samples over a longer time frame to learn how the altered microbiome observed in COVID-19 patients can modulate COVID-19 disease severity, perhaps by altering the development of the T-regulatory cells.</p><p>As a Latina scientist investigating interactions between diet, microbiome and immunity, I must stress the importance of better policies to improve access to healthy foods, which lead to a healthier microbiome. It is also important to design culturally sensitive dietary interventions for Black and Latinx communities. While a good-quality diet might not prevent SARS-CoV-2 infection, it can treat the underlying conditions related to its severity.</p><p><em><a href="https://theconversation.com/profiles/ana-maldonado-contreras-1152969" target="_blank">Ana Maldonado-Contreras</a> is an assistant professor of Microbiology and Physiological Systems at the University of Massachusetts Medical School.</em></p><p><em>Disclosure statement: Ana Maldonado-Contreras receives funding from The Helmsley Charitable Trust and her work has been supported by the American Gastroenterological Association. She received The Charles A. King Trust Postdoctoral Research Fellowship. She is also member of the Diversity Committee of the American Gastroenterological Association.</em></p><p><em style="">Reposted with permission from <a href="https://theconversation.com/a-healthy-microbiome-builds-a-strong-immune-system-that-could-help-defeat-covid-19-145668" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer" style="">The Conversation</a>. </em></p>
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