One-Third of the Trump Team Has Ties to the Koch Brothers
A Grim Future for the Environment
Scott Pruitt, the Oklahoma attorney general who recently sued the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency over its plan to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, is, incredibly, Trump's pick to head that very agency. Pruitt has called the climate change debate "far from settled."
5 Things You Need to Know About Trump's #EPA Pick #ScottPruitt https://t.co/wGNfmzFlJJ @sierraclub @RobertKennedyJr @Waterkeeper @mzjacobson— EcoWatch (@EcoWatch)1483803364.0
Texas oil and gas investor Doug Deason, who, along with his billionaire father, Darwin, is a Republican political mega-donor and key figure in the Koch political network, pushed for his friend Pruitt to head the EPA. (Doug and his wife Holly wrote a tribute to the Koch brothers last year, supported by Freedom Partners.)
It's hard to imagine anyone whose anti-environmental policies would benefit Koch Industries' profits more than Pruitt, who is bound to deregulate the environment and encourage fossil fuel production as much as possible, benefiting large fossil fuel corporations like Koch Industries, which operates oil refineries and gas pipelines, sells natural gas and owns tar sands land in Canada. As Oklahoma attorney general, he established a "federalism unit to combat unwarranted regulation and overreach by the federal government." As the Chicago Tribute reported, Pruitt defended Exxon against allegations that it knew about climate change for decades and misled the public; fought to restrict clean water protections; and submitted a letter to the EPA that was actually written by Devon Energy, whose corporate PAC donated to his attorney general campaigns.
Sure enough, Koch Industries PAC also contributed $10,000 to Pruitt's attorney general campaigns in 2010 and 2014. Other top contributors include Chesapeake Energy, Devon Energy and ExxonMobil. What's more, the independent Republican State Leadership Committee, to which Koch Industries has given nearly $1.3 million in the last decade, spent $150,000 supporting Pruitt in the 2010 race. In 2014, Freedom Partners even gave $175,000 the political nonprofit Pruitt directed.
Rick Perry is also in a curious position: He's nominated to lead the Department of Energy, a department that he said he wanted to eliminate during the 2012 presidential campaign (and couldn't name in his famous "whoops" moment at a debate). Perry may not have been a Koch favorite for president, but Koch Industries has directly given $111,000 to his campaigns over the years, and David Koch has contributed $75,000. But perhaps Perry's biggest fan is Darwin Deason, who gave $5 million last election cycle to a super PAC supporting Perry.
As governor of Texas, Perry allowed the expansion of wind energy, but he supported new coal plants and has close ties to the oil and gas industry. The Department of Energy has a big focus on nuclear energy but also regulates the oil and gas industry and leads the government's fossil fuel development.
The Center for Media and Democracy got a sneak peak at Trump's likely energy policy by obtaining a memo sent by the head of his energy transition team, a former lobbyist for Koch Industries named Thomas Pyle. Included in Pyle's account of Trump's energy plan is a withdrawal from the Paris climate agreement, increasing federal oil and gas leasing and green-lighting pipelines such as the Keystone XL and Dakota Access pipelines.
A Koch favorite has been tapped to lead the Central Intelligence Agency. Mike Pompeo, a U.S. representative from the Kochs' home state of Kansas, was involved with the brothers long before his days as a politician; his private aerospace company used seed money from Koch Venture Capital and Pompeo was president of a company that worked with Koch Industries' Brazilian distributor.
When he ran to represent the district that's home to the Koch Industries headquarters in 2010, Pompeo received more Koch-linked donations than any other candidate that cycle, and after winning, he hired a Koch Industries lawyer to be his chief of staff. In 2014, the Kochs funded his campaign again. The Koch Industries PAC is the single largest donor to Pompeo's campaigns, according to the National Institute on Money in State Politics.
Pompeo is a "vigorous supporter" of the NSA's surveillance program, wants whistleblower Edward Snowden executed and opposes the U.S.' deal with Iran. As CIA chief, it's unclear how the Kochs' influence will affect his decisions, but in the House he advocated for their causes, pushing the Americans for Prosperity-backed "No Climate Tax Pledge" and introducing a bill to quicken the natural gas pipeline approval process. If the Koch brothers want to weigh in, they'll have the ear of one of their closest political allies.
