If you’re of a certain age, you probably remember environmental commercials featuring Woodsy the “anti-pollution owl” with the motto: “Give a hoot! Don’t pollute!”
Under the Trump administration, we need to modify that motto: “Don’t give a hoot. Pollute!”
That’s the message of Trump’s new plan for powerplant emissions. According to the EPA, this new plan may result in as many as 1,630 additional premature deaths annually by 2030, as reported by Bloomberg:
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency says its proposal to relax greenhouse gas limits on power plants will cause as many as 1,630 additional premature deaths annually by 2030 from heart and lung disease — an estimate independent experts say may be low.
The projection is contained in a 289-page technical document accompanying the agency’s proposal to replace the Obama-era Clean Power Plan that was released Tuesday.
The new rule would give states more leeway to set limits on greenhouse gas emissions from their power sectors — even though, by the agency’s own admission, that will result in higher levels of particulate matter and ozone being emitted by coal plants than would have occurred under President Barack Obama’s plan. That pollution is linked with respiratory infections, asthma and impaired lung function.
As my wife pointed out to me, Trump & friends aren’t worried about smog and pollution and respiratory discomfort. They don’t live downwind from coal-fired plants. Trump can always escape to one of his many resorts and golf courses around the world.
How cynical and callous do you have to be to suggest changes to environmental regulations that you know will kill lots of Americans in the future?
Making America great again? No — It’s making America polluted again. Woodsy the Owl is not happy, America.
I grew up on science and the American space program. My favorite character on “Star Trek” was Mr. Spock, the eminently logical Vulcan science officer. I loved physics in high school and ended up majoring in mechanical engineering in college. Later, I got advanced degrees in the history of science and technology, especially as these subjects relate to Christianity.
Suffice to say I have a deep respect and a fond affection for science. That’s why it pains me to see the U.S. government taking positions against science, and specifically against global warming/climate change.
What disturbs me (among other things) is the denial of facts — the disparagement of science — by high officials in our government. Denying global warming is like denying evidence of evolution. People do the latter as a matter of faith — they take refuge in Creationism and Biblical literalism, partly because it’s easier, partly because they’re “true believers,” partly because they don’t trust experts, and partly because it’s flattering to their own self-image as being made in the image of God. And there are certainly ministers within Christian sects who encourage their followers to reject science — it’s one way for these ministers to bolster their own authority.
The denial of the science of global warming is for some of the same reasons (it’s easier, lack of trust in experts) but largely due to capitalism and the desire for profit. The ministers of capitalism are not about to cede authority to scientists, not on this issue at least. There are trillions of dollars of fossil fuels still in the ground, and who wants to leave it there when there’s so much money to be made in extraction? Damn the long-term costs to the environment and to vulnerable peoples worldwide — full speed ahead on short-term profits!
But as Tom Engelhardt notes in his latest article at TomDispatch.com, the global environment won’t be deterred by our denial of facts. Environmental blowback is guaranteed — and will grow increasingly severe — as long as our government continues to ignore or downplay the high costs of burning fossil fuels.
In the aftermath of Sputnik and in the context of the Cold War, our government pushed science as a bulwark to democracy and freedom. Now that same government is disrespecting science in the name of profitability and economic competitiveness.
As Mr. Spock might say, dissing science is not logical. Nor will it end well for ourselves or our planet.
It seems Americans can’t rally support for something without declaring a “war” on it. The war on poverty. On drugs. On gangs and crime. On terror. And these wars have become open-ended, or “generational” in Pentagon-speak, with a dynamic of crisis-surge-“progress”-new crisis-new surge-repeat that sustains large bureaucracies and huge government spending.
To these “wars” we must add a new one, notes Michael Klare at TomDispatch.com: the climate change war. As Texas and Florida were being clobbered by powerful hurricanes, the U.S. military and Homeland Security took the lead role in responding to these disasters, notes Klare. Yet, even as the U.S. National Security State was mobilized to respond, identifying and seeking to mitigate a root cause of this “war” — the role global warming plays in exacerbating these storms — was and is very much forbidden by the Trump administration.
This is nothing new. As with so many other wars, the U.S. military is deployed to address symptoms rather than root causes. Worse than that, we often deny our own role in creating or worsening those root causes.
With respect to climate change, we Americans have made our choice. We’ve come to believe the advertising slogans that “we can have it all.” We’ve dismissed the dangers of wanton fossil fuel consumption, and indeed wanton materialism in general. Corporations have worked hard to persuade us that global warming might just be a hoax, or at the very least dodgy science. Many of us have willingly bought the message that coal is “clean,” that fracking along with new pipelines are safe and create jobs, even though it’s clean(er) energy like wind and solar that is the better job-creator.
Those are facts that lead me to a different “war” in America, the one being waged against truth. Basic truths are denied (e.g. that human activity contributes to global warming) in the interests of profits enjoyed by powerful industries. But denial in “war” is not a path to victory (except for the profiteers). Denial is a path only to generational conflict, one that is sure to lead to more disasters and end only in defeat.
