By Oliver Milman
Art Sullivan is considered something of a political heretic by other coal miners in south-western Pennsylvania, where a wave of support for Donald Trump based upon his flamboyant promises of a resurgence in coal helped propel the Republican to the U.S. presidency.
"Many of my coal miner friends voted for him," said Sullivan, who has spent 54 years as a coal miner and, more latterly, consultant to a struggling industry. "They were deceived. Trump had no plan, no concept of how to resurrect the coal industry. My friends were lied to."
Sullivan's friends may disagree with this assessment but the coal comeback promised by Trump in the 2016 election campaign has failed to materialize, with his first term studded with bankruptcies and closures of mines and coal-fired power plants.
There are now about 5,000 fewer miners than when Trump strode into the White House. The coronavirus pandemic has turbo-charged the decline – so far this year U.S. coal production has collapsed by more than 25% compared with the same period in 2019.
It has been a bruising few years rather than the glorious new dawn promised when Trump donned a miner's helmet, mimed digging coal and excoriated Barack Obama's "war on coal" on the campaign trail four years ago. One of Trump's first executive orders removed a ban on coal mining on federal land and dumped Obama's plan to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. "Come on, fellas," said Trump at the order's signing, where he was surrounded by beaming miners. "Basically, you know what this is? You know what it says, right? You're going back to work."
Such assurances were eagerly accepted by coal mining communities in West Virginia, Pennsylvania and Kentucky who backed Trump and prepared for salvation. "When he came into office, it was like someone pulled their finger out of the dyke," said Thomas McLoughlin, a former mine inspector who trains new miners. "I was flooded with new mining students. It was overwhelming." McLoughlin said he would vote for the president again because Trump was the only candidate prepared to stand up for coal workers. "My business won't go under if he's re-elected," he added.
The Trump administration has set about weakening or scrapping a slew of environmental rules that bound the industry, such as requirements that new coal-fired power plants capture their carbon emissions and that coal firms do not release wastewater laced with dangerous pollutants, such as lead, selenium and arsenic, into rivers and streams.
Bob Murray, a major Trump donor and founder of the largest private coal company in the U.S., has boasted of an "action plan" he gave the administration to undo what he called "eight years of pure hell" under Obama. Much of Murray's three-and-a-half-page wishlist has been ticked off, including the U.S. withdrawal from the Paris climate agreement. A particular prize was a weakening of Obama-era standards to reduce mercury pollution from coal plants, a rollback undertaken after Andrew Wheeler, a former lobbyist for Murray Energy, became administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency.
"We are still feeling the effects of the damage from the Obama administration," said Jason Bostic, vice-president of the West Virginia Coal Association. "The social devastation in mining communities has been breathtaking. The support for Donald Trump is as strong if not stronger than in 2016. West Virginia is a Democratic state that has been dyed deep red because of the last administration."
But while Appalachia will largely stick with Trump in 2020, more coal capacity has been retired under Trump than during Obama's second term. "Coal's not back," as Cecil Roberts, president of the United Mine Workers of America, glumly conceded last year. "Nobody saved the coal industry."
Coal production fell so sharply last year that renewable energy such as solar and wind overtook it in electricity generation for the first time since at least 1885, the year Mark Twain published The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, America's first skyscraper was erected in Chicago and people were burning more wood than coal. Last year also saw Murray Energy file for bankruptcy, one of half a dozen coal companies to do so that year.
Cheap, abundant gas, retrieved via fracking, and the advance of renewables have been greater causes of coal's demise than any green regulation, experts say, rendering Trump's rollbacks simply environmentally destructive.
"The fall of coal is first and foremost a market story," said Daniel Kaffine, a University of Colorado economist who has researched the issue. "The days of coal supplying the majority of U.S. electricity production are not coming back." While metallurgical coal – needed for the making of steel – will hang on, the practice of burning thermal coal for energy is in "a death spiral," Kaffine said.
There are about 45,000 coal miners left in the U.S., half the number employed during Obama's first term. Plenty of political rhetoric surrounds a workforce that is actually quite small – there are double the number of flight attendants in the U.S. than coal miners, for example, and roughly the same number of chiropractors.
Whole communities sprang up around mining, however, meaning several dependent jobs are lost for each miner put out of work. The long decline of well-paying mining jobs, through machinery automation and now creeping obsolescence, has left deep scars in Appalachian towns now blighted by unemployment and opioid addiction.
"People drank Trump's Kool-Aid and he hasn't done it for them," said Blair Zimmerman, a former coal miner who is now commissioner of Greene county, Pennsylvania. "I'm very worried about the future because without mining, our tax base would go and we couldn't survive. People are leaving the area, it's tough. We should have looked at other options a long time ago."
Joe Biden, the Democratic presidential nominee, has outlined a $2tn plan to generate millions of jobs in renewable energy, potentially providing a new path for threatened coal workers. But coal mining has deep roots in communities that many are unwilling to relinquish. "It's a damned joke," said Bostic, of the West Virginia Coal Association. "It's an affront to a coal miner to say: 'We will take your job away for one that pays less well, and by the way, you have to pack your family up and move.'"
According to Sullivan, coal miners feel they have little choice. "The coal miner had no friends and was desperate," he said. "No one was speaking for us and then Trump was, so people backed him. Miners see him as their guy."
The externalities of coal reach far beyond mining communities, however. As the most carbon-intensive of fuels, coal is a key driver of the climate crisis, indirectly spurring the sorts of huge wildfires that have ravaged the U.S. west coast this year, as well as the continuing deterioration of the polar ice sheets that imperil coastal cities through sea level rise and storms.
Direct air pollution from the soot and chemicals given off by burned coal is also a major health burden. Not far from Sullivan and his friends, the Cheswick power plant, close to the banks of the Allegheny River, is close enough to people's homes that nearby residents have to wipe the coal soot from their houses. Five miles downstream towards Pittsburgh, in the suburb of Verona, Laura Jacko suspects emissions from the power plant could be behind her husband's asthma and the breathing problems suffered by her son, who was born prematurely.
"There is nothing more horrifying than holding down your small baby to shove a breathing machine into them," Jacko said. "It affects me personally and I get pretty angry about it."
Environmental groups have long pushed for the closure of Cheswick, which has previously been handed a civil penalty for breaching pollution limits. In Jacko's view, the era of coal needs to come to a managed but swift end. "My uncle was a coal worker and had black lung," a disease that develops from inhaling coal dust, she said. "I don't want their jobs to kill them. I want them to transition. These jobs are going away, it's just a matter of when. Pushing ahead with coal does everyone a disservice."
This story originally appeared in The Guardian and is republished here as part of Covering Climate Now, a global journalism collaboration strengthening coverage of the climate story.
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By James R. Skillen
Presidential elections are anxious times for federal land agencies and the people they serve. The Bureau of Land Management, National Park Service, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and U.S. Forest Service manage more than a quarter of the nation's land, which means that a new president can literally reshape the American landscape.
Federal influence is particularly significant in the Western U.S. Across the 11 states from the Rocky Mountains to the Pacific Coast, the federal government owns more than 45% of all land. In Alaska it owns over 60%.
Voters have a striking choice this year. President Donald Trump entered office committed to the "deconstruction of the administrative state." His administration raced to reduce environmental planning and regulations and expand private development in pursuit of "energy dominance."
The U.S. government controls many types of protected land and subsurface minerals such as oil and gas, mainly in Western states. BLM/Wikipedia
In contrast, Vice President Biden's campaign proposals for public lands remain fairly broad, but are largely consistent with the Obama administration's priorities. The most significant difference is Biden's pledge to end new fossil fuel leasing on public lands.
How would each candidate fulfill these promises? As I explain in my new book, "This Land Is My Land: Rebellion in the West," public lands are a microcosm of today's polarized American politics.
On the right, mainstream conservatives and industrial corporations want reduced regulation and increased resource development, while a more militantly anti-federal element of the Republican Party demands an end to public land ownership altogether. On the left, mainstream Democrats want carefully regulated land management with increased margins of environmental protection, but a vocal progressive wing is demanding that the federal government keep its fossil fuels in the ground. These tensions raise questions about how far each candidate would go.
The Trump administration is expected on Friday to finalize its plan to open about 9 million acres of Alaska’s Tonga… https://t.co/dxx4Yf2KeV— The New York Times (@The New York Times)1601005203.0
Republicans: Less Regulation, More Development
Since Ronald Reagan ran 40 years ago as a self-proclaimed "sagebrush rebel" who supported turning control of public lands back to Western states, Republicans have coalesced around a set of common public land priorities. They include reducing federal regulation, limiting the scope of environmental reviews and increasing natural resource development.
This approach has drawn support from natural resource industries, resource-dependent communities and a growing body of public interest law firms, think tanks, advocacy groups, foundations and political action committees. Their core libertarian conviction is that reducing government leads to prosperity.
The Trump administration has championed these priorities through actions that include shrinking several national monuments to expand oil leasing; preparing to open the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge for oil production; and narrowing environmental reviews of major federal actions. The full impact of these actions is hard to assess, since many face challenges in court, where the administration has fared poorly. But their theme is clear: Public lands are open for business.
As part of this effort, the Trump administration moved the Bureau of Land Management's headquarters from Washington, D.C., to Grand Junction, Colorado. The agency has struggled to staff the new building, which it shares with several oil and gas companies.
A vocal element of the Republican Party challenges the federal government's authority to own and manage public lands at all. Some advocates have engaged in armed confrontations with federal authorities. Several Western states have enacted legislation over the past decade demanding that the federal government transfer ownership of public lands and mineral rights to them.
