Our Physical World Strikes Back
Terry H. Schwadron
Dec. 29, 2019
It seems inescapable to leave the year without considering where we’ve left our view of the environment and our physical world.
Ideologies and policies aside, Mother Earth is delivering a pretty clear message that things are not going well. The year has seen an increase in strong hurricanes, wind-driven wildfires, droughts affecting agriculture, flooding even far inland from fragile coastal areas and other natural disasters.
Worse, there were reminders at every turn that human behavior is making things worse rather than better, again, not limited to singular countries or policies or governments. How do we explain unleashing military and civilian regiments to burn wide swaths of the Amazon at a time of increasing need for its lush greenery? How else do we explain broad policy changes to trade our national parks and pristine recreational lands for more fossil fuel drilling patches just at the time when the United States has a glut of energy?
It is a time when we hear Donald Trump talking about his love of pristine clean drinking water and air just as we see his administration proudly tossing out regulations that govern exactly the industrial processes that run cross-wise to those goals.
We’re ending a year in which Trump ignores lead-poisoned drinking waters in Flint, MI, and dozens of other cities and in which he insists on withdrawal from Climate Change agreements.
We’re ending the year with a growing environmental set of crises with Trump seemingly rubbing salt in those same ecological wounds.
The international community gathered without U.S. leadership in Spain this year to learn that global warming is happening more broadly and faster even than warned in a load of scientific reports. Even reports issues by interdepartmental panels within the U.S. government grew more dire this year, even as the White House continued its campaign to erase any mention of Climate Change as something that is coming about.
Trump has been effective in his denials about global warming, however ostrich-like his approach appears from outside the White House. The decision to withdraw from international agreements has allowed China and India, broadly identified as the biggest polluters, to skate, and has allowed the international coalition to fritter.
The ostensible reasoning in Trumpland has been national pride: We don’t want other nations telling us what to do about global warming, even if we were to accept that it is true.
But there has been no national program to address an increasing number of global warming effects that we are seeing in rising sea waters in Miami and coastal areas, flooding along storm-ridden rivers, preservation of farmlands or serious and rapid development of appropriate technologies and alternative energy sources. For that matter, we don’t even seem to have policy in place about rebuilding in place after these big storms hit.
One more year has passed towards measurable ill effects, but the 12 months have been compounded in scientific evaluation of global warming.
We don’t even seem to have a comprehensible American program towards examining the effects of a warming Arctic, for example, where a mineral-aware administration has political interest.
Away from those broad issues involving warming, the Trump administration continues to see only public good in discarding scientists for industry representatives on policy panels and in continuing to adopt business-friendly approaches to regulation.
We’re seeing states like California and New York fighting back in a variety of ways. Just this month, New York insisted on banning a herbicide that federal officials think is just fine — despite multiple scientific studies linking its use to cancers in humans.
In California, a particular political target for Trump, we have seen a huge abyss open over air quality standards, with Trump proposing rollbacks of car emission standards, for example, in ways that challenge more rigorous state laws. Caught up in the middle of all this has been the auto-making industries, which, of course, want to build cars towards a single fuel rule.
The real point is, much like healthcare where there is debate about Something but never about health, the Trump administration has doubled-down this year on an approach that seems to pit jobs against environmental health, as if those two must be on the same plane.
This is an administration that sees killing elephants and lions (and a big Mongolian sheep) in the wild as fine, has no problem with lettings whole species move towards extinction, but insists that windmills shouldn’t be allowed to kill birds. This is an administration in which we should worry more about drilling in the oceans rather than the livelihoods of the nation’s fishermen, and that speeding construction in places where it may be ill-advised is more important than looking at effects on our physical home.
It would be good to look ahead and see a more positive horizon, but through the worsening air, the horizon looks to be difficult.