The Environmental Legacy of Senator John McCain, 1936-2018
As news outlets around the country reflect on Senator John McCain's life and legacy following his death at 81 on Saturday, one strand that emerges is his attempts as a Senator to push bipartisan action on climate change.
In early 2003, McCain joined with then-Democratic Senator Joe Lieberman to introduce the Climate Stewardship Act, which The New York Times editorial about his death called "the first serious bipartisan bill to limit greenhouse gas emissions by putting a price on carbon."
While the 2003 bill failed, and McCain stepped back from climate leadership during and after his 2008 bid for president, his earlier efforts still stand as a model for future legislative attempts to combat climate change.
"Lieberman and McCain were really good examples of a Democrat and Republican intentionally, consciously and thoughtfully trying to work across the aisle to build a 60-vote coalition in the Senate on climate," Natural Resources Defense Council Action Fund Executive Director Kevin Curtis, who was an environmental lobbyist on Capitol Hill during the 2000s, told InsideClimateNews. "The point of looking at McCain's legacy, I think, is not to just look back to the 'good old days,' but to look at what we need to get back to."
McCain first became interested in climate change during his 2000 primary bid for president, when student activists asked his campaign about its climate action plans.
In May 2000, he held the first of three Senate hearings on climate change he would convene that year, inviting scientists to testify about issues like melting ice-shelves in Antarctica and the death of coral reefs.
"It was an excellent hearing and I gained a lot of respect for John McCain at that time," hearing witness and senior National Center for Atmospheric Research scientist Kevin Trenberth told InsideClimateNews. "He appeared to have an open mind on what the answers were and what to do about it."
McCain was also willing to stand up to his party's leadership in order to force a vote on his 2003 bill. Both he and Lieberman refused to support an energy bill Senate Majority Leader Republican Bill Frist and Senate Minority Leader Democrat Tom Daschle were trying to get passed until the Senate would allow a floor vote on their Climate Stewardship Act, which would have passed an economy-wide cap-and-trade program for carbon similar to the program in place for acid rain.
Their bill ultimately failed, but the vote was important for signaling to activists where senators actually stood on climate action.
"Obviously, it hasn't yet resulted in getting a comprehensive climate bill through Congress, but it's a big issue, kind of like the civil right issue," Environmental Defense Fund President Fred Krupp told InsideClimateNews. "When we do get there, [McCain] will go down in history as someone who started that progress in a forceful way."
In 2004, Lieberman and McCain introduced a reworked version of the bill, but it failed again in 2005 after increased lobbying by the fossil fuel industry.
While McCain never rejected climate science, he stepped away from leadership on the issue during his 2008 campaign, in which he came out in support of increasing offshore oil drilling, and afterwards, when he faced a primary challenger for his Senate seat who criticized his former climate leadership and was funded by the group Citizens United, which had successfully sued to overturn important parts of his groundbreaking campaign finance reform legislation.
"There's no sugar-coating the fact that he shelved his leadership role on climate for a while," Curtis told InsideClimateNews. "But instead of blaming John McCain for walking away from an issue and not showing up, we should be saying 'holy crap, something profound has happened with the Republican Party,'"
McCain did get one more chance to stand up for the environment in a big way during the Trump administration, as Environment & Energy Report pointed out.
In May 2017, he cast a surprise vote that secured the only defeat of an attempt by Republicans in the current session of Congress to repeal an Obama-era regulation
The bill in question would have used the Congressional Review Act to repeal an Obama-era regulation targeting methane emissions, and McCain objected in part because the repeal would have stopped federal agencies from passing any similar rules in the future.
"Improving the control of methane emissions is an important public health and air quality issue," McCain said in a statement at the time, according to Environment & Energy Report.Beyond climate change, McCain has also been praised by the National Park Service and the Grand Canyon Association for his work preserving the iconic Arizona landmark and by Citizens for Responsible Energy Solutions for his work to fund fish hatchery repairs near Hoover Dam and water conservation at Colorado River reservoirs, Environment & Energy report wrote.
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Jean-Marc Neveu and Olivier Civil never expected to find themselves battling against disposable mask pollution.
When they founded their recycling start-up Plaxtil in 2017, it was textile waste they set their sights on. The project developed a process that turned fabrics into a new recyclable material they describe as "ecological plastic."