President Trump has catered to this extreme wing while stopping short of meeting its explicit demands. He signaled support by appointing conservative activist William Perry Pendley as the Bureau of Land Management's functional acting director in July 2019 – a step that a federal court in Montana recently ruled was illegal because it bypassed a confirmation hearing. Pendley was known for staunch opposition to public land ownership and years of litigation over public land management.
The president also has pardoned controversial figures who are embraced by opponents of public land authority, including former Arizona Sheriff Joe Arpaio and two Oregon ranchers convicted of arson on federal property.
Despite his administration's losses in court, I expect that if President Trump is reelected he will continue down this path of deregulation, resource development and deference to conservative Western interests, with occasional gestures of support to more radical conservatives.
Democrats: Scientific Management With Limited Development
Recent Democratic presidents, from Jimmy Carter to Barack Obama, have championed federal environmental laws that guide public land management, such as the National Environmental Policy Act and the Endangered Species Act. Democratic administrations have emphasized scientific monitoring and regulatory oversight while still supporting energy development and other commercial resource uses of public lands.
Vice President Biden's long environmental record and campaign pledges suggest that he will continue this approach. Biden has promised to reverse the Trump administration's deregulatory efforts, restore national monument boundaries and manage energy development on public lands in ways that promote wind and solar energy and gradually phase out fossil fuel development.
But a Biden administration would face tensions within the Democratic Party as well. Progressives are calling for more dramatic action to slow climate change, including bans on hydraulic fracturing for oil and gas production and on new oil, gas and coal leases on public lands. Biden has signaled strong support for this agenda, but insists that hydraulic fracturing and fossil fuel development will continue on existing leases.
A Biden administration, then, would likely seek to restore President Obama's public lands legacy and push beyond it with tighter limits on fossil fuel production.
Everybody Loves the Outdoors
These sharply different visions can obscure the fact that there is substantial commitment to public lands, especially as places for hunting, fishing, camping and other recreational uses. This consensus was evident when Congress passed the Great American Outdoors Act of 2020 in July with strong bipartisan support. With an eye on election polls, President Trump bragged that signing the bill made him the greatest environmental president since George Washington.
As I see it, this bill was popular because it did not address controversial questions like regulation or energy development. Instead it provided billions of dollars for maintaining roads, trails, visitor centers and other public land infrastructure. It also guaranteed permanent funding for the Land and Water Conservation Fund, which uses money from federal fossil fuel royalties to protect valuable lands and waters from development.
That pairing suggests that public land ownership and fossil fuel development will both be part of the next administration. But the election will determine how these resources will be managed, and who will have the most influence over this process.
James R. Skillen is an Associate Professor of Environmental Studies, Calvin University.
Disclosure statement: James R. Skillen is a member of the Public Lands Foundation.
Reposted with permission from The Conversation.
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From bamboo utensils to bamboo toothbrushes, household products made from bamboo are becoming more popular every year. If you have allergies, neck pain or wake up constantly to flip your pillow to the cold side, bamboo pillows have the potential to help you sleep peacefully through the night.
In this article, we'll explain the benefits of bamboo pillows and how they can help you on your journey to better sleep. We'll also recommend a few of the best pillows on the market so you can choose new bedding that's right for you.
Our Picks for the Top Bamboo Pillows
Each product featured here has been independently selected by the writer. Learn more about our review methodology here. If you make a purchase using the links included, we may earn a commission.
- Best Overall: Sleepsia Bamboo Memory Foam Pillow
- Best Luxury Pillow: Cosy House Collection Luxury Bamboo Pillow
- Best Body Pillow: Snuggle-Pedic Full Body Pillow
- Best Bamboo Alternative: Avocado Green Pillow
Why Switch to Bamboo Pillows?
Bamboo may be thought of as a tree-like structure because of its resilience, but it's actually classified as grass, which can be spun and woven in a soft, spongy material much like cotton. The pillows are made with a bamboo-based outer sleeve and stuffed with foam pieces in order to mold to your head position. Bamboo is considered naturally hypoallergenic and doesn't attract pests, bacterias or other fungi like most other plants.
Bedding materials such as cotton and silk don't have the concise cellulose structure that bamboo does. The material's cell structure allows more oxygen circulation, which keeps it lightweight and breathable so your pillow stays cooler longer.
Other than the sleeping benefits of the pillows, bamboo is considered an extremely sustainable material through production. The adaptable plant works as a great renewable resource, as it can thrive in any soil type and it is considered one of the fastest-growing plants in the world. As the bamboo is grown, it produces more oxygen than its calculated carbon emissions. And the cultivation of bamboo doesn't require fertilizer or pesticides, so ecosystems around the bamboo farms can be left unharmed.
Although bamboo itself is a completely natural and sustainable material, it has to undergo a strong chemical process in order to become a textile. Bamboo viscose, which is a type of rayon, is controversial among environmentalists because of this process, but overall, bamboo derivatives still produce lower carbon emissions than traditional polyester bedding. New bamboo textile processes are also being developed to be much more eco-friendly.
Full Reviews of Our Top Picks
When choosing our top recommended bamboo pillows, we looked at factors including:
- Comfort: Quality comes first when choosing bedding. The bamboo pillows chosen contain soft and snug adjustable filling to adapt to your preferred firmness.
- Materials: Most traditional pillows are stuffed with synthetic foam that contains VOCs, also known as volatile organic compounds. We ensure both the bamboo fabric and foam used in our picks are toxin-free.
- Cost: Bamboo pillows are usually a little more expensive than regular polyester or feather pillows because of their superior comfort and eco-friendly properties. It's important that the product you spend your money on is worth the cost and will hold up long-term.
- Customer reviews: We look at real and verified reviews in order to make sure each product is genuinely beneficial to customers' sleep.
Best Overall: Sleepsia Bamboo Memory Foam Pillow
The Sleepsia Bamboo Memory Foam Pillow is our pick for the overall best bamboo pillow because it offers just the right amount of support for side sleepers, stomach sleepers and back sleepers. Unlike most memory foam pillows, which use a large compact memory foam base, the shredded memory foam in these sleeper pillows allows you to easily add or remove the filling to meet your optimal comfortability. This memory foam pillow can support your neck, shoulders and upper back muscles without putting stress on your spine.
The bamboo cover as well as the memory foam allow for better air circulation to keep you from feeling too warm. These bamboo pillowcases are antibacterial as well as machine washable, so you can always have a clean sleep. The sizes range from standard to king-size pillows and are sold in a compact box that can easily be reused or recycled after purchasing.
Customer Rating: 4.1 out of 5 stars with over 6,000 Amazon ratings
Why Buy: Sleepsia's memory foam pillow uses CertiPUR-US® certified safe foam to ensure low emissions and prohibits the use of harmful components.
Best Luxury Pillow: Cosy House Collection Luxury Bamboo Pillow
Cosy House's king- and queen-size pillows are made with high-quality, bamboo-derived rayon fabric. The premium bamboo fibers increase airflow and temperature control so you won't have to flip to the cool side of your pillow through the night. If the pillows get dirty or flat over time, simply throw them in the washer and dryer to make them feel brand new again.
These bamboo pillows have a middle layer of transitional foam for extra durability as well as a safe, non-toxic filling to ensure you can sleep comfortably. If you're not satisfied with the luxurious product, Cosy House offers a satisfaction guarantee and will answer any questions or concerns in a timely manner.
Customer Rating: 4.4 out of 5 stars with over 2,300 Amazon ratings.
Why Buy: Cosy House products are Amazon's Choice for luxury bamboo pillows and are CertiPUR-US certified. They contain premium materials to ensure you get the best possible sleep.
Best Body Pillow: Snuggle-Pedic Full Body Pillow
If you have back pain and neck pain, the Snuggle-Pedic Full Body Pillow will be able to support your full body to relieve tension while sleeping. The 4.5-foot-long pillow works great as a pregnancy pillow or for anyone seeking premium comfort and support.
The Snuggle-Pedic was developed by chiropractors who wanted to help restless patients get a good night's sleep. The doctors found that your body is able to evenly distribute its weight and naturally align your spine when hugging a body pillow. Inside the pillow is a cooling material that is designed to absorb heat and help people prone to night sweats and overheating. The shredded memory foam pillow can be easily maneuvered to your body's comfort and is fully machine washable if you want to clean or re-fluff it for long-lasting coziness.
Customer Rating: 4.5 out of 5 stars with over 14,300 Amazon ratings
Why Buy: Made in the USA and GreenGuard Gold certified, Snuggle-Pedic ensures non-toxic stuffing.
Best alternative: Avocado Green Pillow
If bamboo pillows just aren't for you, Avocado's 100% organic cotton pillow is just as sustainable and comfy. When you open the sleeve, the pillow is divided into three main materials. The outer layer consists of a quilt-like cover made from high-quality cotton. The soft organic latex ribbons underneath provide structure and customizable firmness to support all sleep positions. Finally, the pillow is stuffed with eco-friendly kapok tree fiber which is hypoallergenic, biodegradable and never grown with pesticides.
Avocado provides an extra bag of filling if you want to adjust your volume for a softer or more extra firm pillow. You can wash your removable cotton pillow cover if needed, but there's no need to use bleach and hanging it to dry will keep it from naturally shrinking. The soft pillows come in every size necessary and pair well with Avocado's green mattress if you're determined to sleep well with sustainable peace of mind.
Customer Rating: 4.4 out of 5 stars with over 5,000 ratings on the Avocado website
Why Buy: Vegan, GreenGuard certified and considered a carbon-negative business, Avocado's Green Pillow has passed some of the most strict emissions and sustainability testing for sleeping products on the market today.
Frequently Asked Questions: Bamboo Pillows
Is a bamboo pillow sustainable?