Betsy DeVos, a billionaire and recent chair of the pro-"school choice" and politically active American Federation for Children, is Trump's pick to lead the Department of Education. Aside from donating $265,000 to sitting senators who will vote on her confirmation, her foundation has contributed millions to Americans for Prosperity and to other conservative political groups backed by the Kochs. DeVos has devoted her life to pushing for charter school expansion and private school vouchers, which use public funds to pay for kids to attend religious and other schools. There is no doubt that she will do all she can as secretary to divert traditional public school funding into under-regulated charters and private schools. Both Charles and David Koch have favored privatizing schools for decades, and many Koch-funded organizations team up on school-choice projects.
Corrupt Counsel to Defend Corrupt President
Donald McGahn, a lawyer who has worked for Freedom Partners and its affiliated super PAC, will be chief White House counsel. As a member of the Federal Election Commission from 2009 to 2013, he was known for hobbling the enforcement of campaign finance laws in favor of letting big money flood politics and transforming the commission into the ineffective, gridlocked body that it is today. McGahn, who defended Rep. Tom DeLay in a money laundering scandal and in a Russian pay-to-play scandal, will have to defend probably the most conflicts-of-interest-ridden president in history. In other words, McGahn is about the last person who will help Trump dissolve his conflicts of interest or critique a president set to make private profits all around the world while in office.
Trump's transition team has even reached outside of the team itself for additional advice from people deeply embedded in the Koch political operation. One of the Department of Veterans Affairs' harshest critics, Florida GOP Rep. Jeff Miller, may become head of that department. Trump is considering Miller for the job and members of a closely Koch-linked "social welfare" nonprofit are advising his transition team on the matter; one employee of the group is actually on the transition team. Concerned Veterans for America, which spends millions every year, often on ads criticizing Democrats or praising Republicans, wants to privatize veterans' health care and make firing workers easier. Trump hasn't yet named his selection for Veterans Affairs, but Pete Hegseth, president of Concerned Veterans for America, is also on the shortlist.
And it's not just the transition team that's looking for help from Koch minions—it's Trump himself. As Steve Horn reported in DeSmog, the only person Trump spoke to on the record about a big anti-regulatory act that's been on the Kochs' agenda for years was Phil Kerpen, former vice president of policy for Americans for Prosperity. The REINS Act just passed the House on Jan. 5.
Another Koch ally, Pennsylvania GOP Rep. Bill Shuster, is hoping to privatize air traffic control under a corporate president who, despite winning several states with the help of union voters, is no fan of unions. Shuster has already met with Trump and the Transportation nominee, Elaine Chao, and indicated that Trump is open to privatization. The congressman, who's received $30,000 from the Koch Industries PAC since 2012, fought a federal wind energy tax credit, in line with the Kochs' campaign targeting the program. In 2016, a Koch-funded outside political spending group, American Action Network, put $208,000 toward ads benefiting Shuster.
Shuster's 2016 campaign manager was Andy Post, who previously worked in media relations for the Charles Koch Institute and was grassroots coordinator for Americans for Prosperity during the 2012 election cycle. He's now communications coordinator with the Presidential Inaugural Committee.
This article merely scratches the surface of the Koch brothers' influence on the incoming administration. With one-third of Trump's transition team reportedly linked to the Kochs, more unfilled positions will go to Koch-linked individuals. From environmental regulation to veterans' health care, the Koch agenda will be well represented in the White House.
Reposted with permission from our media associate AlterNet.
EcoWatch Daily Newsletter
The environmental disaster that Mauritius is facing is starting to appear as its pristine waters turn black, its fish wash up dead, and its sea birds are unable to take flight, as they are limp under the weight of the fuel covering them. For all the damage to the centuries-old coral that surrounds the tiny island nation in the Indian Ocean, scientists are realizing that the damage could have been much worse and there are broad lessons for the shipping industry, according to Al Jazeera.