So, two things are most definitely certain: the climate change war will be generational. And, much like that other generational war — the war on terror — our military won’t win it. For no one wins a war against Mother Nature — not when we’re going out of our way to piss her off.
Let’s state the obvious: Donald Trump is a climate change denier. And this is for political as well as petty reasons. When it comes to his investments, his resorts, he is not stupid enough to deny the evidence of his own eyes. As I wrote a year ago:
On global warming, Trump is essentially a skeptic on whether it exists (“hoax” and “con job” are expressions of choice), even as he seeks to protect his resorts from its effects. Along with this rank hypocrisy, Trump is advocating an energy plan that is vintage 1980, calling for more burning of fossil fuels, more drilling and digging, more pipelines, as if fossil fuel consumption was totally benign to the environment and to human health.
His climate change skepticism is politically motivated and calculated to appeal to his base. No surprise there. But Trump also revels in anti-intellectualism, which has a strong tradition in the U.S.
Sure, intellectuals mess up, and more than a few can find a fourth side to every three-sided problem. But Trump only sees one side to every three-sided problem. His side. Like a temperamental child, he thinks he can create his own reality, regardless of facts. And the rest of us now have to put up with the spoiled brat until 2020 (or impeachment, which is unlikely before 2018, at the earliest).
Trump reminds me of the spoiled kid in the famous “Twilight Zone” episode, “It’s A Good Life.” In that episode, a six-year-old kid prone to temper tantrums and getting his own way rules with absolute power over his parents and the townfolk of “Peaksville.”
Anyone who offends the petty tyrant (played memorably by Billy Mumy) is punished, often in gruesome ways. A more merciful result is to be “sent to the cornfield,” a euphemism for death.
Welcome to Peaksville, America. And think only good thoughts of our six-year-old leader. Unless, of course, you prefer the cornfield.
Conflicts of interest characterize Donald Trump and his cabinet even before he and they take power in January, so we can safely predict a lot of corruption will be forthcoming. I always love the way both parties, but especially the Republicans, vow to fight for smaller government and lower deficits — until they get in power. Then it’s bigger government and larger deficits in the service of crony capitalism. Kleptocracy, in a word.
A good friend put it concisely: “It makes me sick!”
But of course that’s why she’s not in Washington. The Washington-types don’t find it sickening. For them, “Greed is good.” They convince themselves that: 1) The more they have, the better. 2) They deserve more because they’re better people. 3) The little people are schmucks who deserve to be exploited.
My parents liked the saying, “Birds of a feather flock together.” So the greedy are easy to find. Just look for them in the corridors of power, clustered together. For example, why do so many generals and admirals cash-in at retirement, joining corporate boards and making millions? They have six-figure government pensions, so why do they need more? They think they deserve the money. And they want to continue to play the power game, preening among the flock in the process.
As another friend of mine put it, “Money is the only thing the American elite really cares about. And I always think of Sinclair Lewis’s line that poor Americans never think of themselves as poor, only as temporarily embarrassed millionaires. One of our neighbors and friends told me he was voting Trump because with lower taxes he will be free to make a lot more money. Really? How much does anyone really think taxes will go down for people making what we make?”
The reality for us is that our taxes will probably go down by only a few hundred dollars. It’ll help us pay our air conditioning bills next summer, but that’s about it. Modest tax cuts are not going to turn us all into budding Donald Trumps (thank god for small mercies).
Yes, for people in Trump’s crowd, money is the measure of success. But so too is access. And power. Some of these people will kill themselves to be seen at the right parties, among the “right” kind of people. “Players.” “Operators.” Not people like you and me.
Trump’s government will gorge itself until it collapses under its own weight. The big question is whether its collapse will take the rest of us with it. Consider global warming, and consider the climate change deniers and fossil fuel profiteers that Trump is empowering. How long does our planet have left until we confront true disaster? A few decades, perhaps?
I always told my students the big problem with global warming was that its most serious perils – real as they are – lurked decades in the future. Problems that are decades away are difficult to address when America is driven by a quarterly business cycle and a quadrennial election cycle for the presidency. Now, under Trump, these problems won’t be addressed at all because the business moguls as well as the president simply deny their existence. Why? Because it’s convenient for them to do so. Because they stand to make a great deal of money by doing so. And because they don’t care about decades from now; they care about quarterly profits and getting reelected.
As I grow older, the words from a commercial of my youth have found new resonance in my memory: “It’s not nice to fool Mother Nature.” Not only isn’t it nice: it’s incredibly foolhardy. For the words of Richard Feynman about the space shuttle Challenger disaster ring true here:
Reality must take precedence over public relations, for Nature cannot be fooled.
Trump and his cronies may fool some of the people all of the time, but they’re not going to fool Nature. Sooner or later (and sooner under Trump), nature’s bill will come.
