Category Archives: Policy

Connections: Anti-Refugee Furor and Censored Science

 

Two items in today’s news are connected in ways you may not have considered.

  • First, the voters of France chose their next President: Emmanuel Macron, a centrist newcomer to politics, over neo-Fascist Marine Le Pen, by a wide margin. Europe, France and global markets breathed a deep sigh of relief. Despite admiration on the part of both Putin’s Kremlin and Trump’s White House, Le Pen and her Front National were rejected by two thirds of French voters. And while the champagne is undoubtedly still flowing in Parisian cafes, one ominous fact remains: A right-wing party widely associated with racism, white nationalism, Holocaust denial and anti-refugee frenzy garnered the votes of one in three French men and women.
  • Second, in Washington, the Trump regime took steps to muzzle climate research at the EPA, firing two scientists from its science advisory board in the late after-hours on Friday, and pushing for an 84 percent cut in funding for the board overall. The move is widely understood to be part of a broad effort to muzzle science within the EPA, and to unleash the power of the fossil-fuel industry.

    EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt leading the charge to suppress climate science at the Agency

Climate science suppression among Washington’s new rulers. Refugee hysteria in a large segment of the French electorate. So what’s the connection? Maybe it’s obvious to you. Maybe not.

Our Western democracies have proven to be much less resilient to systemic shocks than we might have believed. Sure, there were some nasty events in Europe during the last century. There were Nazis, and Fascists, and Bolsheviks and such. But who can imagine our world slipping back into that abyss? It would take massive tectonic shifts for us to return to those dark days, no? Surely, we’ve progressed way beyond such risks, right?

But in 2006, something happened that threatened to undo our civil democratic order. It must have seemed a distant grief to Western democracies in those days: An epic drought hit the Middle East. And it overstayed its welcome in Syria, Turkey and Iraq for four long years. In Syria, the drought forced hundreds of thousands of farmers to abandon their fields and migrate to urban centers, exacerbating sectarian conflicts long held in check by Bashar al-Assad’s repressive regime. The resulting civil war has so far displaced four million desperate refugees, roughly half of them now crowding Europe’s displacement camps and resettlement communities. A couple of million refugees.

Now, consider the result of this wave of migrants:

  • Great Britain voted to leave the European Union. Granted, the arguments for Brexit were varied, but fear of immigrants dominated to the debate. No one believes that the Brits would have cast off the European bow lines if not for the wave of refugees from the Middle East.
  • And Hungary: Right-wing nationalists now run the country.
  • And in Poland, where the right-wing authoritarian regime has clamped down on public protest and intimidated the judiciary.
  • And in Austria, where anti-immigrant nationalists recently came within a whisker of winning the election.
  • And even in progressive Netherlands, the anti-Islam party of Geert Wilders finished a strong second in the latest election.
  • And here across the pond, there’s the United States, where the new president took power in a campaign launched on fear of Mexican criminals and “rapists.”

And finally, yesterday in France, Marine Le Pen and her anti-immigrant Front National garnered the votes of one in three voters. Sure, centrist Macron came away with the win; but the neo-Fascists made the most of the social disruption caused by the influx of foreigners.

A few million refugees, and the Western democracies are thrown into chaos.

And that brings us to the second piece of news: Trump’s EPA is silencing its climate scientists, most recently firing two of its top science advisors, and planning to cut funding for its science advisory board by a draconian 84%. Evidently, they plan on having almost no one remaining there to speak for science.

The connection is still a bit cloudy? Here’s the point: Mass human migration tends to have catastrophic effects on otherwise stable societies. The exodus from Syria is widely recognized as an event driven by a vanishingly rare drought, made much more extreme by the climatic warming afflicting the region. The Syrian Civil War is often placed alongside Darfur as one of the first climate wars of this age.

But it’s not remotely the last. Today’s wave of Syrian refugees is now projected to look like a rounding error in the coming wave of human migration that awaits the world during the next generation. According to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), the world will have to absorb between 250 million and one billion “climate change refugees” over the next 50 years. Maybe one hundred times more than we have seen in Syria. Maybe three hundred times more. Fleeing drought, famine, resource conflicts, sea-level rise and flooding made worse by climate change.

How will we respond to such an enormous crisis? Well, a wise society could begin with Option One: build infrastructure, establish resettlement programs, educate the public and foster dialogue with affected communities. Or it could go with Option Two: pour its resources into bombs, bullets, border guards and walls. But our choice will be informed at least in part by the extent that we accept our responsibility for the conditions driving the mass migration. And that’s where the science is so troubling. Scientists know that it’s greenhouse gases principally driving this climatic chaos. And we’re among the world’s worst greenhouse gas gluttons.

The Trump regime has bet the ranch on Option Two. Billions more for the world’s largest military and border walls, while silencing the science that exposes the consequences of our carbon binge.

So you knew it, of course. The rise of anti-refugee movements in the West goes hand-in-glove with the efforts to suppress the science explaining one of the principal underlying causes of mass human migration. This, of course, will become impossible in the years ahead, when it will be largely too late to change course.

