Carl Pope: Why Donald Trump Is Going After Our National Monuments
By Thursday the Trump administration's project of dismantling the public domain will burst into full bloom when Interior Sec. Ryan Zinke announces a wholesale reversal of more than a century of public lands protection through presidential designation of national monuments under Antiquities Act of 1908.
No president since the act was passed under Theodore Roosevelt has tried to eliminate national monuments—the original route through which more than half of our present parks, including Grand Canyon, Death Valley, Joshua Tree, Zion, Grand Teton and almost all of the protected parks in Alaska were first created. And most lawyers doubt the president has the power to repeal monument designation as President Trump has ordered Zinke to do. Regardless, Zinke will announce his recommendations on Aug. 24 for the potential elimination of more than two dozen monuments comprising more than 8.8 million acres of land—plus hundreds of square miles of ocean preserves. (Stripping protection from these land monuments alone would be the landscape equivalent of opening up Yellowstone, Yosemite, Grand Canyon, Great Smokies, Mt. Rainier, Grand Teton, Rocky Mountain, the Everglades, Zion and Bryce Canyon National Parks to mining, logging and commercial exploitation).
Likely candidates for elimination or drastic amputation are the Grand Staircase Escalante, Bears Ears, Mojave Trails and Giant Sequoia.
The nature of Zinke's process may best be illustrated by the fact that during a six month review process, he visited only 8 of 27 monuments—and while the process has been very opaque, the most important consideration being mentioned is whether local Republican politicians favored retaining or stripping protection from the area—the American people, who have filed millions of comments opposing this process, simply don't seem to be a factor in the deliberations. Interior Sec. Zinke is acting in spite of the fact that a new major player—native American tribes—are weighing in strongly against opening these lands to mining and abuse because many of the areas at risk, like Bears Ears, were created to protect parts of their heritage, culture and religion.
#Zinke Goes on Mediterranean Vacation Instead of Visiting 19 #NationalMonuments on the Chopping Block https://t.co/Br0CmkT5q4 @NWF @350— EcoWatch (@EcoWatch)1503077729.0
Zinke was presented as a compromise candidate for Interior Secretary, one who would not want to give away or privatize the public domain—but as with many things in the Trump administration, the product turned out not to be what was advertised.
Given the huge array of controversies enveloping the Trump administration, it is not surprising that while the press has covered the assault on the public domain, of which eviscerating national monuments is only a small part, it has not paused to consider what this tells us about the Trump administration.
But it's one of Trump's more revealing policy misadventures.
The president has been presented as lacking in consistency and conviction—alternatively Democrat or Republican, pro- or anti-choice, both isolationist dove and interventionist hawk, populist and plutocrat. But in his view of the role of the President Trump has been starkly consistent and ferociously driven. Trump is modern America's first patrimonial president—more Lord of the Manor than servant of the Republic. Patrimonialism—where the ruler treats the government, and indeed the land itself, as an extension of his person and his family, handing out control over and profits from it to those related to him, or supportive of his rule—was a dominant form of pre-modern government—the antithesis of the Republic the founding fathers were creating.
Patrimonialism characterized most absolutist monarchies—the world "real" in our phrase "real estate" is from the Spanish word for "royal," real and reflects the reality that in the pre-modern world most land was owned by the king—and could be rewarded to his family and followers—or taken back.
This attitude is at the heart of President Trump's staggering, but quite sincere claim that it is not possible for him to have a conflict of interest—because he is entitled by election as ruler to profit from the public domain and the powers of the government, which rightfully belong to him. Patrimonial political authority was regarded as a species of private property which can be handed over to relatives or retainers as part of their patrimony—so corruption is impossible. Ruler and realm are one. There is, in this vision, no such concept as a public trust or public service—there is no public, only subjects.
I said Trump was our first modern patrimonialist, because America did have, in an earlier era, a version of the philosophy—the spoils system, in which the successful party in an election awarded jobs, patronage, public contracts and public lands to members of their winning political coalition. The system was formalized by President Andrew Jackson—and an affinity for such favoritism is one of the Trump's few genuine claims to be like Jackson. It faded with Civil Service reforms and the Progressive era at the dawn of the 20th century. Now it's back, empowered not only by Trump, but by the Supreme Court's consistent watering down of anti-corruption and campaign finance protections.