Today, the essence of U.S. military “strategy” is targeting. The enemy is treated as vermin to be exterminated with the right bug bomb. As if those bombs had no negative consequences; as if we learned nothing from the overuse of DDT, for example.
You might recall DDT, the miracle insecticide of the 1950s and 1960s. It wiped out bad bugs (and a lot of good ones as well) while leading to DDT-resistant ones. It also damaged the entire ecology of regions (because DDT is both persistent and bio-accumulative). Something similar is happening in the Greater Middle East. The U.S. is killing bad “bugs” (terrorists) while helping to breed a new generation of smarter “bugs.” Meanwhile, constant violence, repetitive bombing, and other forms of persistent meddling are accumulating in their effects, damaging the entire ecology of the Greater Middle East.
The U.S. government insists the solution is all about putting bombs on target, together with Special Forces operating as bug zappers on the ground. At the same time, the U.S. sells billions of dollars in weaponry to our “friends” and allies in the region. Israel just got $38 billion in military aid over ten years, and Saudi Arabia has yet another major arms deal pending, this time for $1.15 billion (with Senator Rand Paul providing that rare case of principled opposition based on human rights violations by the Saudis).
Of course, the U.S. has provided lots of guns and military equipment to Iraqi and Afghan security forces, which often sell or abandon them to enemies such as ISIS and the Taliban. The special inspector general in Afghanistan reported in 2014 that “As many as 43% of all small arms supplied to the Afghan National Security Forces remain unaccounted for – meaning more than 200,000 guns, including M2s, M16s, and M48s, are nowhere to be found.” A recent tally this year that includes Iraq suggests that 750,000 guns can’t be accounted for, according to Action on Armed Violence (AOAV), a London-based charity. The Pentagon’s typical solution to missing guns is simply to send more of them. Thus the U.S. is effectively arming its enemies as well as its allies, a business model that’s a win-win if you’re an arms merchant.
The essence of U.S. strategy makes me think of a Warren Zevon song lyric, “Send lawyers, guns, and money.” As we’ve seen, U.S. lawyers can authorize anything, even torture, even as U.S. guns and money go missing and end up feeding war and corruption. The tag line of Zevon’s song is especially pertinent: “The shit has hit the fan.” How can you flood the Greater Middle East with U.S.-style bureaucracy, guns and money, and not expect turmoil and disaster?
Back in World War II, the USA was an arsenal of democracy. Now it’s just an arsenal. Consider Bill Hartung’s article on U.S. military weaponry that’s flooding the Middle East. The business of America is war, with presidential candidates like Donald Trump just wanting to dump more money into the Pentagon.
There is no end to this madness. Not when the U.S. economy is so dependent on weapons and war. Not when the U.S. national security state dominates the political scene. Not when Americans are told the only choices for president are Trump the Loose Cannon or Hillary the Loaded Gun.
On this 15th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks in 2001, we should ask ourselves what those attacks inaugurated. In a word, calamity. The wildly successful actions of Al Qaeda, combined with the wild overreactions of the Bush/Cheney administration, marked the 21st century as one that will likely become known to future historians as calamitous.
In thinking about the 9/11 attacks, as an Air Force officer, what struck me then, and still does now, is the psychological blow. We Americans like to think we invented flight (not just that the Wright Brothers succeeded in the first powered flight that was both sustained and controlled). We like to think that airpower is uniquely American. We take great pride that many airliners are still “Made in the USA,” unlike most other manufactured goods nowadays.
To see our airliners turned into precision missiles against our skyscrapers, another potent image of American power, by a terrorist foe (that was once an ally against Soviet forces in Afghanistan) staggered our collective psyche. That’s what I mean when I say Al Qaeda’s attacks were “successful.” They created an enormous shock from which our nation has yet to recover.
This shock produced, as Tom Engelhardt notes in his latest article at TomDispatch.com, a form of government psychosis for vengeance via airpower. The problem, of course, is that the terrorist enemy (first Al Qaeda, then the Taliban, now ISIS) simply doesn’t offer big targets like skyscrapers or the Pentagon. The best the U.S. can do via airpower is to strike at training camps or small teams or even individuals, all of which matter little in the big scheme of things. Meanwhile, U.S. air strikes (and subsequent land invasions by ground troops) arguably strengthen the enemy strategically. Why? Because they lend credence to the enemy’s propaganda that the USA is launching jihad against the Muslim world.
The wild overreactions of the Bush/Cheney administration, essentially continued by Obama and the present national security state, have played into the hands of those seeking a crusade/jihad in the Greater Middle East. What we have now, so the experts say, is a generational or long war, with no foreseeable end point. Its product, however, is obvious: chaos, whether in Iraq or Libya or Yemen or Syria. And this chaos is likely to be aggravated by critical resource shortages (oil, water, food) as global warming accelerates in the next few decades.
We are in the early throes of the calamitous 21st century, and it all began fifteen years ago on 9/11/2001.