We still have time, today, however, to respond. Will we listen to the scientists, and our own better angels, or will we fire them and charge headlong into the abyss?

Please, dear friends, raise your voices to be sure that we listen to wisdom.

While Washington Implodes, Nature Keeps Obeying Its Laws

The daily barrage of recklessness coming out of the nation’s capitol has us riveted. Mass deportation! Muzzle the scientists! To hell with the refugees! Build more nukes! Repay the Kremlin! Un-insure the poor! Terminate the EPA! Trample on native rights! Bring back the bathroom bills!

It’s hard to look the other way.

But the other way is where we must look. Because nature doesn’t care about the latest midnight Tweet or executive order. After back-to-back-to-back record hot years, the creation is groaning again. The Arctic melt is now happening so fast that it’s hard to predict the climate effects in store for us and our children.

So take a look. It’s not Tweeting, or speechifying, or giving TV interviews. IT’S MELTING.

Source: http://nsidc.org/arcticseaicenews/charctic-interactive-sea-ice-graph/

 

 

Your Risk of Death from Terrorism

“Three Rings for the Elven-kings under the sky,
Seven for the Dwarf-lords in halls of stone,
Nine for Mortal Men, doomed to die,
One for the Dark Lord on his dark throne….”

Oh, yes. Those mortal men. For us, the death rate is still 100 percent. We all die, don’t we?

Here in the US, more than 2.6 million of us do it every year, according to the National Center for Health Statistics. About half of us (45.9 percent) die of heart disease or cancer. That’s 1.2 million people every year. After those two, the causes vary pretty widely. Respiratory diseases, accidents and strokes each claim about 5 percent of our deaths every year. Then comes Alzheimer’s, and diabetes and pneumonia.

Down at 1.8 percent, we come to suicides. More than 48,000 of us kill ourselves every year.

You have to go way down the list to find the number killed by someone else. A little over 15,000 of us are killed by others – about 11,000 of those by guns.

So, there you have it: Lots of deaths from heart disease and cancer, and a tiny fraction from other people trying to kill us.

Oh, one more thing: Did you ever wonder how many of us are killed by TERRORISTS? After all, our president is telling us that terrorism is cause to worry “bigly.” So how many Americans do terrorists kill per year? Well, in 2014, the number was 17, according to the National Consortium for the Study of Terrorism. In 2013, 5. In the ten years prior to that, a total of 31, or three per year.

Almost no terrorist deaths in the United States.    Source: Global Terrorism Index

So let’s see: 2.6 million of us die every year. Half come from a couple of diseases. About 15,000 of us are killed by others. And of those 15,000, maybe a dozen or so are killed by terrorists.

Oh, one really final last thing: Of those dozen-odd terrorist murders per year, the vast majority are committed by far-right extremists (“FRE”) – white nationalists, neo-Nazis and the like. During the decade from 2005 to 2014 FRE’s killed three times more Americas than Islamic terrorists.

So one more time: 2.6 million deaths per year; about 12 by terrorist murders, and something like three of those by Islamic terrorists.

So why do you think the president is going to such lengths to “protect us” from Islamic terror? Wouldn’t you think a smart leader like he is would try to do something about, you know,  heart disease? Or could he have another motive entirely?

#ReichstagFire

Standing Rock Sioux: Endurance, Resistance, Prayer

The Standing Rock Lakota Sioux are still standing tall, despite a new president standing with the oil companies against them. Are we with them, or with the powers once again threatening their shrunken homelands?

To take action, join Call Congress Today, a community devoted to speaking truth to power on a daily basis. Or Climate Caretakers, a community dedicated to learning, praying and acting on climate justice. Or give directly to Standing Rock using links in the video.

Thank you, and God bless you.

Trump’s Cabinet and Invincible “Doubt”

I’ve been doing this for a long time now. Ten years ago, it was clear enough that human pollution was jeopardizing a livable future for my children. Clear enough to lead me to commit before God that I would dedicate what remained of my life to prevent or mitigate tragedy.

There was no honest debate about the facts at the time. The earth was warming. From a scientific perspective, the pace of warming was terrifying. The graph was, in fact, a “hockey stick.” Worse yet, we were pouring more and more of the gases that cause the heating into the atmosphere. For centuries, the atmospheric chemistry had been well understood. More of these gases would cause more warming. And with thicker and thicker blankets of earth-warming gases every year, we weren’t just committing the earth to a continuation of last year’s warming, melting and disruption, we were accelerating the pace.

CO2 concentrations off the charts.      Source: NASA

Then my grandchildren began to come along, adding new urgency to my task. We began to see new record after new record: a hotter world, year after year; faster polar ice melting; accelerated rise in sea levels; more and more extreme weather events; massive die-offs of marine ecosystems; mass human migration from regions beset by epic droughts; a spike in billion-dollar storm events.

It became clearer than ever that I’d chosen the right fight.

But always, always, there were opponents. And they weren’t a few scattered voices. They were everywhere. Certainly, dominating the Republican narrative. But also, the evangelical movement. You’re an alarmist. You’re a tax-happy liberal. This is a big hoax. How else can scientists get rich? Relax, God is in control.