But what Jackson, and his 19th century successors practiced was a weaker, successor to monarchist patrimonialism: clientalism. In clientalism the spoils of government were shared broadly with the winning electoral coalition, rather than being reserved for the ruler's family and elite supporters. Trump, in that sense, is more medieval baron than patronage boss—there's very little broad sharing. His opening up public lands to ruthless mining and mineral extraction is lazily reported, for the most part, as being a fulfillment of his pledge to bring back jobs in extra active industries, particularly coal mining—job creation would be clientalism But in reality Trump's policy shifts to date have been anti-job. He has weakened health and safety requirements for mining companies on public lands, which in turn enables them to slash their work force. He's restored subsidies to strip miners in Wyoming and Montana—thereby increasing the unfair competitive advantage these companies already enjoy over deep shaft miners in Appalachia, where the jobs are being lost and whom Trump was allegedly pledged to help. Trump practices the monarchical form of patrimonialism—which may explain why he does so badly in the polls. Only the very few are sharing any spoils.
Trump is very open about his attitude. When he had Interior Sec. Zinke call Alaska's Senators to say that if Lisa Murkowski didn't vote to strip health care from millions of Americans, Trump would shut down oil leasing in Alaska, the message was utterly clear—Senators are my clients, and I expect them to follow orders. But it is not just Senators. All of the government belongs to Trump—as an estate he can use to reward his followers—and of course his family.
In this vision, the very concept of national monuments is offensive, because they limit Trump's right to reward his clients and infringe on his control of his patrimony; so, indeed, is most environmental regulation, because it restricts what the president can and can't do with the public resources that the rest of think he holds in trust for our children, not his.
Under Trump's instructions, his cabinet has bountifully rewarded the patron's favorite clients with sparkling rewards: to an oil company with an almost unprecedentedly reckless record of oil spills, a new oil drilling lease in fragile Arctic waters; to chemical companies, the renewal of their license to expose farm-worker's families to a nerve gas marketed as a pesticide; for oil companies suspension of requirements to capture and use natural gas that comes out of their wells, instead of flaring or venting huge portions into the skies.
Individually, many of these decisions seem incomprehensible except as acts of the most venial form of corruption. But corruption as a concept makes no sense applied to the Trump regime. Trump might easily paraphrase 19th century Robber Baron E.H. Harriman: "Can't I do what I want with my own?"
No Mr. President, you can't, because it isn't. But it appears the rest of us must remain vigilant to make certain we remain the citizens of a Republic, not serfs on a manor.
By Karen L. Smith-Janssen
Colette Pichon Battle gave a December 2019 TEDWomen Talk on the stark realities of climate change displacement, and people took notice. The video racked up a million views in about two weeks. The attorney, founder, and executive director of the Gulf Coast Center for Law & Policy (GCCLP) advocates for climate justice in communities of color. Confronted with evidence showing how her own South Louisiana coastal home of Bayou Liberty will be lost to flooding in coming years, the 2019 Obama Fellow dedicates herself to helping others still reeling from the impacts of Katrina face the heavy toll that climate change has taken—and will take—on their lives and homelands. Her work focuses on strengthening multiracial coalitions, advocating for federal, state, and local disaster mitigation measures, and redirecting resources toward Black communities across the Gulf South.
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By Stuart Braun
"These are not just wildfires, they are climate fires," Jay Inslee, Governor of Washington State, said as he stood amid the charred remains of the town of Malden west of Seattle earlier this month. "This is not an act of God," he added. "This has happened because we have changed the climate of the state of Washington in dramatic ways."
'These Aren't Wildfires'<p>Sam Ricketts, who led climate policy and strategy for Governor Jay Inslee's 2020 presidential campaign, tweeted on September 11 that "These aren't wildfires. These are #climatefires, driven by fossil fuel pollution."</p><p>"The rate and the strength and the devastation wrought by these disasters are fueled by climate change," Ricketts told DW of fires that have burnt well over 5 million acres across California, Oregon, Washington State, and into neighboring Idaho. </p><p>In a two-day period in early September, Ricketts notes that more of Washington State burned than in almost any entire fire season until now, apart from 2015. </p><p>California, meanwhile, was a tinderbox after its hottest summer on record, with temperatures in Death Valley reaching nearly 130 degrees Fahrenheit, according to the U.S. National Weather Service. It has been reported as the hottest temperature ever measured on Earth.</p>
<div id="29ad9" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="8346fe7350e1371d400097cd48bf45a2"><blockquote class="twitter-tweet twitter-custom-tweet" data-twitter-tweet-id="1306969603180879872" data-partner="rebelmouse"><div style="margin:1em 0">Drought-parched wetlands in South America have been burning for weeks. https://t.co/pjAKdFcKPg #Pantanal https://t.co/ImN2C5vwcp</div> — NASA Earth (@NASA Earth)<a href="https://twitter.com/NASAEarth/statuses/1306969603180879872">1600440810.0</a></blockquote></div><p>As evidenced by Australia's apocalyptic Black Summer of 2019-2020, fires are burning bigger and for longer, with new records set year-on-year. Right now, Brazil's vast and highly biodiverse Pantanal wetlands are suffering from catastrophic fires.</p>