Bamboo is considered a great renewable resource that can be used in many different household items and is a great alternative to traditional polyester bedding products. The fast-growing plant has such a high carbon to oxygen rate that it actually offsets carbon emissions, and it doesn't require any fertilization or pesticides that could potentially cause runoff production. However, the production process to turn bamboo into a textile can create toxins that leach into the environment. Still, it's a better alternative to full synthetic materials.
What is so special about bamboo pillows?Bamboo bed pillows are a great product to try if you have trouble sleeping because of allergy issues, breathing problems or overheating at night. They are known for their distinct fibers that encourage airflow and make the pillows so lightweight. The breathable features have shown evidence of hypoallergenic properties and create a natural cooling to help sleepers get a good night of rest.
As the days tick down to next month's presidential election, debate rages over the U.S. government's handling of the COVID-19 pandemic with critics of President Donald Trump calling for his ouster due to his failure to protect the American public.
And yet as mass media runs daily tallies of COVID-related cases and deaths, a more sinister threat to public health looms as the Trump administration rolls back regulations that govern the quality of our air, land and water. And though these actions are garnering little public outcry now, they pose grave danger to our children and their children for decades to come. It's a simple truth — a poisoned environment means poisoned people.
In recent months the Trump administration has stripped protections from wetlands in ways that allow for the dumping of pesticides and other pollutants directly into millions of miles of streams and other waterways; relaxed rules on power plants designed to curb air emissions containing brain-damaging heavy metals such as mercury; altered automobile fuel efficiency standards to be "less stringent," allowed more emissions of climate-damaging carbon dioxide; and rolled back requirements governing how coal-fired power plants dispose of toxic wastewater, a move praised by coal industry executives but expected to add increased levels of lead, arsenic and other harmful contaminants to the environment.
If there was any doubt about how little Trump cares for the health of our children, that was made clear last month when the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) announced it would continue to allow the neurotoxic chemical chlorpyrifos to be used to grow food despite years of scientific research showing the pesticide damages babies' brain development. Residues of chlorpyrifos are commonly found in food consumed by young children. A USDA report released last year documented chlorpyrifos residues in raisins, peaches, mangoes and asparagus, among other foods.
Amid the rush to ease regulations before the end of Trump's term, the EPA is also working to appoint new industry-friendly individuals to its scientific advisory board. In an October 14 announcement, the agency said the new vice chair of the board would be Dr. Barbara Beck, who works for an industry consulting company with a history of defending controversial chemicals and other substances. Beck has advocated for loosened restrictions on lead despite the fact that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) says lead exposure damages a child's brain and nervous system and can cause learning and behavior problems.
"Trump is burning down the house," Tim Whitehouse, a former senior attorney with the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), told me. Whitehouse now heads an organization representing thousands of government employees called Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER), and says government scientists are being ignored as the administration pushes through favors for influential industries.
"I think it's beyond a difference in policy. It is a feeling that the people who are put in charge are robbing the house," Whitehouse said. "We're in a period of massive biodiversity loss and increasing chemical and toxic burdens on individuals, and the EPA is not responding to the crises at hand."
PEER has joined with other groups in suing the EPA over its elimination of clean water protections, charging in a formal complaint that Trump's political appointees are ignoring scientific evidence of the harms certain to be wrought by the rule changes.
To be sure, the EPA's fealty to industry is not unique to the Trump Administration. Indeed, the agency's loyalty to companies over consumers seems to be a longstanding bipartisan tradition. Trump's predecessor President Barack Obama also faced criticism for actions – and inaction – by his EPA.
And numerous administrations are to blame for allowing the broad spread of toxic chemicals known as PFAS (short for per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances) that are linked to an array of serious health problems.
But we simply cannot afford this political bargaining with our health anymore. In taking more than 200,000 lives in less than a year, the COVID-19 virus has underscored the already fragile condition of our health. People suffering from cancer, chronic kidney disease, obesity, and other problems are at increased risk of becoming seriously ill or dying if stricken with COVID-19, according to the CDC. Scientists have rightly pointed out that environmental pollution is a contributing factor to the vulnerability of many people to the COVID-19 virus.
Adding more toxins into the air we breathe and water we drink only ensures more vulnerability and more deaths.
We already are facing frightening levels of neurodevelopmental disorders, cancer and disease in our population: Autism spectrum disorder is now effecting roughly 1 in every 54 children, far more prevalent than 20 years ago. The rate at which children are diagnosed with cancer has increased 34 percent since 1975; in 2020 more than 16,800 kids are expected to be newly diagnosed. Overall, close to 40 percent of men and women in the United States will be diagnosed with cancer in their lifetimes. More than 600,000 people are dying every year from cancer and more than 1.7 million are diagnosed with new cancers each year.
As an environmental journalist, I am astonished at the brazenness with which this administration has made clear that corporate well-being is more valuable than the health and well-being of citizens.
And as a mother, I agonize over the suffering, sickness and struggles I know lie ahead for our future generations.
Years from now, when our children tell their children about this time, when they try to explain how much was lost, how cavalierly we allowed their health to be traded for the health of corporate profits, they will be right to blame us. They will also be right to not forgive us.
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By Oliver Milman
The climate crisis is set to be a significant factor in a U.S. presidential election for the first time, with new polling showing a clear majority of American voters want decisive action to deal with the threats posed by global heating.
Seven in 10 voters support government action to address climate change, with three-quarters wanting the U.S. to generate all of its electricity from renewable sources such as solar and wind within 15 years.
Nearly two-thirds of respondents said they would be more likely to vote for a presidential candidate who supports the complete shift to clean energy, with a further seven in 10 voters supporting US involvement in the Paris climate agreement, which commits countries to tackling dangerous heating. Two-thirds of voters said climate should be a priority for whoever wins the election.
"There may be a divide on Capitol Hill but the large majority of us are worried about climate change and want to see leaders deal with it," said Ed Maibach, director of George Mason University's Center for Climate Change Communication. "This is the first election where climate change has featured heavily. It's unlike anything we've seen in American politics before."
Over the past decade, the crisis has become a sharply partisan political topic as Republicans embraced denial and obfuscation of the escalating crisis. Donald Trump called climate science a "hoax" and his administration set about dismantling every policy put in place by Barack Obama to reduce planet-heating emissions.
However, the new polling, on behalf of the Guardian, Vice Media Group and Covering Climate Now, by Climate Nexus, the Yale Program on Climate Change Communication, and the George Mason University Center for Climate Change Communication, shows that the political landscape among voters appears to be shifting.
Do you support or oppose each of the following policies as part of the recovery from the coronavirus pandemic?
Democrats are becoming increasingly alarmed over the climate crisis, with 90% describing it as either a "very serious" or "somewhat serious" problem and more than eight in 10 supporting a Green New Deal, a vast government-led climate program, to combat it.
This concern is filtering through, to a lesser degree, to Republican voters. More than half say climate change is a very or somewhat serious problem, with 41% backing the Green New Deal, despite it being widely vilified by Republican party leaders. A further 51% of Republican voters support U.S. involvement in the Paris climate accords.
The polling suggests Trump, who has triggered the U.S. withdrawal from the agreement and routinely disparages climate science, will be the first U.S. president to face a voter backlash over the climate crisis. His Democratic opponent, Joe Biden, meanwhile, has vowed to reduce U.S. energy emissions to net zero by 2050 and promised a $2tn investment to create millions of new jobs in clean energy industries.
"Republican officeholders really do have to worry about this," said Maibach. "Young Republicans are becoming less accepting of the party line that climate change isn't real or isn't a serious problem. They don't want climate denial any more, moderate Republicans don't want climate denial any more and women voters largely don't want to support climate denialist candidates any more either."
The surge in voter appetite for climate action follows a barrage of disasters that have hit the U.S. recently, including huge wildfires that have scorched the west coast and powerful hurricanes that have pummeled the U.S. south. Scientists say rising global temperatures, caused by humans burning fossil fuels, are aiding the spread of wildfires and making hurricanes more intense.
Trump's first term in office has also seen a growing youth-led climate protest movement, with the Swedish teenager Greta Thunberg as its figurehead. Younger U.S. voters see the climate crisis as a top-tier issue, polling has shown, while the latest opinion research shows broad support for a greater focus on the issue in the media.
More than six in 10 respondents said the media should explicitly outline the link between extreme weather events and the climate crisis, while nearly three-quarters want moderators to ask questions about the climate crisis during the three televised presidential debates, which start next week. In 2016, no questions were asked about climate during the debates between Trump and Hillary Clinton.
This story originally appeared in The Guardian and is republished here as part of Covering Climate Now, a global journalism collaboration strengthening coverage of the climate story.
By Karen Charman
When President Donald Trump visited California on September 14 and dismissed the state Secretary of Natural Resources Wade Crowfoot's plea to recognize the role of climate change in the midst of the Golden State's worst and most dangerous recorded fire season to date, he gaslighted the tens of millions of West Coast residents suffering through the ordeal.
While Trump declared that the weather will just "start getting cooler" and that science is irrelevant to the wildfires, millions were struggling to breathe through the toxic smoke that gave Portland the week-long distinction of having the most hazardous air on the planet, with pollution levels in Seattle and San Francisco close behind. Whole towns in California and Oregon have been destroyed by the wildfires.
A growing body of scientific evidence over the last several decades confirms that as atmospheric levels of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases rise, so too will frequent, intense and increasingly deadly weather events. Strange new weather phenomena like fire tornadoes, "snowacanes" and "rain bombs" are now part of our experience and language. Droughts, unprecedented heat, wildfires, hurricanes, tornadoes and flooding are happening more often, becoming more severe, and occurring over larger and larger areas.
