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Environmental News for a Healthier Planet and Life

Election Takeaway for Fossil Fuel Industry—Money Can’t Buy You Love

Climate

NRDC ACTION FUND

By Heather Taylor-Miesle

Americans have returned a clean energy champion to the White House, but they didn’t stop there. All the way down the ticket, voters overwhelmingly favored candidates who support clean energy, clean air and strong public health safeguards.

This is victory for everyone who likes to breathe clean air and drink clean water, and it is a resounding defeat for polluters and the dirty agenda they tried to sell to voters.

The fossil fuel industry went all in on this election. By mid-September, oil, gas and coal companies had spent more than $150 million on campaign ads. Texas oil barons handed more than $10 million to Governor Romney in one week alone—the week before he released his energy plan. By the time all the checks are tallied, the amount spent by dirty energy companies will be well over $200 million.

And yet the fossil fuel industry has little to show for it. Oil, gas, and coal companies spent $20 million to defeat Senator Sherrod Brown (D-OH), but he won anyway. He ran on his record of supporting renewable power and environmental protections, and voters rewarded him for it.

They did the same thing in the New Mexico Senate race. Fossil fuel companies opened their checkbooks for former Representative Heather Wilson, a pro-drilling, anti-climate action candidate. But voters preferred Representative Martin Heinrich and the fact that he made clean energy and climate action a central part of his campaign.

In Virginia, fossil fuel companies and other outside interests spent heavily to take a senate seat away from the Democratic Party. Voters weren’t buying it. They elected former Governor Tim Kaine who has a long history of standing up for clean air and public health safeguards.

It turns out my mother was right: money can’t buy you love. If you can’t buy it for $200 million, then it’s not for sale.

That means these Senators are free to do the right thing on clean energy and clean air. They underwent a full-throttled, deep-pocketed attack on from the right and survived. Why? Because voters did not take the side of polluters. They took the side of clean energy champions.

This shouldn’t come as a big surprise; poll after poll confirmed voters’ desire for a clean energy economy. A September survey by Public Policy Polling, for instance, found that 53 percent of undecided voters in battleground states said they would support a Congressional candidate who wants to extend tax incentives for wind power, while 31 percent would choose the candidate who would kill those incentives. Fifty-nine percent said they favored Congressional candidates who support reducing mercury pollution from power plants and only 23 percent would chose candidates who oppose mercury standards.

Voters recognize that clean energy and clean air deliver real benefits to our communities. More than 120,000 Americans have jobs in the solar industry, and more than 150,000 people work building parts for and assembling clean cars—hybrids, electric cars, and other advanced vehicles that weren’t even available 10 years ago. More than 1 million Americans are now saving money on their electric builds because they made their homes more energy efficient. And soon, hundreds of thousands of children will breathe easier once power plants start following new limits on mercury, lead and other air pollutants.

Oil and gas companies thought that if they spent millions and millions of dollars, they could distract Americans from these benefits and undermine support for clean energy. They were wrong, and they lost. Now the case is closed. It’s time for champions in the White House and Congress to respect voters’ wishes and stand  up for clean energy, clean air and a stable climate.

Visit EcoWatch’s RENEWABLES page for more related news on this topic.

 

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Pexels

By Zak Smith

It is pretty amazing that in this moment when the COVID-19 outbreak has much of the country holed up in their homes binging Netflix, the most watched show in America over the last few weeks has been focused on wildlife trade — which scientists believe is the source of the COVID-19 pandemic. Make no mistake: Tiger King: Murder, Mayhem and Madness is about wildlife trade and other aspects of wildlife exploitation, just as surely as the appearance of Ebola, SARS, MERS, avian flu and probably COVID-19 in humans is a result of wildlife exploitation. As a conservationist, this is one of the things I've been thinking about while watching Tiger King. Here are five more:

1. We are in a biodiversity crisis.

A million plant and animal species are threatened with extinction, many within decades, including tigers. The leading drivers of species decline and the impending collapse of ecosystems are ocean and land use changes (like converting wildlands into other uses, usually agricultural) and the direct exploitation of species (like taking animals out of the wild for eating, "medicinal" purposes, or status motives). It is for these exact reasons that there are more tigers in cages in the United States than there are in the wild. Developers continue to destroy tiger habitat and, in the not-so-distant past, hunters shot and killed tigers for sport or for trade in tiger products (and some still do illegally).

