Dirty Money, Dirty Fuels: Why Money in Politics Matters to the Environment
What if fighting dirty money in our elections was the key to fighting dirty fuels in our economy?
That’s the question asked in a recent report released by the Sierra Club and Oil Change International. From the perspective of the fossil fuel industry, political contributions are just another form of investment. The only difference is that, for the millions polluters spend on elections, they see billions in bonus profits.
As the report says, “The return these polluters are getting on these political investments—in the form of billions in corporate tax handouts—exceed 5,000 percent, demonstrating that Congress remains the best ‘investment’ possible for the coal, oil, and gas industries.”
Photo courtesy of Shutterstock
The oil and gas industries are among the worst offenders. Between 2009 and 2010, the report estimates that they spent $347 million on lobbying and campaign contributions, and in return netted a handsome $20 billion in federal subsidies. Most of these came in the form of accounting gimmicks that help hide corporate profits and obscure tax breaks that help cover drilling and refining costs. Because of loopholes like these, the actual taxes paid by most big energy companies fall well below the top corporate rate of 35 percent.
You would think that at a time when both Democrats and Republicans are preoccupied with deficits and debt, cutting subsidies for polluters should be an easy move. After all, these are some of the most profitable companies in world history; surely they need government support like Bill Gates needs food stamps. The fact that many of these giveaways are nearly a century old, dating from a time when fossil fuel extraction was a much riskier game, only adds to their irrelevance. At a time of significant fiscal strain, decades-old free money for rich polluters should be the first thing on the chopping block.
Unfortunately, in the new world of campaign finance born after Citizens United and supercharged earlier this month by McCutcheon vs. FEC, money speaks much louder than fiscal and environmental sanity. The report points out that solid majorities of Americans support action on climate change, investment in renewable energy, and a repeal of fossil fuel subsidies. And yet, Congress is arguably in its most rabidly anti-environment phase in U.S. history, voting repeatedly to block action on climate change, cut support for renewable energy, and hobble enforcement of clean air and water provisions.
The only way to solve this disconnect is through a new system of public financing. As such, the Sierra Club and Oil Change International are throwing their weight behind the recently sponsored Government By The People Act, which would allow federal candidates to receive money from small donors matched on a six-to-one basis. This would not end money in politics, or even strip polluters of their ability to purchase influence.
Winning those fights has to be part of a much longer campaign against corporate personhood and the idea of money as free speech. But in the meantime, it would give candidates who share the increasingly pro-environment sentiments of the American people a chance to be heard. Friends of the Earth supports the Government By The People Act and its vision for a more healthy and just world.
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By Naomi Larsson
For centuries, the delicate silver dove has been a symbol of love and fidelity.
Biodiversity and Habitat Loss<p>Their near extinction is a symbol of the <a href="https://www.dw.com/en/global-biodiversity-outlook-targets-extinction-summit-new-york-pledge/a-54932895" target="_blank">biodiversity crisis</a> in the UK, largely driven by habitat destruction. Britain is now one of the countries with the most <a href="https://www.wwf.org.uk/future-of-UK-nature#:~:text=The%20UK%20is%20one%20of,than%20half%20are%20in%20decline" target="_blank">depleted nature</a> in the world according to the World Wildlife Fund. Half its plant and animal species are in decline and more than <a href="https://www.rspb.org.uk/about-the-rspb/about-us/media-centre/press-releases/let-nature-sing-wales/#:~:text=a%20natural%20tragedy.-,Over%2040%20million%20birds%20have%20vanished%20from%20UK%20skies%20in,unaware%20of%20the%20impending%20danger" target="_blank">40 million birds</a> have vanished in just half a century.</p><p>"[Turtle doves] are the canary in the [coal] mine because there are all these other species before it and after it," said Tree. "It's an umbrella for all the other species that are heading that way."</p><p>Turtle doves migrate south through Europe to sub-Saharan Africa between July and September, ending up in dry woodland and farmland areas of countries like Mali and Senegal for winter. </p><p>Droughts in West Africa and the Sahel region are believed to have contributed to the fall in turtle dove species recorded in northern Europe, with low rainfall reducing supplies of the seeds and insects the birds rely on for energy for the long journey home.</p>
Conservation and Farming<p><a href="https://www.operationturtledove.org/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Operation Turtle Dove,</a> a partnership project of charities including the Essex Wildlife trust, works with landowners and farmers to actively build turtle dove habitat.</p><p>Outten works with <a href="https://www.ebws.org.uk/birdsites/blue-house-farm-ewt-north-fambridge" target="_blank">Blue House Farm</a>, a 660-acre nature reserve in the UK county of Essex, where they have replicated weedy fallow plots. </p><p>"We work on it every year to make sure it's in the condition it needs to be with plants such as clovers and black medic," Outten said. "These plants are native to the landscape and produce the seed the birds feed on." </p><p>The birds eat a wide range of seeds from various plants that would have been abundant 50 or 100 years ago, added Guy Anderson, program manager for species recovery with The Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB). </p><p>"But it's simply true that with the gradual process of <a href="https://www.dw.com/en/farming-without-pesticides-how-can-we-make-agriculture-greener/a-52216796" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">intensifying our agricultural production</a>, the availability of those seeds has dropped and dropped," said Anderson.</p><p>Part of the project includes supplementary feeding — providing sources of food in the form of seed or grain. Under the Countryside Stewardship Scheme in England, farmers can receive financial support to create a turtle dove habitat. </p><p>Though they haven't recorded an increase in doves across the sites in the four years of working on the project, Outten said they are seeing improvements in how landowners and farmers manage habitat for the birds. </p>
A Turtle Dove Haven<p>The 3,500-acre Knepp Estate in West Sussex is another project taking a different approach and one of the few places where turtle dove numbers are increasing.</p><p>Isabella Tree and her husband Charlie Burrell converted their intensively farmed land into a rewilding project almost 20 years ago. They have let the land return to nature.</p><p>Just one year after they'd finished <a href="https://www.dw.com/en/uks-most-talented-architects-are-not-human/a-35952128" target="_blank">rewilding</a> the southern part of their property, they heard turtle doves for the first time. It's now a breeding hotspot for the birds with an estimated 19 pairs. Knepp is also home to <a href="https://www.rewildingbritain.org.uk/rewilding/rewilding-projects/knepp-estate" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">2% of the UK's population</a> of nightingales. </p><p>Tree is critical of supplementary feeding schemes that, in her view, are short term. She questions the chances of turtle doves getting to feed on scattered seeds before other mammals eat them first.</p>
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