This year several strange and extreme weather conditions combined to create the perfect firestorm across the Western U.S. A prolonged record-breaking heatwave saw temperatures reach 130 degrees Fahrenheit in Death Valley, California, on August 16, and 121 degrees Fahrenheit in the Los Angeles suburb of Woodland Hills three weeks later on September 6. In mid-August, more than 10,000 dry lightning strikes began igniting fires in Northern California, Oregon and Washington, including all over the Bay Area where they were eerily close to heavily populated areas. Lightning-induced fires are also torching Idaho, Arizona, Utah, Montana, Colorado and New Mexico. Subsequent high winds in drought-stricken landscapes then turned the initial sparks into major conflagrations.
By the morning of Trump's California appearance, 28 major fires had incinerated more than 3 million acres just in California. Fires in California, Oregon and Washington had combined to create a hellscape of toxic smoke that turned the skies in those states orange, blood red and deep magenta and was detected as far away as Europe. At least 35 people had died.
Meanwhile, on the other side of the country, Hurricane Sally, one of five named storms then swirling in the Atlantic, was just two days away from flooding coastal communities from the Florida Panhandle to Louisiana. Sally, which submerged downtown Pensacola in five feet of water, hit just three weeks after Hurricane Laura caused massive flooding and 10 deaths. Slamming into the Louisiana coast with 150-mile-an-hour winds, Laura was one of the strongest hurricanes to make landfall in U.S. history.
So far, 2020 has been an extremely busy hurricane season with more than 20 named storms, seven of which formed in the first half of September. With two more months before the hurricane season officially ends, there could be several more. Meanwhile, many of the fires across the West are still burning.
Nor has catastrophic weather spared the middle of the country this summer. On August 10, a particularly strong derecho, a quick-forming massive wall of intense winds, blasted through Iowa, Wisconsin, Illinois and Indiana. The derecho cut a path 770 miles long, held its strength for 14 hours, and clocked winds up to 140 miles per hour. Four people died, and crops and buildings on some 10 million acres in Iowa — nearly a third of the state's farmland — were heavily damaged. This storm also caused significant damage to cars and homes, downed power lines and destroyed massive numbers of trees in Cedar Rapids, Des Moines and parts of Chicago.
In 2019, the Fourth National Climate Assessment, a comprehensive report mandated by Congress to study the impacts of climate change, found that without substantial and sustained greenhouse gas reductions along with vast infrastructure upgrades, unabated climate change will threaten much that many Americans take for granted and lead to an unrecognizable, dystopian existence for large swaths of the population.
Among the report's findings: food will become harder to grow and be lower in quality but more expensive. Clean, safe water supplies will become scarce in many parts of the country. Human health will take a significant hit from worsening air and water pollution, greater exposure to disease-carrying insects, pests, foodborne and waterborne pathogens, as well as the emotional strain of having to deal with the reality and uncertainty of catastrophic weather events and their aftermath. Heat will kill more people. Energy supplies will become increasingly unstable and more costly (because most U.S. power plants need a steady supply of cooling water to operate).
Moreover, the report predicts that already compromised roads, bridges, and the safety of pipelines all over the country will be vulnerable to damage from violent storms and flooding. Whole communities, especially those facing rising sea levels along the coastline, will be forced to move. Increasing production and supply chain disruptions will cause significant damage to the economy as a whole. Areas and industries that depend on natural resources and good, stable weather will likely be hardest hit with annual losses in the hundreds of billions of dollars by the end of the century, an amount exceeding the current total economic output of many U.S. states.
Overall, the report predicts "substantial net damage to the U.S. economy throughout this century," though it notes that poor and disadvantaged communities will disproportionately bear the worst impacts.
A stark illustration of what current levels of greenhouse gas emissions will look like is provided in maps by the Rhodium Group, a New York-based independent research organization, which forecasts a much harsher living environment for many parts of the U.S. over the next 20 to 40 years. Temperatures above 95 degrees Fahrenheit will become much more common, especially in the South and Southwest, with places like Phoenix, Arizona, much of interior Southern California and southern Texas likely sweltering in 95 degrees or hotter for half the year.
Along with rising temperatures, humidity is expected to dramatically increase, even in places like Arizona, Southern California and Nevada, which have long been known for their dry heat. When excessive humidity combines with extreme heat, it creates "wet bulb" temperatures where sweating fails to cool the body. Such conditions make it dangerous to work outside or for kids to play outside. According to Rhodium's projections, current emissions are on track to turn much of the Mississippi Valley, the above-mentioned areas in the Southwest, southern Texas, and coastal areas in Florida, Georgia, North Carolina and South Carolina into high wet bulb zones.
Despite all of these future threats — on top of the climate disasters we are already seeing — Trump, the ruling Republicans, the fossil fuel sector and their defenders in right-wing media continue to deny climate change.
"If we don't have a stable environment to live in, there's no way to have life, liberty, or pursue happiness," Jeffrey Potent, adjunct professor of sustainability at Columbia University's School of International and Public Affairs, told Truthout, decrying the Trump administration's attack on the government's ability to oversee and protect our environment.
"This is completely different from anything I have encountered in Washington," said Tyson Slocum, director Public Citizen's energy program. "It's an all-out assault on everything for the public interest."
Foxes Guarding the Henhouse
Before he assumed power, Trump attacked regulations as unnecessary barriers to freedom and economic prosperity. Since taking office, he has targeted anything enacted by the administration of his predecessor, Barack Obama, and taken steps to withdraw the U.S. from the Paris agreement, the international effort to combat climate change. He has also staffed heads of key agencies with climate deniers of various stripes, forced out career public servants and created a hostile work environment for those who don't profess loyalty to his deregulatory agenda.
Like Trump himself, some of his cabinet choices displayed an audacious penchant for self-dealing and abusing their positions of authority. One example is Trump's first Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Administrator, Scott Pruitt, who aggressively worked to overturn Obama's climate regulations, spent most of his time in private meetings with fossil fuel and chemical company executives, sidelined career EPA staff and reconfigured independent scientific advisory boards to make them more supportive of the industries EPA is charged with regulating. Dubbed "one of the most scandal-plagued Cabinet officials in U.S. history," Pruitt resigned in disgrace after revelations about his multiple brazen abuses, including using the agency as his personal concierge service and piggy bank.
Pruitt's deputy, Andrew Wheeler, a former coal industry lobbyist and longtime Republican Washington insider, took over and has continued Trump's deregulatory agenda apace.
At the Department of Interior (DOI), a sprawling agency that oversees 75 percent of the country's public federal lands and includes the U.S. Geological Survey, which is tasked with evaluating natural hazards that threaten life and the health of our ecosystems, Trump installed another flamboyant anti-environmentalist to head the agency. Like Pruitt, Trump's first Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke aggressively attacked environmental regulations, ditched more than 200 advisory panels, and pushed to open up vast swaths of public land to oil and gas drilling. Described by one environmental group as "the most anti-conservation Interior secretary in our nation's history," Zinke was forced out after numerous highly publicized conflict-of-interest scandals.
The DOI is now run by Zinke's deputy secretary, David Bernhardt, another longtime Republican Washington insider and former oil industry lobbyist who has also been the subject of several government ethics complaints for various violations favoring polluting industries.
More recently, longtime climate change denier David Legates, a climatologist at the University of Delaware previously funded by fossil fuel interests, was hired for a top job advancing weather modeling and prediction at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). Legates has called for increasing carbon emissions.
The Trump administration has done much more than stack government agencies with fossil fuel industry proponents. It has removed or diluted discussion of climate change from as many government platforms as it can and decimated independent scientific advisory boards that provide unbiased, fact-based information the government needs to enact policies that protect the public. It has also slashed environmental agency staffing and budgets.
The Damage So Far
A September 17 report by the Rhodium Group calculates that 1.8 billion tons more greenhouse gases will be released over the next 15 years as a result of climate change rollbacks the Trump administration has achieved so far. These include repealing Obama's main climate policy, the Clean Power Plan, which was intended to reduce dirty emissions from power plants; increasing pollution from cars by rolling back fuel economy standards and challenging California's longtime authority to set stricter emissions standards; targeting controls on hydrofluorocarbons, powerful greenhouse gases used mainly in refrigerators and air conditioners that also destroy the Earth's protective ozone layer; and allowing unreported and unregulated emissions of methane, another potent greenhouse gas, by oil and gas companies.
Besides these measures, Trump is also trying to gut core environmental statutes like the Clean Air Act, the Clean Water Act, the National Environmental Policy Act and the Endangered Species Act, all of which were enacted to protect human health and preserve a livable world.
The Paris agreement aims to keep the rise in average global temperatures at less than 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels and hopefully cap it at 1.5 degrees C or lower. We are now at approximately 1.2 degrees C and counting.
This story originally appeared in Truthout and is republished here as part of Covering Climate Now, a global journalism collaboration strengthening coverage of the climate story.
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President Donald Trump’s Climate Change Record Has Been a Boon for Oil Companies, and a Threat to the Planet
By Vernon Loeb, Marianne Lavelle and Stacy Feldman
In the middle of his 44th month in office, two weeks before the start of the Republican convention in late August, President Trump rolled back Barack Obama's last major environmental regulation, restricting methane leaks.
The move represented an environmental trifecta of sorts for the president, who had handed the oil and gas industry another gift in his quest for "American energy dominance," thumbed his nose yet again at climate change and came close to fully dismantling his predecessor's environment and climate legacy.
It had been a busy four years, and a breakneck 2020, as Trump and the former industry executives and lobbyists he'd placed in control of the Environmental Protection Agency and the Department of the Interior raced to rollback auto emissions standards, weaken the nation's most important environmental law, open the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to drilling and reject stronger air pollution standards, even as research showed a link between those pollutants and an increased risk of death from Covid-19.
"I applaud and strongly support President Trump's continued support for the oil and gas industry," Oklahoma Gov. Kevin Stitt said after the administration proposed its rollback of the Obama methane rules. "During these uncertain times, it makes no sense that we would be placing additional regulatory burdens on our vital industries which are not supported by sound science and do not consider economic impact."