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Transitioning to renewable energy can help reduce global warming, and Jennie Stephens of Northeastern University says it can also drive social change.
For example, she says that locally owned businesses can lead the local clean energy economy and create new jobs in underserved communities.
"We really need to think about … connecting climate and energy with other issues that people wake up every day really worried about," she says, "whether it be jobs, housing, transportation, health and well-being."
To maximize that potential, she says the energy sector must have more women and people of color in positions of influence. Research shows that leadership in the solar industry, for example, is currently dominated by white men.
"I think that a more inclusive, diverse leadership is essential to be able to effectively make these connections," Stephens says. "Diversity is not just about who people are and their identity, but the ideas and the priorities and the approaches and the lens that they bring to the world."
So she says by elevating diverse voices, organizations can better connect the climate benefits of clean energy with social and economic transformation.
Reposted with permission from Yale Climate Connections.
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If weather is your mood, climate is your personality. That's an analogy some scientists use to help explain the difference between two words people often get mixed up.
Size Matters<p>Climates are a bit like woven tapestries. The big picture is important, no question. But so are all the seemingly minor details found inside the larger whole.</p><p><a href="https://research-information.bris.ac.uk/en/persons/tommaso-jucker" target="_blank">Tommaso Jucker</a> is an environmental scientist at the University of Bristol. In an email, Jucker says he'd define the term microclimate as "the suite of climatic conditions (temperature, rainfall, humidity, solar radiation) measured in localized areas, typically near the ground and at spatial scales that are directly relevant to ecological processes."</p><p>We'll talk about that last bit in a minute. But first, there's another criteria to discuss. According to some researchers, a microclimate — by definition — must differ from the larger area that surrounds it.</p><p><a href="https://www.cfc.umt.edu/research/paleoecologylab/publications/Davis_et_al_2019_Ecography.pdf" target="_blank">Forests</a> provide us with some great examples. "The climate near the ground in a tropical rainforest is dramatically different from the climate in the canopy 50 meters [164 feet] above," says University of Montana ecologist <a href="https://www.cfc.umt.edu/personnel/details.php?ID=1110" target="_blank">Solomon Dobrowski</a> in an email. "This vertical gradient among other factors allows for the staggering biodiversity we see in the tropics."</p><p>Likewise, scientists observed that a 2015 partial <a href="https://animals.howstuffworks.com/insects/bees-stopped-buzzing-during-2017-solar-eclipse.htm" target="_blank">solar eclipse</a> caused the air temperature of an Eastern European meadow to <a href="https://rmets.onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/full/10.1002/wea.2802" target="_blank">change more dramatically</a> than it did in a nearby forest. That's because trees provide not only shade, but their leaves also reflect solar radiation. At the same time, forests tend to reduce wind speeds.</p><p>All those factors add up. A 2019 review of 98 wooded places — spread out across five continents — found that forests are 7.2 degrees Fahrenheit (4 degrees Celsius) <a href="https://natureecoevocommunity.nature.com/posts/47363-forests-protect-animals-and-plants-against-warming" target="_blank">cooler on average</a> than the areas outside them.</p><p>Now if you hate the cold, don't worry; there's a cozy exception to the rule. According to that same study, forests are usually 1.8 degrees Fahrenheit (1 degree Celsius) warmer than the external environment during the wintertime. Pretty cool.</p>