#climatefires Started in Australia<p>Governor Inslee this month invoked the phrase climate fires for arguably the first time in the U.S., according to Ricketts.</p><p>But the term was also used as fires burnt out of control in Australia in late 2019. In the face of a 2000km (more than 1,200 miles) fire front, and government officials and media who <a href="https://www.dw.com/en/trump-climate-change-denial-emissions-environment-germany-fake-heartland-seibt/a-52688933" target="_blank">played down the link to climate change</a>, Greens Party Senator Sarah Hanson-Young and a friend decided that reference to bushfires was inadequate. </p><p>"We both just said, we've got to start calling them climate fires, that's what they are," the Australian Senator told DW.</p><p>Hanson-Young says scientists have been warning for decades that these would be the effects of global heating. "We've been told these kinds of extreme weather events and destruction is what climate change would look like, and it's right here on our doorstep," she said from her home state of South Australia — where by early September fire warnings had already been issued.</p><p>"Calling them climate fires was making it absolutely crystal clear. It is essential that there's no ambiguity," she said </p><p>Having deliberately invoked the term, Hanson-Young soon started to push it on social media via a #climatefires hashtag. </p>
How to Talk About the Urgency of Global Heating<p>The need to use more explicit language when talking about extreme weather events linked to climate change is part of a broader push to express the urgency of global heating. In 2019, activist Greta Thunberg tweeted that the term "climate change" did not reflect the seriousness of the situation. </p><p>"Can we all now please stop saying 'climate change' and instead call it what it is: climate breakdown, climate crisis, climate emergency, ecological breakdown, ecological crisis and ecological emergency?" she wrote. </p><p>"Climate change has for a long time been talked about as something that is a danger in the future," said Hansen-Young. "But the consequences are already here. When people hear the word crisis, they understand that something has to happen, that action has to be taken."</p><p><span></span>Some terms are now used in public policy, with state and national governments, and indeed the EU Parliament, declaring an official climate emergency in the last year. </p>
Words That Reflect the Science<p>But while the West Coast governors all fervently link the fires to an unfolding climate crisis, U.S. President Donald Trump continues to avoid any reference to climate. In a briefing about the fires, he responded to overtures by Wade Crowfoot, California's Natural Resources Secretary, to work with the states on the climate crisis by stating: "It'll start getting cooler. You just watch." Crowfoot replied by saying that scientists disagreed. Trump rejoined with "I don't think science knows, actually." </p><p>It was reminiscent of the anti-science approach to the coronavirus pandemic within the Trump administration, <a href="https://www.dw.com/en/donald-trump-admits-playing-down-coronavirus-risks/a-54874350" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">at least publicly</a>. Fossil fuel companies are also benefiting from his disavowal of climate science, with the Trump administration having <a href="https://www.dw.com/en/opinion-trumps-paris-climate-accord-exit-isnt-really-a-problem/a-51124958" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">pulled out of the Paris Agreement</a> and reopened fossil fuel infrastructure like the Keystone XL pipeline. </p><p>But the science community has responded, with Scientific American magazine endorsing Trump's Democratic presidential challenger Joe Biden, the first presidential endorsement in its 175-year history. </p><p>Hanson-Young says the use of explicit language like climate fires has also been important in Australia due to the climate denialism of politicians and the press, especially in publications owned by Rupert Murdoch. As fires burnt out much of Australia's southeast coast, they were commonly blamed on arson — a tactic also recently used in the U.S.</p>
Climate Rhetoric Could Help Decide Election<p>The language of climate has begun to influence the U.S. presidential election campaign, with Democratic nominee Joe Biden labelling President Trump a "climate arsonist."</p><p>Biden is touting a robust climate plan that includes a 2050 zero emissions target and a return to the Paris Agreement. Though lacking the ambition of The New Green Deal, it has been front and center of his policy platform in recent days, at a time when five hurricanes are battering the U.S. Gulf Coast while smoke blanketing the West Coast spreads all the way to the East. </p><p>People are experiencing the climate crisis in a visceral way and almost universally relate to the language of an emergency, says Ricketts. "They know something is wrong."</p>
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A new report from Oxfam found that the wealthiest one percent of the world produced a carbon footprint that was more than double that of the bottom 50 percent of the world, The Guardian reported. The study examined 25 years of carbon dioxide emissions and wealth inequality from 1990 to 2015.
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