Environmental lawyers and climate activists who've been battling Trump since day one are in agreement that Trump, beginning with his decision to lead the nation out of the Paris climate accord, has done more to roll back and weaken environmental laws and regulations than any president in history.
Trump extolled the accomplishment and put a different spin on the superlative during a White House speech in July, saying, "We have removed nearly 25,000 pages of job destroying regulations, more than any other president by far in the history of our country."
A few days earlier, as his Democratic rival, Joe Biden, unveiled a $2 trillion plan to combat climate change, Trump promoted what he called a "very dramatic" series of revisions to the National Environmental Policy Act, the foundation of environmental protection in the United States that had been signed into law by President Richard M. Nixon 50 years ago.
Environmentalists have used the law to block everything from pipelines to the destruction of natural habitats. Trump has now limited environmental reviews under the act to between one and two years and relieved federal agencies from having to consider a project's impact on climate change during the review and permitting process.
"While our world is burning, President Trump is adding fuel to the fire by taking away our right to be informed and to protect ourselves from irreparable harm," Gina McCarthy, Obama's EPA administrator who now serves as president and CEO of the Natural Resources Defense Council, said of weakening the act.
By late summer, Columbia University's Sabin Center for Climate Change Law had counted 159 actions since Trump took office "to scale back or wholly eliminate climate mitigation and adaptation measures." Many have been slowed or blocked by the courts.
Trump's Long Focus on 'American Energy Dominance'
When Trump delivered his first major energy speech in the fracking fields of North Dakota as a candidate in May 2016, he called for American domination of global energy supplies.
"We are going to turn everything around," Trump declared. "And quickly, very quickly."
Once in office, Trump pursued a policy of unfettered support for fossil fuel development. He immediately signed memorandums to revive the Keystone XL and Dakota Access pipelines, projects blocked by Obama.
In early March 2017, his administration ordered the Environmental Protection Agency to stop gathering data from oil and gas companies needed to rein in leaks of methane, a potent short-lived climate pollutant. Fossil fuel infrastructure adds to greenhouse gas emissions, in part by leaking methane into the atmosphere.
He followed up, at the end of March, by issuing a sweeping executive order directing all federal agencies to target for elimination any rules that restrict U.S. production of energy. He set guidance to make it more difficult to put future regulations on fossil fuel industries and he moved to discard the use of a rigorous "social cost of carbon," a regulatory measurement that puts a price on the future damage society will pay for every ton of carbon dioxide emitted.
As his first year in office came to a close, Trump and Alaska's Republican senators inserted a provision into his signature tax cut legislation that called for opening the coastal plain of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge for drilling.
In 2018, domestic oil production hit a record high. The result of this, among other things, was the reversal of three consecutive years of declining U.S. carbon emissions.
Many of Trump's regulations have also been tailored to favor the coal industry, often at the expense of cheaper, cleaner energy. Robert Murray, founder of the now-bankrupt coal company Murray Energy and one of Trump's closest industry allies, gave the president a "wish list" early on that became a virtual template for the administration's rollback of regulations.
The administration swiftly lifted an Obama moratorium on new coal leases on federal lands, to no real benefit. The decline of coal continued unabated, but Trump remained an unapologetic champion of the dirtiest fossil fuel.
Trump's War on Science
When U.S. government scientists released their latest volume of the National Climate Assessment in November 2018, it revealed much about the robust, sobering scientific consensus on climate change.
It also revealed the striking disconnect between Trump and essentially every authoritative institution on the threat of global warming.
The president rejected the assessment's central findings—based on thousands of climate studies and involving 13 federal agencies—that emissions of carbon dioxide are caused by human activities, are already causing lasting economic damage and have to be brought rapidly to zero.
"I don't believe it. No, no, I don't believe it," Trump told a reporter after the assessment's release.
In almost every agency overseeing energy, the environment and health, people with little scientific background, or strong ties to industries they would be regulating, were appointed to scientific leadership positions.
One of the administration's first actions was to order scientists and other employees at EPA and other agencies to halt public communications. Several federal scientists working on climate change have said they were silenced, sidelined or demoted. The words "climate change" have been purged from government reports and other reports have been buried.
The administration's mistrust of scientists and its tendency toward science denialism would also become a prominent feature of its response to the coronavirus pandemic, when the president muzzled scientists at the Centers for Disease Control and chafed at the dire predictions of many epidemiological models for Covid-19 deaths.
With the nation in a state of emergency over the pandemic, Andrew Wheeler, a former coal industry lobbyist who serves as Trump's administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency, moved in late March to fast-track the "Strengthening Transparency in Regulatory Science" rule. Wheeler replaced Scott Pruitt, an Oklahoma Republican who served as Trump's first EPA administrator before resigning in 2018 amid an ethics scandal.
Critics call Wheeler's transparency proposal Orwellian and say it would actually limit the use of human health science in environmental decision-making, by eliminating studies that rely on patients' anonymous medical data.
While Trump and his conservative allies contend that the reliance on such studies amounts to "secret science," scientists and leading medical authorities respond that it is standard practice to honor patient confidentiality in peer-reviewed studies.
Numerous studies, including one based on health data from 60 million Medicare recipients, have shown that one of the signature pollutants from the burning of fossil fuels, microscopic particles less than 2.5 microns in width—known as PM 2.5—kill as many as 52,100 Americans prematurely each year.
Less than a month later, as much of the nation remained locked down to halt the spread of Covid-19, a respiratory disease, the Trump administration rejected a recommendation from government scientists to strengthen the national air quality standard for particulate matter. Trump chose instead to maintain the current PM 2.5 standard, handing the fossil fuel industry a major victory.
A 'Concerted Attack' on Alaska, Public Lands
The Trump administration knew no bounds for its fossil fuel agenda, pursuing drilling from the outset on pristine public lands in Alaska and the lower 48 states, where oil companies have long sought access.
Less than four months after taking office, Trump moved to lift Obama's offshore Arctic drilling ban and, then, in July 2017, gave Italian oil company Eni a quick green light to drill exploratory wells.
In March 2018, the Trump administration proposed a resumption of leasing in Alaska's Beaufort Sea. President Obama, shortly before leaving office, had "permanently" withdrawn from drilling there.
By then, Trump had also carved 2 million acres of land from the Grand Staircase-Escalante and Bears Ears national monuments in southern Utah in what amounted to the most sweeping reductions in protections for public land in U.S. history.
In September 2018, the Interior Department finalized a rule that loosens methane requirements for oil and gas operations on federal lands. A month later, the administration proposed a regulation to streamline and expedite oil and gas permits on national forest lands.
The following summer, the administration proposed weakening protections under the Endangered Species Act for threatened species and critical habitat. Shortly thereafter, the Interior Department commenced the public comment period on its plan for oil drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge that had been included in the 2017 tax bill.
In early August 2020, the president signed the Great American Outdoors Act appropriating $900 million a year to the Land and Water Conservation Fund and $9.5 billion over five years to reduce maintenance backlogs in the national parks.
The bipartisan legislation was sponsored by a House Democrat, but Trump extolled its passage as the most significant act in support of parklands since Teddy Roosevelt.
Still, the administration was preparing, on the eve of the Republican convention, to start selling leases in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. The sale was one of six pending projects in which Trump was pursuing more drilling, logging and mining in Alaska.
One environmentalist called it the most "concerted attack" in 30 years on Alaska's natural resources.
All six of the Trump initiatives could still be blocked or rolled back in the courts, or undone by a new Biden administration working with a Democratic Congress. But for now, they are proceeding, with enormous consequences for Alaska's environment, and global climate change.
One by One, Obama's Main Climate Accomplishments Fell
The same could be said for President Obama's environment and climate legacy: Trump's relentless attacks could be wholly or partially undone by a new administration and Congress. But for now, Trump has accomplished his mission: a near total elimination of his predecessor's most significant measures.
After countless piecemeal rollbacks during Trump's first two and a half years in office, the administration in June 2019 launched its long-awaited attack on Obama's signature plan to tackle climate change. Designed to cut emissions from coal-fired power plants, Obama called it the Clean Power Plan.
While the plan was challenged by industry and 27 states and blocked by the U.S. Supreme Court before Obama even left office, it encouraged many states to begin a process of planning for a transition away from coal-fired electricity at a time when cheaper natural gas and renewable energy already were forcing coal plants to shut down.
Next came Trump's rollback of Obama's 2012 automobile fuel efficiency standards, the single largest step any nation had taken to address global warming by cutting carbon emissions from cars and trucks. The weakened Trump plan will allow automakers to deploy fleets that average just 40 miles per gallon by 2025, instead of 54 mpg.
If Trump's standard ultimately survives legal challenges, cars and trucks in the United States would emit nearly a billion tons more carbon dioxide during their lifetimes than they would have under the Obama standards.
Finally, in mid-August, Trump proposed the rollback of the methane rules, the last major Obama environmental regulation still standing. Methane, a super-pollutant, is 86 times more potent in warming the planet than carbon dioxide over a 20-year period.
The Obama rule required oil and gas companies to monitor methane leaks and fix them. The Trump replacement weakens those requirements, allowing companies to release 4.5 million metric tons more pollution each year.
In the climate realm, Obama is best known, of course, as the driving force behind the 2015 Paris climate accord.
Trump first announced in a Rose Garden speech in June 2017 that the U.S. would withdraw from the accord in three years, as soon as the treaty allowed.
So, right on cue, two years later, on Nov. 4, 2019, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo notified the United Nations of the formal exit of the United States, activating the final one-year waiting period.
The actual U.S. withdrawal is set for Nov. 4, 2020, one day after the presidential election.