2. We must fundamentally change our relationship to nature.

Transformative change is necessary to limit species extinctions and secure human well-being (functioning ecosystems provide the clean air, clean water, carbon sequestration, flood control, healthy soils, pollination of plants and healthy coastal waters humans need to survive). Transformative change in this context means "a fundamental, system-wide reorganization across technological, economic, and social factors, including paradigms, goals, and values." We aren't going to halt the loss of species and strengthen ecosystems if we continue to treat wild plants and animals as expendable and renewable resources that we can use however we want. The tigers and other animals in Tiger King are exploited for profit and personal interests. Regardless of how they may be respected, coveted, or cared for, they are still treated as exploitable objects, which reinforces other destructive attitudes toward nature. A tiger cub is something to be held and photographed, a wetland is something to be filled and built upon, a rhino is something to be killed so we can use its horn for fake medicine. It's a view of nature as being in service to human wants, an attitude that is destroying our planet and one that must change.

3. Most wildlife trade should be banned and we should protect more wild places.

As noted above, ocean and land use changes and direct exploitation of species are causing an extinction crisis and threaten the ecosystems we depend on for human well-being. In line with our exploitative mindset, we've been stuck for centuries with economic and social patterns that allow unfettered use of wild places and wildlife until there's a problem. We need to flip that model on its head and only use wild places and wildlife if we can affirmatively demonstrate that such use won't contribute to the biodiversity and climate crisis. Tigers and the other animals appearing in Tiger King wouldn't be endangered today and wouldn't require "sanctuaries" if we hadn't destroyed their habitat and taken them from the wild for food, pets, "medicine" and trophies.

To set things right, we should ban most wildlife trade and protect more of the natural world. I say "most" wildlife trade to account for the exception of well-managed fisheries. NRDC has long sought to limit irresponsible wildlife trade (fighting for imperiled species internationally, supporting state efforts to limit trade, providing recommendations to China on revisions to its wildlife law), and now we must go further by banning most trade. In addition, we should support efforts to set aside vast swaths of ocean, land and terrestrial water to rebalance the functioning of our natural world. That's why NRDC and others support an initial call of protecting 30 percent of the world's oceans, lands and water areas by 2030. In China, we're protecting areas in a way that helps tigers by supporting the government's development of a National Park system, with targeted efforts on one of its pilot parks, the Northeast Tiger and Leopard National Park, which provides an important habitat for China's struggling populations of Amur tigers and leopards.

4. Not​ all sanctuaries are sanctuaries.

A lot of so-called sanctuaries are dumpster fires; they serve no purpose other than exploitation of animals for profit, and the animals suffer needlessly. It doesn't look like the Greater Wynnewood Exotic Animal Park — the park formerly owned by Joe Exotic — is a sanctuary, though it styles itself as being one, so the public may be confused. According to the International Fund for Animal Welfare, legitimate sanctuaries "do not breed, allow public contact with, sell, or otherwise exploit the animals that they take in." Legitimate sanctuaries can play an important role in saving imperiled species, promoting animal welfare, and educating the public. But those that do not meet strict standards are part of the problem, not the solution. The Global Federation of Animal Sanctuaries (GFAS) provides accreditation for sanctuaries that abide by a set of policies, including the maintenance of a nonprofit/noncommercial status. Big Cat Rescue, which is featured in the Tiger King series, "has held GFAS Accreditation status since 2009."

5. Changing our relationship to nature must include a just transition.

Throughout the world and in the United States, millions of people use nature in destructive ways for their livelihoods. I don't say this with judgement; often, people are just doing what we've always done — business as usual — which is unfortunately destroying the planet. Workers in the fossil fuel industry, fishermen in unsustainable fisheries, clearcutters in the tropics and boreal forests, and even people working at fake sanctuaries depend on the current system of exploiting nature to provide for themselves and their families. Unfortunately, it's at the expense of other people who depend on healthy, thriving ecosystems for their livelihoods and at the expense of human well-being overall. If we want to succeed in charting a new path for our planet, we must commit to making people and communities whole. The rampant exploitation appearing on the screen in Tiger King isn't just of wildlife — it is also of many desperate people brutalized by a political and economic system providing few options. We're not going to successfully realign our relationship with nature if we don't provide the necessary support for people and communities to transition to more sustainable, ethical means of providing for themselves and their families.

So, watch Tiger King and see if for you, like me, it informs the horror of the current moment, then maybe think about building a different world when we come out of this — a vibrant, natural world filled with wildlife and wonder, where we orient ourselves around preserving nature, not exploiting it, and embark on a new human journey.

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