By Jason Mark
Christmas has come and gone, New Year's is right around the corner. That must mean it's time for my annual roundup of the most important environmental stories of the past year.
Some of these topics got a ton of attention (cue: Donald Trump, Standing Rock) while others didn't get half as much as they deserved (think the Kigali HFC deal and a proposed delisting of the Yellowstone grizzlies). No matter how much ink and airtime they earned, all of these stories revealed some larger trend about the state of the environment and environmental advocacy.
Without further ado, here's my list of the big, the bad and the good from 2016.
1. Climate Science Denier-In-Chief
Fleetingphoto / iStock
Donald Trump's stunning Electoral College victory over Hillary Clinton was the biggest story of 2016, period. American progressives were gutted by the upset and have spent much of the time since figuring out how to resist the Trump-Pence administration.
Many people reasonably fear that a Trump White House will threaten women's reproductive rights, basic civil liberties, undocumented immigrants, the rule of law and any hope of political discourse (and policy-making) rooted in, well, facts. Trump also poses a clear and present danger to our shared environment—especially the maintenance of a (more-or-less) stable climate.
Make no mistake: A Hillary Clinton presidency wouldn't have been all rose petals and kumbaya for the environmental movement. At the very least, though, Clinton would have continued President Obama's efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Now, we're facing a climate science Denier-in-Chief, as Trump will hold the distinction of being the only head of state not to accept the basic science of human-driven global warming.
Since the election, he has flirted with environmental luminaries like Al Gore and Leonardo DiCaprio, but his cabinet picks make plain he's determined to stall, if not reverse, the U.S.' recent progress on climate change. Scott Pruitt—a long-time oil and gas industry bagman, and fellow climate change denier—has been chosen to lead the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. The CEO of ExxonMobil has been nominated for Secretary of State. The Clean Power Plan will face attacks from within the federal government beginning on Day One of Trump's presidency. In the face of the coming onslaught, environmental leaders say they are ready to fight like hell to preserve clean air, clean water, a stable climate, and the integrity of public lands and wildlife protections. Expect four long, tough years of political battles to maintain a healthy environment.
2. The Standoff at Standing Rock
When LaDonna Brave Bull Allard, a member of North Dakota's Standing Rock Sioux nation, set up an encampment near the Missouri River in April to draw attention to a planned petroleum conduit, hardly anyone had heard of the Dakota Access Pipeline. By September, the resistance camp of "water protectors" had grown to include thousands of people, and the standoff between indigenous and environmental activists and Energy Transfer Partners and North Dakota law enforcement had catapulted into the national headlines.
Scenes from the weeks of rolling conflicts—women set upon by attack dogs, people arrested in the midst of prayer, sound cannons targeted at marchers and their horses, heavy equipment lit on fire—galvanized public sympathy for the Native-led resistance. Solidarity caravans and resupply convoys poured into the water protectors' camps throughout the fall. Then the water protectors' (provisional) victories sparked new hope for the power of grassroots activism.
In early September, the Obama administration halted pipeline construction at the Missouri River, and in a sweeping statement said the controversy should prompt "a serious discussion on whether there should be a nationwide reform with respect to considering tribes' views on these types of infrastructure projects." On Dec. 4, Obama called on the Army Corps of Engineers to look for a different pipeline route.
What Does Our Nation's Standing Rock Moment Look Like? https://t.co/LN1Ix40FzQ @KXLBlockade @Indigeneity— EcoWatch (@EcoWatch)1482801605.0
The battle over the Dakota Access Pipeline is huge for two reasons.
First, it made visible the strength and sophistication of a resurgent Native sovereignty movement. This movement has been building for years. As I wrote in an article for The American Prospect, "From the Coast Salish nations of the Pacific Northwest, to the Ojibwe lands around the Great Lakes, to the Iroquois territory of New York, a new fighting spirit is sweeping across Indian Country." The mediagenic images from the banks of the Missouri River put that spirit front and center of (non-Native) Americans' attention. Environmental organizations have long sought to create alliances with indigenous peoples, with whom they share a similar worldview about how humanity should treat the planet's lands and waters. The fight against Keystone XL was a good example. Now environmental groups are taking leadership from Native Americans. And just in time. When it comes to disputes over resource extraction and environmental protection, Native Americans' moral authority can supply a countervailing force to the ethic of greed and corruption that will likely emanate from a gilded Oval Office.
Second, the #NoDAPL movement offers a template for resistance in the Age of Trump. We know what to expect from a new resource rush: attempts to put in place more fracking wells, more pipelines, more oil trains, more gas terminals, more clear-cutting, more mining. And with the Standing Rock experience fresh in our minds, we also know how to oppose that resource rush: with blockades, marches, petitions and prayer in the face of violence. The water protectors showed the power and force of putting bodies on the line to keep oil and gas and coal in the ground.
- Thom Yorke of Radiohead Releases Song With Greenpeace to Help ... ›
- Patti Smith, Thom Yorke, Flea and More Featured on Just Released ... ›
- Musicians and Activists Unite at 'Pathway to Paris' - EcoWatch ›
EcoWatch Daily Newsletter
A national park in Thailand has come up with an innovative way to make sure guests clean up their own trash: mail it back to them.