This story originally appeared in Inside Climate News and is republished here as part of Covering Climate Now, a global journalism collaboration strengthening coverage of the climate story.
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By Julia Conley
Climate scientists were aghast Monday at the news that David Legates, a University of Delaware professor who has repeatedly questioned the scientific consensus that human activity is causing the climate crisis and has claimed that carbon dioxide emissions are beneficial, has been named by the Trump administration to a top leadership role at the federal government's climate research agency.
Legates was appointed—without the knowledge of several NOAA officials, according to one person at the agency—to serve as deputy assistant secretary of commerce for environmental observation and prediction and will report directly to acting NOAA Administrator Neil Jacobs.
Gretchen Goldman of the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS) called the appointment "a slap in the face to NOAA scientists who work daily to conduct and communicate climate science to the public and decision makers."
"Until now, NOAA has largely evaded the kind of anti-science political appointees that have devastated the EPA and Interior," Goldman told the Washington Post. "With Dr. Legates we risk seeing the same kind of politicization of science and corruption of ethics."
Oh my word. NOAA taps David Legates, professor who questions the seriousness and severity of global warming, for to… https://t.co/CyvTD2OtLS— Kalee Kreider (@Kalee Kreider)1600053194.0
Legates served from 2005 to 2011 as Delaware's state climatologist, and stepped down under pressure from former Democratic Gov. Ruth Ann Minner when it came to her attention that his views on the climate were "not aligned with those of [her] administration."
"I am directing you to offer any future statements on this or other public policy matters only on behalf of yourself or the University of Delaware, and not as state climatologist," Minner wrote to Legates in 2007 after he wrote an amicus brief in agreement with the Competitive Enterprise Institute, which opposed Delaware's attempt to force the federal regulation of greenhouse gases.
The appointment, which one anonymous NOAA official referred to as a surprising "midnight hire over the weekend," comes as the agency is monitoring the approach of Hurricane Sally. The storm rapidly strengthened on Monday and was expected to cause an "extremely dangerous and life-threatening storm surge" on the Gulf Coast.
NOAA's National Weather Service has also been issuing warnings to the west coast about the wildfires that have overwhelmed the region in recent days, killing more than 30 people. Agency scientists have contributed to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change's (IPCC) reports on the climate crisis and the warming of the globe, including the 2018 study which warned that greenhouse gas emissions will pose an increasing threat to human life if they are not drastically reduced in the next 10 to 20 years.
The appointment of Legates to help lead the agency undermines that message, critics say, considering he counts among his climate science work a paper called "The IPCC Reconsidered," a Heartland Institute-funded project which called for more, not fewer, fossil fuel emissions.
"The juxtaposition of the apocalyptic wildfires and the announcement of David Legates' appointment is mind-boggling," Jane Lubchenco, who served as NOAA administrator under President Barack Obama, told the Post. "Just at the time when we need continued truth from the nation's lead climate agency, a climate denier is hired. This is a travesty."
In his new role, Lubchenco warned, Legates will "be in a position to squelch the free flow of accurate scientific information to the public, to distort or manipulate scientific findings, curtail monitoring and research, and create an overall chilling atmosphere for the high-quality science and scientists that the nation needs."
Other examples of Legates' work include a 2007 paper—partially funded by Koch Industries, the American Petroleum Institute, and ExxonMobil—which questioned whether the climate crisis is destroying polar bears' habitats as temperatures in the Arctic rise twice as fast as the global average, and sea ice vanishes at a rate of 4% per decade.
Along with former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin, Legates spoke in 2016 at a panel discussion on Capitol Hill—when both chambers of Congress were controlled by Republicans—about the documentary "Climate Hustle," which called into question the existence of the scientific consensus regarding human-caused climate change. The panel addressed the question: "Are [scientists] trying to control the climate...or you?"
Brian Kahn, managing editor of Earther, tweeted about a talk Legates gave at the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) in 2018 in which the professor posited that the heating of the planet holds benefit for humans and wildlife, such as the growth of larger crabs.
NOAA just hired David Legates, a man who has legitimately said with a straight face that climate change is fine bec… https://t.co/AZh6AY5iaG— Brian Kahn (@Brian Kahn)1599943117.0
Anyways, here's the crab love CO2 slide from when he gave the talk at CPAC. This man is being paid with the public'… https://t.co/kpQ84CNkZB— Brian Kahn (@Brian Kahn)1599943717.0
Legates' presentation was a "total cesspool of misinformation about how carbon dioxide is good, actually," tweeted Kahn.
"He's not just in left field—he's not even near the ballpark," Lubchenco told NPR.
Reposted with permission from Common Dreams.
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In a news conference on Sunday, President Trump alongside Stephen Hahn, the head of the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), and Alex Azar, the secretary for Health and Human Services (HHS), touted the efficacy of blood plasma in treating COVID-19 as they announced its approval for a treatment.
And yet, the data they cited was misrepresented and built on a shaky foundation, forcing Hahn to walk back his assertion that it was an effective treatment, a rare about-face for an agency that is supposed to be an anchor of non-partisan public trust, according to Bloomberg.
In fact, just days before the FDA approved the treatment, a group of top health officials that included Anthony Fauci and Francis Collins said the emerging data on blood plasma treatments was too weak to justify its approval. Yet President Trump, who had also accused the FDA as being part of the "deep state" that was delaying treatments until after the election, touted blood plasma treatment as reducing deaths by 35 percent.
The problem is, nobody knows where that number came from. As The New York Times reported, it was not found in the FDA's official authorization letter, nor a 17-page memo written by FDA scientists, nor in the Mayo Clinic analysis cited by the administration.
"For the first time ever, I feel like official people in communications and people at the FDA grossly misrepresented data about a therapy," said Dr. Walid Gellad, who leads the Center for Pharmaceutical Policy and Prescribing at the University of Pittsburgh, to The New York Times.
In an interview with new agencies, one of the Mayo Clinic study's main authors, Dr. Arturo Casadevall of Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, expressed confusion. "Do I know where the 35 percent comes from? No," he said, as The New York Times reported.
"That was not the way that I would have worded it," he added, as Bloomberg reported. "I hope they will issue a clarification."
"You need to correct the 35 lives saved per 100 sick with COVID-19 so people understand that was absolutely wrong, Steve," wrote Eric Topol, director of the Scripps Research Translational Institute in California, on Twitter, as Bloomberg reported. "That there is no evidence to support that. That there is no evidence at this juncture to support *any* survival benefit."
As the criticism of the 35 percent number piled up, Hahn listened. He acknowledged its validity last night in a tweet.
"I have been criticized for remarks I made Sunday night about the benefits of convalescent plasma," Hahn wrote. "The criticism is entirely justified. What I should have said better is that the data show a relative risk reduction not an absolute risk reduction."
I have been criticized for remarks I made Sunday night about the benefits of convalescent plasma. The criticism is entirely justified. What I should have said better is that the data show a relative risk reduction not an absolute risk reduction.— Dr. Stephen M. Hahn (@SteveFDA) August 25, 2020
The treatment in question, convalescent blood plasma therapy, uses antibody-rich plasma from people who have recovered from the disease to help ramp up the immunity of sick people so they can develop their own antibodies. However, there are few randomized controlled trials to demonstrate its efficacy, according to STAT News.
"Investigators have had challenges enrolling patients to begin with, and this announcement will make it even harder, if not impossible," said Dr. Howard Koh, a professor at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health who was assistant secretary for health in the Department of Health and Human Services in the administration of President Barack Obama, to NBC News. "It's a disservice, actually."
According to Bloomberg, the data simply shows that a higher dose of blood plasma is more effective than a lower dose. While there are promising results, the extensive research has not yet shown that blood plasma therapy is far superior to a placebo.
"Until we have a randomized controlled trial, we don't know definitively," Casadevall said.
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By Julia Mahncke
U.S. President Donald Trump has undone many major pieces of climate policy during his term, walking out on the 2015 Paris Agreement to limit global warming and eliminating numerous Obama-era environmental regulations.
Trump's Democratic opponent, Joe Biden, has promised as part of his presidential campaign to invest $1.7 trillion in a "clean energy revolution and environmental justice" over the next decade. It falls some $14 trillion short of what the progressive U.S. senator from Vermont, Bernie Sanders, pledged on climate action during the Democratic primaries.
However, climate change doesn't even make the top 10 concerns among registered voters, even as the U.S. faces extreme weather from wildfires to storms, which scientists say are becoming more prevalent thanks to global warming. The issue ranks 11th behind the economy, health care, Supreme Court appointments and the pandemic, according to a survey conducted by the Pew Research Center published in August.
While climate change doesn't top the voters' agenda, it's still one of the most divisive issues among Trump and Biden supporters. Some 68% of Democratic voters see climate change as high priority compared to 11% of Republicans, found the Pew survey.
But what are the Biden and Trump campaigns promising to do on climate change and the environment — and how does it tally with what voters want?
Biden a Climate Disappointment?
Biden, Barack Obama's former vice president, plans to recommit to the Paris Accord and ensure that the U.S. achieves a 100% clean energy economy and reaches net-zero emissions by 2050. Biden has also promised a halt to fossil fuel subsidies, going further than the Democratic National Committee, the governing body of the Democrats, which dropped that demand from its platform earlier this month.
Prior to Kamala Harris' announcement as Biden's running mate, the California senator had been vocal in her support for bold climate action. Harris co-sponsored the New Green Deal, calling on Congress to implement a 10-year government-driven mobilization to decarbonize the economy, while also backing job retraining and social and environmental justice.
But some Democratic voters are disappointed with the Biden/Harris ticket, believing Sanders, who dropped out of the Democratic race for president in April, would have been the better candidate.
