Sequester Cuts: How It Will Strain the Economy and Put Americans' Health at Risk
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The failure of elected officials in Washington, D.C. to reach a deal on the “sequester” led to an automatic $85 billion cut to the federal budget on March 1. And, unfortunately, environmental initiatives and other projects were the first to be placed on the chopping block.
Environmental programs within the U.S.—everything from wildlife refuges to clean air and water programs—have already been grossly underfunded for years, and the sequester cuts are only going to make things much, much worse for our environment.
One program that was gearing up to be cut less than 24 hours after sequester took effect was the Bureau of Labor Statistics green jobs survey. This program allowed the administration to track the creation and tally of jobs within the clean energy and other “green” sectors, a program that many Republicans in Washington had wanted to cut from day one.
But those cuts are just the beginning. Energy Secretary Steven Chu said that the mandatory cuts are going to severely hurt investment and research into lightweight automobile construction and fuel cell technology, investments that were aimed at helping increase automobile fuel efficiency and reducing our gasoline consumption. Those programs will now have to wait to receive funding.
Chu said that the cuts the Energy Department is facing would significantly slow down the country’s quest to become energy independent, a goal that 64 percent of Americans (from both sides of the political aisle) favor.
Frances Beineke, president of the Natural Resources Defense Council, said that the sequester cuts will force the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to cut back on their air quality monitoring across the U.S., as well as their programs to monitor drinking water. This puts all Americans at risk of breathing polluted air and drinking contaminated water.
Jobs in the environmental sector will also take a significant hit, as the Department of the Interior is now having to plan job cuts for park rangers in state parks, as well as reduced hours for those who manage to hold onto their jobs.
Never a group to allow an opportunity to bash the EPA slip away, the dirty energy industry-funded Heritage Foundation has used the sequester cuts to highlight how wasteful (and intrusive) the EPA is for American taxpayers:
Heritage experts Jack Spencer, Nicolas Loris and Katie Tubb argue instead for freedom-based reforms, writing that Congress should:
- Prohibit the EPA from regulating carbon dioxide, saving families who rely on the 82 percent of the energy used in the U.S. that produce greenhouse gases;
- Stop the EPA’s regulatory overreach, which is artificially driving the cost of energy higher, harming job creation and providing little to no environmental benefit; and
- Repeal the EPA’s energy efficiency initiatives, which drive up gas prices and restrict consumer choice.
Such reforms would save taxpayers money by reducing the scope of the EPA’s ever-expanding mission, and they would also serve the needs of the economy by lightening the heavy regulatory burden on America’s businesses.
The spin from Heritage underscores the severity of the cuts facing the country. Not only will the sequester cuts put a tremendous strain on our economy as a whole, but the health effects that will result from more pollution and less monitoring will become a second wave of economic (and of course, environmental) impacts that should leave us all worried about the future.
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A Game of Jenga<p>Think of it as a game of Jenga and the planet's climate system as the tower. For generations, we have been slowly removing blocks. But at some point, we will remove a pivotal block, such as the collapse of one of the major global ocean circulation systems, for example the Atlantic Meridional Overturning Circulation (AMOC), that will cause all or part of the global climate system to fall into a planetary emergency.</p><p>But worse still, it could cause runaway damage: Where the tipping points form a domino-like cascade, where breaching one triggers breaches of others, creating an unstoppable shift to a radically and swiftly changing climate.</p><p>One of the most concerning tipping points is mass methane release. Methane can be found in deep freeze storage within permafrost and at the bottom of the deepest oceans in the form of methane hydrates. But rising sea and air temperatures are beginning to thaw these stores of methane.</p><p>This would release a powerful greenhouse gas into the atmosphere, 30-times more potent than carbon dioxide as a global warming agent. This would drastically increase temperatures and rush us towards the breach of other tipping points.</p><p>This could include the acceleration of ice thaw on all three of the globe's large, land-based ice sheets – Greenland, West Antarctica and the Wilkes Basin in East Antarctica. The potential collapse of the West Antarctic ice sheet is seen as a key tipping point, as its loss could eventually <a href="https://science.sciencemag.org/content/324/5929/901" target="_blank">raise global sea levels by 3.3 meters</a> with important regional variations.</p><p>More than that, we would be on the irreversible path to full land-ice melt, causing sea levels to rise by up to 30 meters, roughly at the rate of two meters per century, or maybe faster. Just look at the raised beaches around the world, at the last high stand of global sea level, at the end of the Pleistocene period around 120,0000 years ago, to see the evidence of such a warm world, which was just 2°C warmer than the present day.</p>
Cutting Off Circulation<p>As well as devastating low-lying and coastal areas around the world, melting polar ice could set off another tipping point: a disablement to the AMOC.</p><p>This circulation system drives a northward flow of warm, salty water on the upper layers of the ocean from the tropics to the northeast Atlantic region, and a southward flow of cold water deep in the ocean.</p><p>The ocean conveyor belt has a major effect on the climate, seasonal cycles and temperature in western and northern Europe. It means the region is warmer than other areas of similar latitude.</p><p>But melting ice from the Greenland ice sheet could threaten the AMOC system. It would dilute the salty sea water in the north Atlantic, making the water lighter and less able or unable to sink. This would slow the engine that drives this ocean circulation.</p><p><a href="https://www.carbonbrief.org/atlantic-conveyor-belt-has-slowed-15-per-cent-since-mid-twentieth-century" target="_blank">Recent research</a> suggests the AMOC has already weakened by around 15% since the middle of the 20th century. If this continues, it could have a major impact on the climate of the northern hemisphere, but particularly Europe. It may even lead to the <a href="https://ore.exeter.ac.uk/repository/handle/10871/39731?show=full" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">cessation of arable farming</a> in the UK, for instance.</p><p>It may also reduce rainfall over the Amazon basin, impact the monsoon systems in Asia and, by bringing warm waters into the Southern Ocean, further destabilize ice in Antarctica and accelerate global sea level rise.</p>
The Atlantic Meridional Overturning Circulation has a major effect on the climate. Praetorius (2018)
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