Mounting Piles of Waste<p>It is not only the streets of Chatellerault where pandemic pollution is piling-up, but also the world's beaches and oceans. Once there, they can take up to 450 years to degrade and disappear.</p><p>Esther Röling, co-organizer of the annual Adventure Clean Up Challenge held on Hong Kong Island, has seen this waste firsthand. In October the sports challenge pitted teams against one another in a competition to remove trash from 13 hard-to-reach coastal areas around the city.</p><p>They find tons of both disposable and reusable masks, said Röling. "You wonder how it ended up there. Was it just thrown on the ground? Or was it in a garbage bag that broke open?"</p><p>Almost 10,000 kilometers away in Antibes on the sunny French Riviera, it's a similar picture. For the past few months, divers and clean-up volunteers working with an ocean clean-up non-profit called Operation Mer Propre have been collecting an increasing number of masks found on land and in the sea.</p><p>"Since the beginning of the lockdown when we started to count, we've reached 800, 900, [and now in total] 1000 masks," said co-founder Joko Peltier. </p><p>According to <a href="https://unctad.org/news/growing-plastic-pollution-wake-covid-19-how-trade-policy-can-help" target="_blank">UN estimates</a>, up to 75% of all coronavirus-related plastic could end up as waste in oceans and landfills.</p>
The Limits of Recycling<p>Yet not all are convinced the recycling of this waste is possible on a global scale. </p><p>"What those citizen groups are doing is really beneficial but once they collect it, it should just go to a landfill or an incinerator. They shouldn't necessarily expect it to get recycled," said Jonathan Krones, an industrial ecologist and visiting assistant professor of environmental studies at Boston College.</p><p>That's because mask recycling programs like Plaxtil are few and far between and most don't have the benefit of a readily adaptable production process. </p><p>Even in countries with solid recycling infrastructure, he says, the system is designed to separate out specific types of waste like bottles or cardboard.</p><p>"I imagine that it would be technically feasible to develop a separation process to filter out masks, but there simply aren't enough of them to make that economical," he said.</p><p>Collection is a big hurdle, he adds. Since each mask only weighs a fraction of a gram and they're scattered on roads or mixed with other trash, it is difficult and costly. </p><p>"You need a lot of raw material of the right quality to make investing in the recycling technology and the recycling system worthwhile," he said.<span></span><br></p>
Hemp, Sugar Cane and Sustainable Alternatives<p>Some projects are instead addressing the material used to make masks.</p><p>French company Geochanvre have created a mask made primarily from hemp, while in Australia, researchers at the Queensland University of Technology are experimenting with a disposable product made from agricultural waste. </p><p>Biodegradable options are exciting alternatives to reduce the fossil fuels needed for the creation of plastic-based masks, said Krones, but they don't absolve the wearer from the responsibility of what happens afterwards. </p><p>Bio-based masks often need their own composing solutions, he explains, because in landfill they can produce high amounts of the greenhouse gas methane when anaerobic bacteria feeds on the organic material. Methane is known to be significantly more potent than carbon dioxide.</p><p>"I think as long as we have in our mind that we want to have disposability, we're going to have to wrestle with a variety of different sorts of environmental tradeoffs," he said, adding that reusable, fabric masks are the best option available to most people.</p><p>Precimask is developing a clear face covering with an optional visor made from hard plastic, designed to be long-lasting.<br></p><p>Air enters either side of the cheeks through a technology normally found in pool filters and car exhaust systems, said company spokeswoman Juliette Chambet.</p><p>"We wanted to make ceramic-based filters that would be washable and cleanable, which would allow them to be reused as many times as desired without having to buy a new consumable or produce waste," she said. </p><p>Ultimately, encouraging mask wearers to think about the entire lifecycle of a mask is key, explains Neveu. </p><p>"We want people who put on the masks to realize that they are also responsible for the waste, he said. "It's not inevitable that this [pandemic] will become an environmental catastrophe.</p><p><em>Reposted with permission from </em><em><a href="https://www.dw.com/en/covid-19-recycling-pollution-trash-pandemic/a-55707817" target="_blank">Deutsche Welle</a>.</em><a href="https://www.ecowatch.com/r/entryeditor/2649032193#/" target="_self"></a></p>
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