"I have two kids, so I have to be mindful and hopeful, but I lost a lot of hope since Bernie Sanders didn't get the bid," said Karen Antunes, as she wrapped up a picnic with her kids and little dog in Peninsula Park in Portland Oregon.
That won't stop her voting Democrat though.
"We have to. The Trump thing has got to end," added Antunes. "But I'm not excited."
Most progressive voters like Antunes might prefer to unite behind Biden against Trump's reelection even if they don't feel his commitment to climate change action goes far enough.
"I don't think the differences between Biden and Sanders on the environment — or any other issues — will matter much to Democratic voters compared to the difference between Biden and Trump," said Stephen Ansolabehere, director of the Center for American Political Studies at Harvard University.
Republicans: Economy Trumps Climate Change
Over the last few years, Trump has dismissed climate change as a "hoax," not human-caused, and called environmental activists "perennial prophets of doom."
The U.S. president's 63 bullet-point election agenda, which is divided into categories like "Jobs," "Eradicate COVID-19" and "End our reliance on China," makes no direct mention of climate change or the environment.
Instead, tucked away under the heading "Innovate for the future" toward the bottom of the list, there are two promises: "Continue to Lead the World in Access to the Cleanest Drinking Water and Cleanest Air" and "Partner with Other Nations to Clean Up our Planet's Oceans."
The plan outlines no path to clean water or air.
The lack of climate change mentions in Trump's agenda might please many Republican voters since they are "obviously less supportive of regulations," said Daron Shaw, a professor specializing in voting behavior at the University of Texas at Austin and co-director of the Fox News Poll.
"Democrats are much more willing to take stronger measures," said Shaw, adding that few Republicans support policies such as a significant carbon or fossil fuel tax. "But if you ask Republicans about recycling, if you ask about fuel efficiency standards, they're very supportive of those sorts of smallish behaviors."
Growing Impatience Among Young Republicans
Some younger Republicans are starting to become critical of their party's inattention to climate change. During the recent Republican National Convention, a small group turned to Twitter during the online event, to ask "#WhatAboutClimate"?
Another Pew study from June 2020 found that millennial and Gen Z Republicans, currently aged 18 to 39, are more likely than older GOP voters to think humans have a significant impact on the climate and that the federal government is doing too little to tackle the problem.
That doesn't mean they're ready to switch allegiance to the Democrats, though.
"Being a Republican is very much rooted in my upbringing," said Kiera O'Brien, who founded the group Young Conservatives for Carbon Dividends (YCCD). "Conservatism at home in Ketchikan, Alaska, has a focus on community and nature."
O'Brien dislikes the Democrat's "regulatory approach to climate" and is instead lobbying for free market solutions to climate change through YCCD.
Reframing Climate Action
Environmental policies can be a complicated issue when it comes to federal elections and hard to address for presidential candidates. Many regions in the U.S. have unique challenges: from wildfires in California and storms wiping out harvests in Iowa to water pollution in Flint, Michigan.
Harvard's Ansolabehere also pointed out that opposition to climate policies in the past were typically connected to the fear of losing jobs and that prohibiting coal or retooling the auto industry will "adversely affect employment" in places like Kentucky and Michigan.
Daron Shaw added that Republicans typically "try to frame environmental issues as a matter of high taxation and job killing proposals with the hope that they can peel off Democrats."
Biden might be trying to assuage fears that tackling climate change means job losses by framing his plan as an opportunity for employment in new industries and a reinvigorated green manufacturing sector.
But when it comes to the swing states of Pennsylvania, Virginia and Ohio, Trump's climate record and support for jobs in the fossil fuel sector might give him the upper hand. His backing for ethane cracker plants, which take natural gas and converts it into the basis for making plastics, has received a lot of support, said Ansolabehere, especially from local unions.
Reposted with permission from Deutsche Welle.
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A new study finds that wealthy Americans living in spacious houses in upscale neighborhoods are responsible for 25% more emissions on average than those living in smaller houses in poorer areas.
Rich people live in bigger houses and consume more energy, generating greater climate-warming emissions, according to the research published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
"Although houses are becoming more energy-efficient, U.S. household energy use and related greenhouse gas emissions are not shrinking," lead author Benjamin Goldstein, a postdoctoral research fellow at the University of Michigan, said in a statement, adding that "this lack of progress undermines the substantial emissions reductions needed to mitigate climate change."
The U.S. has the highest per capita emissions of any country and has historically pumped the largest amount of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. About a quarter of U.S. emissions are produced by households, which is more than Germany's total emissions.
Goldstein and his team tracked energy consumption patterns of nearly 100 million households by reviewing their 2015 tax records. They looked at incomes, building types, the climate, and the kind of power grid supplying homes to generate the first-ever national carbon emissions rankings of states down to the zip code.
House acreage plays an outsized role in determining a household's carbon footprint, and lower-income people generally live in smaller spaces. Carbon emissions linked to residences are a result of everything from the use of dishwashers and lights, to heating and cooling.
U.S. household greenhouse gas intensity in 2015 by state. Household GHG intensity represented by kilograms CO2-equivalents per square meter (kg CO2-e/m2) by state. Benjamin Goldstein
"Regional variations were driven mainly by the amount of energy needed to heat and cool homes and by the type of fuel used to generate electricity," the study authors said.
This is why regions where the demand for heating or cooling is higher guzzle more energy and produce more carbon emissions, especially states in the northeast. Maine, Vermont and Wisconsin were the largest consumers of energy in 2015.
Vermont is the home state of Democratic Senator Bernie Sanders, who promised to declare climate change a national emergency if elected president and has pushed for a more ambitious domestic policy on climate change. Sanders ended his presidential run earlier this year and has endorsed Joe Biden, the former vice president. Biden last week unveiled a $2 trillion plan to tackle climate change.
The least energy-intensive states were Florida, Arizona and California. Overall, central states fared the worst when it came to their carbon footprint per unit of floor space in 2015.
Donald Trump, who is vying to be re-elected this November, is openly dismissive of climate change concerns. In 2015, 195 countries came together to sign the Paris Agreement laying down targets for reductions in carbon emissions by 2030 and 2050. Trump pulled the U.S. out of the global climate treaty last year.
Despite this, Democrats hope a new president will be installed in the White House, who will push an even stronger climate agenda than Barack Obama, who helped forge the Paris climate treaty.
The goal under the treaty for housing is to reduce emissions by 80% from their 2005 levels. An analysis by the researchers suggests that U.S. households won't meet the 2050 targets set for residential emissions, even if the electricity grid relies on cleaner sources of energy.
Only if homes are smaller and more tightly packed together would that target be achievable. But it would still require Americans to use energy more sparingly and more efficiently.
Reposted with permission from Mongabay.
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By Oliver Milman
This story was originally published in The Guardian on July 27, 2020.
It was a balmy June day in 2017 when Donald Trump took to the lectern in the White House Rose Garden to announce the U.S. withdrawal from the Paris climate agreement, the only comprehensive global pact to tackle the spiraling crisis.
Todd Stern, who was the U.S.'s chief negotiator when the deal was sealed in Paris in 2015, forced himself to watch the speech.
"I found it sickening, it was mendacious from start to finish," said Stern. "I was furious … because here we have this really important thing and here's this joker who doesn't understand anything he's talking about. It was a fraud."
The terms of the accord mean no country can leave before November this year, so due to a quirk of timing, the U.S. will officially exit the Paris deal on 4 November – 100 days from now and just one day after the 2020 presidential election.
The completion of Stern's misery, and possibly any realistic hopes of averting disastrous climate change, rests heavily upon the outcome of the election, which will pit Trump against former vice-president Joe Biden, who has vowed to rejoin the climate agreement.
The lifetime of the Paris agreement, signed in a wave of optimism in 2015, has seen the five hottest years ever recorded on Earth, unprecedented wildfires torching towns from California to Australia, record heatwaves baking Europe and India and temperatures briefly bursting beyond 100F (38C) in the Arctic.
These sorts of impacts could be a mere appetizer, scientists warn, given they have been fueled by levels of global heating that are on track to triple, or worse, by the end of the century without drastic remedial action. The faltering global effort to curb greenhouse gas emissions and head off further calamity hinges, in significant part, on whether the U.S. decides to re-enter the fray.
"The choice of Biden or Trump in the White House is huge, not just for the U.S. but for the world generally to deal with climate change," said Stern. "If Biden wins, November 4 is a blip, like a bad dream is over. If Trump wins, he seals the deal. The U.S. becomes a non-player and the goals of Paris become very, very difficult. Without the U.S. in the long term, they certainly aren't realistic."
Nearly 200 countries put their name to the Paris accords, pledging to face down the climate emergency and limit the average global temperature rise to "well below" 2C above the era before mass industrialization started pumping huge volumes of planet-warming gases into the atmosphere from cars, trucks, power plants and farms. A more aspirational goal of halting temperatures at a 1.5C rise was also included although, just five years on, the planet is already creeping perilously close to this mark.
The Paris deal brought major, growing emitters like China and India on board with the quest to shift towards cleaner sources of energy, in part due to the urgings of Barack Obama, who claimed the agreement showed the U.S. was now a "global leader in the fight against climate change."
Trump, who once famously called climate science a "hoax," has never looked kindly on the deal, which he framed as an international effort to damage the U.S. while letting China off too lightly. In his Rose Garden speech, Trump remarked that he was elected to "represent the citizens of Pittsburgh, not Paris." In reality, each country is free to choose its own emissions cuts without any sort of enforcement. "Paris is like a vessel, such as a glass – you can pour water or wine into it," said Sue Biniaz, a former U.S. state department lawyer who drafted parts of the Paris deal. "It's not the design of Paris that's the problem, it's that there's not the political will to do enough."