- Supermarkets in Thailand and Vietnam Swap Plastic Packaging for ... ›
- Malaysia Sends Plastic Waste Back to 13 Wealthy Countries, Says It ... ›
- Thailand Begins the New Year With Plastic Bag Ban - EcoWatch ›
- Coronavirus Worsens Thailand's Plastic Waste Crisis - EcoWatch ›
- Marium, Thailand's Beloved Baby Dugong, Is the Latest Victim of ... ›
By Ilana Cohen
Four years ago, Jacob Abel cast his first presidential vote for Donald Trump. As a young conservative from Concord, North Carolina, the choice felt natural.
But this November, he plans to cast a "protest vote" for a write-in candidate or abstain from casting a ballot for president. A determining factor in his 180-degree turn? Climate change.
Fractures Among Young Climate Conservatives<p>While young conservatives have united around the urgency of climate change, they remain divided over how to bring their concerns to the ballot box. Some embrace right-wing <a href="https://www.washingtonpost.com/politics/biden-attacks-republican-convention/2020/08/24/434e5b46-e66d-11ea-970a-64c73a1c2392_story.html" target="_blank">attacks</a> painting Biden as a "tool of the left" and find his climate agenda "radical." Others can't find a way to justify voting for Trump, even if it means breaking with their party.</p><p>Patrick Mann from Orange County, California, voted for Trump in 2016. But today, he's leading Aggies for Joe at Texas A&M University and is co-founder of Texas Students for Biden. </p><p>Mann grew up watching wildfires ravage his home state, nearly forcing his family to evacuate in 2017. The GOP is failing to "meet the moment" for climate action, Mann said. He's hoping Biden will deliver on a promise to "<a href="https://www.desmoinesregister.com/story/opinion/columnists/caucus/2020/01/06/joe-biden-democrat-president-iowa-caucus-restore-soul-our-nation/2806422001/" target="_blank">restore the soul of our nation</a>." </p><p>Taylor Walker from Pensacola, Florida, is also determined to make her voice heard on climate, including by casting her first-ever vote for president—but not for Biden.</p>
A False Equivalency<p>Young climate conservatives may fear climate denial and delayed climate action, but more than that, they fear the growing political momentum around the Green New Deal, the massive spending it entails and <a href="https://joebiden.com/climate-plan/" target="_blank">Biden's citing of it</a> as a "crucial framing for meeting the climate challenges we face."</p><p>Many don't want to split with their party to support a Democrat whose <a href="https://www.npr.org/2019/09/03/757220130/joe-biden-on-bipartisanship-gun-control-and-regrets-over-inaction-after-a-traged" target="_blank">allegedly bipartisan intentions</a> they doubt. If stymieing what they consider a radical green agenda means re-electing a climate change denying president, so be it. </p><p>"I'm scared of climate change, but I'm also scared of the Green New Deal and what it means for America," said Ben Mutolo, a republicEN spokesperson and junior at SUNY College of Environmental Science and Forestry. </p><p>Mutolo felt encouraged by former Ohio Governor John Kasich's <a href="https://www.rollcall.com/2020/08/17/kasich-speech-to-democratic-convention-follows-years-of-building-conservative-credentials/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">appearance</a> at the Democratic National Convention, but he still struggles to see himself voting for Biden. Though the candidate paints himself as a <a href="https://www.latimes.com/politics/story/2020-08-12/harris-biden-different-generation-similar-political-instinct" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">centrist,</a> Mutolo believes he's "cozying up to the ultra-progressive left." </p><p>Mutolo, who wants to see market-based climate solutions like a carbon tax, feels torn between a candidate whose climate plan relies on taking an "<a href="https://joebiden.com/environmental-justice-plan/#" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">All-of-Government approach</a>," and one with no efforts to reign in global warming at all. <span></span></p><p>Leiserowitz said he appreciated how a conservative might feel Biden's climate plan "doesn't jive with their limited government, free-market approach."</p><p>But he sees a strong distinction between voting for a presidential candidate with a <a href="https://www.nytimes.com/2020/07/14/us/politics/biden-climate-plan.html" target="_blank">$2 trillion climate plan</a> that includes large renewable energy investments, which have <a href="https://climatecommunication.yale.edu/publications/politics-global-warming-april-2020/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">bipartisan support</a>, and a candidate trying "to take the country in the opposite direction, towards more fossil fuels."</p>
- 7 Republicans Joined Senate Democrats in Vote to Fight Climate ... ›
- Climate Change Acknowledged by Increasing Number of ... ›
The World Health Organization (WHO) announced Monday that 64 high-income nations have joined an effort to distribute a COVID-19 vaccine fairly, prioritizing the most vulnerable citizens, as Science reported. The program is called the COVID-19 Vaccines Global Access Facility, or Covax, and it is a joint effort led by the WHO, the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations (CEPI) and Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance.
- Trump Denies CDC Director's 2021 Timeline for Coronavirus Vaccine ›
- CDC Tells States to Prepare for a Vaccine Before November Election ›
- Fauci Warns Pre-Pandemic Normalcy Not Likely Until Late 2021 ... ›
By Gloria Oladipo
In the face of dangerous heat waves this summer, Americans have taken shelter in air conditioned cooling centers. Normally, that would be a wise choice, but during a pandemic, indoor shelters present new risks. The same air conditioning systems that keep us cool recirculate air around us, potentially spreading the coronavirus.