A Bug's Life<p>When does a microclimate stop being, well, micro? In other words, is there a maximum size we should be aware of when discussing them?</p><p>Depends on who you ask. "In terms of horizontal scale, some have defined 'microclimate' as anything that is less than 100 meters [328 feet] in range," Jucker says. "I'm personally less prescriptive about this."</p><p>Instead, he says the "scale at which we want to measure [a particular] microclimate" ought to be "dictated" by the questions we're trying to answer.</p><p>"If I want to know how temperature affects the photosynthesis of a leaf, I should be measuring temperature at centimeter scale," Jucker explains. "If I want to know if and how temperature affects the habitat preference of a large, mobile mammal, it's probably more relevant to capture temperature variation across [tens to hundreds] of meters."</p><p>For instance, solitary plants have the power to generate itty-bitty microclimates. Just ask <a href="https://www.colorado.edu/geography/peter-blanken-0" target="_blank">Peter Blanken</a>, a geography professor at the University of Colorado, Boulder and the co-author of the 2016 book, "<a href="https://amzn.to/2XN6FT8" target="_blank">Microclimate and Local Climate</a>."</p>
The urban heat island effect is a good example of how microclimates work. NOAA
Microclimates on a Grand Scale<p>It's no secret that our planet is going through some rough times at the macro level. The global temperature is <a href="https://climate.nasa.gov/vital-signs/global-temperature/" target="_blank">climbing</a>; nine out of the <a href="https://www.noaa.gov/news/2019-was-2nd-hottest-year-on-record-for-earth-say-noaa-nasa" target="_blank">10 hottest years on record</a> have occurred since 2005. And by one recent estimate, roughly 1 million species around the world are <a href="https://ipbes.net/sites/default/files/2020-02/ipbes_global_assessment_report_summary_for_policymakers_en.pdf" target="_blank">facing extinction</a> due to human activities.</p><p>"One of the big questions that ecologists and environmental scientists are trying to answer right now is how will individual species and whole ecosystems respond to rapid climate change and habitat loss," says Jucker. "...To me, [microclimates are] a key component of this research — if we don't measure and understand climate at the appropriate scale, then predicting how things will change in the future becomes a lot harder."</p><p>Developers have long understood the impact small-scale climates have on our daily lives. <a href="https://science.howstuffworks.com/environmental/green-science/urban-heat-island.htm#pt0" target="_blank">Urban heat islands</a> are cities that have higher temperatures than neighboring rural areas.</p><p>Plants release vapors that can moderate local climates. But in cities, natural greenery is often scarce. To make matters worse, plenty of our roads and buildings have a bad habit of absorbing or re-emitting heat from the sun. <a href="https://www.google.com/books/edition/Microclimate_and_Local_Climate/LHUZDAAAQBAJ?hl=en&gbpv=1&bsq=urban%20heat%20island" target="_blank">Vehicle emissions</a> don't exactly help the situation.</p><p>Still, it's not like Boston or Beijing are thermal monoliths. Sometimes, the documented temperatures <a href="https://e360.yale.edu/features/can-we-turn-down-the-temperature-on-urban-heat-islands" target="_blank">within a single city</a> vary by 15 to 20 degrees Fahrenheit (8.3 to 11.1 degrees Celsius).</p><p>That's where metro parks and city trees come in. They have nice cooling effects on nearby neighborhoods. "Several cities around the world have developed programs to increase urban green spaces," says Blanken. "Tree planting programs and green roof programs, have been shown to lower surface temperatures, decrease air pollution and decrease surface water runoff (urban flash-flooding) in urban areas."</p>
An "explosive" wildfire ignited in Los Angeles county Wednesday, growing to 10,000 acres in a little less than three hours.
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By Jeff Berardelli
Note: This story was originally published on August 6, 2020
If asked to recall a hurricane, odds are you'd immediately invoke memorable names like Sandy, Katrina or Harvey. You'd probably even remember something specific about the impact of the storm. But if asked to recall a heat wave, a vague recollection that it was hot during your last summer vacation may be about as specific as you can get.
<div id="ecf36" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="c2dcc9d48a6cd61f247df1544539a783"><blockquote class="twitter-tweet twitter-custom-tweet" data-twitter-tweet-id="1290959314132361216" data-partner="rebelmouse"><div style="margin:1em 0">Naming heatwaves is a good idea—making the abstract concrete, the invisible visible. Why should hurricanes and wild… https://t.co/hDWgYb79Ob</div> — Ed Maibach (@Ed Maibach)<a href="https://twitter.com/MaibachEd/statuses/1290959314132361216">1596623660.0</a></blockquote></div>
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Thailand has a total population of 5,000 elephants. But of that number, 3,000 live in captivity, carrying tourists on their backs and offering photo opportunities made for social media.
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