Abandoned Climate Efforts
The U.S. government in practice abandoned any concern over the climate crisis some time ago, with the Trump administration so far rolling back more than 100 environmental protections, including an Obama-era plan to curb emissions from coal-fired power plants, limits on pollution emitted from cars and trucks and even energy efficiency standards for lightbulbs. In an often chaotic presidency, Trump's position on climate change has been unusually consistent – American fossil fuel production must be bolstered, restrictive climate regulations must be scrapped.
Unswayed by growing alarm among Americans over the climate crisis, Trump is taking this same message to the election. "Biden wants to massively re-regulate the energy economy, rejoin the Paris climate accord, which would kill our energy totally, you would have to close 25% of your businesses and kill oil and gas development," the president said this month, without citing evidence, as he announced another rollback, this time of environmental assessments of pipelines, highways and other infrastructure.
Despite all this, U.S. emissions have continued to fall, due in large part to the downfall of a coal industry that Trump has attempted to prop up. The international ramifications have been telling, however – in the absence of any sort of positive cajoling from the U.S., global emissions have remained stubbornly high and most countries are lagging behind their own promised actions.
According to the Climate Action Tracker, only Morocco is acting consistently with the Paris agreement's goals, with the global temperature rise set to exceed 3C by the end of the century even if the current pledges are met. Paris was meant to be only the beginning – countries are supposed to continually ratchet up their ambition levels until the more extreme ravages of climate change, such as dire flooding, heatwaves, crop failures and the loss of coral reefs, are avoided.
"There's been less political will from other countries to take action to a certain extent because the U.S. isn't pushing for it," said Biniaz. "During the first four years of Trump it's easier to say it's likely to be an aberration, a short-term deviation, but if it's eight years it's harder to keep together the coalition of countries that care about this."
‘Another Meteorite Is Coming’
Another four years of a Trump administration uninterested in the climate crisis could set back global emissions cuts by a decade, according to one published analysis, making the chances of meeting the goals of Paris near to impossible.
Hakon Saelen, an environmental economist at the University of Oslo who led the study, said the U.S. withdrawal is a "significant major blow" to the mitigation of the climate crisis. "The world cannot afford any delay if the 2C target is to be reached," he said. "Our model indicates that the chance of reaching it is very low already, but near zero with another Trump term."
But even with an engaged Biden administration that is somehow able to get Congress to agree to a $2tn plan to shift the U.S. on to renewable energy, the challenge is immense. The world has dithered on cutting emissions for so long that only an unprecedented, rapid overhaul of the way we travel, generate energy and eat will keep humanity within the bounds of safety outlined in Paris.The world will have to slash emissions by more than 7% a year this decade to have any hope of meeting the 1.5C target, according to the United Nations. This annual cut will be achievable this year only through the devastation of the coronavirus pandemic, which shuttered much of the global economy. A more sustainable path to decarbonization will need to be immediately identified and implemented.
"The warmer it gets the worse it gets and the [Paris] targets are broadly at a level where things will get really bad," said Zeke Hausfather, director of climate and energy at the Breakthrough Institute. "We don't want people to give up hope, the human race won't become extinct at 2C but that's an unnecessarily high bar. There are still large threats and a lot of good reasons to keep warming below that.
Stern said American voters will naturally be "supersonic focused" on coronavirus and the economic fallout. "But climate change can't be forgotten this election," he said. "The Covid crisis has shown us countries can do remarkable things in short order when they believe they have to. It shows us we need leaders who also understand what we need to do on climate change, because that is another meteorite heading our way."
This story originally appeared in The Guardian and is republished here as part of Covering Climate Now, a global journalism collaboration strengthening coverage of the climate story.
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By Elizabeth M. De Santo, Elizabeth Mendenhall and Elizabeth Nyman
Mining the ocean floor for submerged minerals is a little-known, experimental industry. But soon it will take place on the deep seabed, which belongs to everyone, according to international law.
Seabed mining for valuable materials like copper, zinc and lithium already takes place within countries' marine territories. As soon as 2025, larger projects could start in international waters – areas more than 200 nautical miles from shore, beyond national jurisdictions.
We study ocean policy, marine resource management, international ocean governance and environmental regimes, and are researching political processes that govern deep seabed mining. Our main interests are the environmental impacts of seabed mining, ways of sharing marine resources equitably and the use of tools like marine protected areas to protect rare, vulnerable and fragile species and ecosystems.
Today countries are working together on rules for seabed mining. In our opinion, there is still time to develop a framework that will enable nations to share resources and prevent permanent damage to the deep sea. But that will happen only if countries are willing to cooperate and make sacrifices for the greater good.
An Old Treaty With a New Purpose
Countries regulate seabed mining within their marine territories. Farther out, in areas beyond national jurisdiction, they cooperate through the Law of the Sea Convention, which has been ratified by 167 countries and the European Union, but not the U.S.
The treaty created the International Seabed Authority, headquartered in Jamaica, to manage seabed mining in international waters. This organization's workload is about to balloon.
Under the treaty, activities conducted in areas beyond national jurisdiction must be for "the benefit of mankind as a whole." These benefits could include economic profit, scientific research findings, specialized technology and recovery of historical objects. The convention calls on governments to share them fairly, with special attention to developing countries' interests and needs.
The United States was involved in negotiating the convention and signed it but has not ratified it, due to concerns that it puts too many limits on exploitation of deep sea resources. As a result, the U.S. is not bound by the treaty, although it follows most of its rules independently. Recent administrations, including those of Presidents Bill Clinton, George W. Bush and Barack Obama, sought to ratify the treaty, but failed to muster a two-thirds majority in the Senate to support it.
Locations of three main types of marine mineral deposits: polymetallic nodules (blue); polymetallic or seafloor massive sulfides (orange); and cobalt-rich ferromanganese crusts (yellow). Miller et al., 2018, https://doi.org/10.3389/fmars.2017.00418, CC BY 4.0
Powering Digital Devices
Scientists and industry leaders have known that there are valuable minerals on the seafloor for over a century, but it hasn't been technologically or economically feasible to go after them until the past decade. Widespread growth of battery-driven technologies such as smartphones, computers, wind turbines and solar panels is changing this calculation as the world runs low on land-based deposits of copper, nickel, aluminum, manganese, zinc, lithium and cobalt.
These minerals are found in potato-shaped "nodules" on the seafloor, as well as in and around hydrothermal vents, seamounts and midocean ridges. Energy companies and their governments are also interested in extracting methane hydrates – frozen deposits of natural gas on the seafloor.
Scientists still have a lot to learn about these habitats and the species that live there. Research expeditions are continually discovering new species in deep-sea habitats.
Korea and China Seek the Most Contracts
Mining the deep ocean requires permission from the International Seabed Authority. Exploration contracts provide the right to explore a specific part of the seabed for 15 years. As of mid-2020, 30 mining groups have signed exploration contracts, including governments, public-private partnerships, international consortiums and private multinational companies.
Two entities hold the most exploration contracts (three each): the government of Korea and the China Ocean Mineral Resources R&D Association, a state-owned company. Since the U.S. is not a member of the Law of the Sea treaty, it cannot apply for contracts. But U.S. companies are investing in others' projects. For example, the American defense company Lockheed Martin owns UK Seabed Resources, which holds two exploration contracts.
Once an exploration contract expires, as several have since 2015, mining companies must broker an exploitation contract with the International Seabed Authority to allow for commercial-scale extraction. The agency is working on rules for mining, which will shape individual contracts.
It was meant to be a pivotal year for deep-seabed mining. But the coronavirus pandemic is threatening the drafting… https://t.co/sI7NZ6VGhW— China Dialogue (@China Dialogue)1589216642.0
Unknown Ecological Impacts
Deep-sea mining technology is still in development but will probably include vacuuming nodules from the seafloor. Scraping and vacuuming the seafloor can destroy habitats and release plumes of sediment that blanket or choke filter-feeding species on the seafloor and fish swimming in the water column.
Mining also introduces noise, vibration and light pollution in a zone that normally is silent, still and dark. And depending on the type of mining taking place, it could lead to chemical leaks and spills.
Many deep-sea species are unique and found nowhere else. We agree with the scientific community and environmental advocates that it is critically important to analyze the potential effects of seabed mining thoroughly. Studies also should inform decision-makers about how to manage the process.
This is a key moment for the International Seabed Authority. It is currently writing the rules for environmental protection but doesn't have enough information about the deep ocean and the impacts of mining. Today the agency relies on seabed mining companies to report on and monitor themselves, and on academic researchers to provide baseline ecosystem data.
We believe that national governments acting through the International Seabed Authority should require more scientific research and monitoring, and better support the agency's efforts to analyze and act on that information. Such action would make it possible to slow the process down and make better decisions about when, where and how to mine the deep seabed.
Balancing Risks and Benefits
The race for deep-sea minerals is imminent. There are compelling arguments for mining the seabed, such as supporting the transition to renewable energy, which some companies assert will be a net gain for the environment. But balancing benefits and impacts will require proactive and thorough study before the industry takes off.
We also believe that the U.S. should ratify the Law of the Sea treaty so that it can help to lead on this issue. The oceans provide humans with food and oxygen and regulate Earth's climate. Choices being made now could affect them far into the future in ways that aren't yet understood.
Dr. Rachel Tiller, Senior Research Scientist with SINTEF Ocean, Norway, contributed to this article.
Elizabeth M. De Santo is an Associate Professor of Environmental Studies, Franklin & Marshall College.
Elizabeth Mendenhall is an Assistant Professor of Marine Affairs and Political Science, University of Rhode Island.
Elizabeth Nyman is an Assistant Professor of Maritime Policy, Texas A&M University.
Disclosure statement: The authors do not work for, consult, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organization that would benefit from this article, and have disclosed no relevant affiliations beyond their academic appointment.
Reposted with permission from The Conversation.
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