Pruitt, Tillerson and Perry.         Source: Common Dreams

When I started, the claim was that global warming simply wasn’t happening. It was “the world’s biggest hoax.” Scientists were “cooking the books.” When outright rejection of temperature records became completely untenable, then those same records were selectively cited to argue for the “warming pause.”  Yes, it once was warming, but that’s over now.

Of course, that’s now impossible to argue, given three straight years of off-the-charts global heat and polar melting. So the “doubters” changed their tactic. Sure, it’s warming, they said. But no one knows why. Things go up; things go down. Change is inevitable. No one knows why for sure.

But sooner or later, the scientific community would be heard. The U.S. National Academy of Sciences, NASA and NOAA all made it clear, as did every major scientific society in the world: greenhouse gases from fossil fuels are the main contributors to climatic disruptions we’re seeing all over the globe.

For a time, the “doubters” muddled by, insisting that they were not scientists, and couldn’t be expected to answer basic questions on the topic. But this only lasted for a couple of years, till it began to dawn on people that they were also not oncologists, but still got treated for cancer when diagnosed.

And that brings us to today’s new talking points being rolled out by the Trump transition team. Scott Pruitt for EPA, Rick Perry for Energy, Rex Tillerson for State: they’re all reading from the same script:

Sure, climate change is real. Sure, greenhouse gases are a big part of the problem. BUT, we don’t know how much, or what the future will hold. We don’t know for sure the best way to fix the problem. So, we need to keep debating this.

Let’s keep talking, because no one is positively certain what the future will hold.

What’s the common thread in all these arguments over the years? For an economy addicted to fossil fuels, we’ve got wonderful news: We don’t need to do anything. We can stop the global efforts at climate action, while we talk. We can stop the transition to a clean electric grid, while we talk. We can stop helping flooding and drought-stricken countries, while we talk.

And we can talk for a long, long time.

Please, dear friends: Don’t let them talk while our Father’s world – and our children’s only home – flirts with tipping points to runaway heating. What to do? Start by joining Climate Caretakers, and begin to learn, pray and act to protect the creation.

Exxon’s Chairman to Lead Us to a Clean-Energy Future?

Really?

We didn’t think so either. So we’ve written every member of the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations.

Dear Senator:

God’s world is in danger from our addiction to fossil fuels. And so I thank you in advance for your leadership in solving the climate crisis we are causing. I ask that you please subject Rex Tillerson, the Chairman of oil giant ExxonMobil, to the most rigorous questioning on his plans to address climate change, and his plans for leadership in strengthening the Paris Accord and raising our levels of ambition in reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

Please find from him what he believes about the impact of burning all remaining proved reserves of energy companies; what percentage of reserves can be burned while keeping the climate below 2 degrees of warming; what would be the impact on ExxonMobil if only that percentage of its reserves could be produced.

(Spoiler alert: Only about 20 percent of proved reserves can be produced without tipping the world into runaway overheating. Exxon has $800 billion of proved reserves in the ground today. If they had to leave all but 20% of those reserves in the ground, that would be a write-off of $460 billion, or around three times their total net worth, and 20 years’ worth of income.)

In light of this, would you please find out why Mr. Tillerson has continued spending $23 million per year at Exxon to find yet more un-producible oil and gas?

In the end, it seems impossible to me that the world’s leading oil man could lead the transition to a survivable climate, but I would encourage you to lead the charge in finding this out.

Sincerely, …

 

If you want to write or call, here are the members of the committee, with links to their contact information. Check that: Please, write or call! Feel free to cut and paste this letter!

Republicans:

Democrats:

Oppose Trump’s Appointment of Scott Pruitt to Head the EPA

We have just signed a letter making its way around internet sites stating our opposition to the nomination of Scott Pruitt to become the new Administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency. This is possibly the worst nomination of any seen in a lifetime. The letter itself explains why:

ADD YOUR SIGNATURE

Dear U.S. Senators,

We … urge your strong, unqualified, and robust opposition to Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt’s appointment to head the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). Pruitt has a record of advocating against any and all protections for our water, air and climate. Allowing him to lead the EPA would not only be a disaster for the environment, but for every person in the United States who drinks water or breathes air.

We could write a book detailing Pruitt’s anti-environmental views – he has bragged about repeatedly suing the agency he is now being asked to run – but here are a few highlights:

  • As Attorney General of Oklahoma, Pruitt campaigned in support of a ballot measure that would have made it virtually impossible for the state to regulate pollution caused by factory farms – pollution which poisons surrounding communities’ air and drinking water. Fortunately, Oklahoma voters have the good sense to reject this measure.
  • Pruitt is a climate denier who has said that the link between human activity and climate change is “far from settled.” He is part of an effort to shield Exxon and other energy companies from accountability over years of misleading the public about the science around climate change.
  • Pruitt opposes the ability of the EPA to regulate carbon as a pollutant, something that is essential to combatting climate change.
  • Pruitt has opposed the EPA’s Waters of the U.S. rule, which strengthened regulations aimed at protecting water from runoff pollution.
  • Pruitt even opposes protecting the environment around our national parks. In 2014, Pruitt unsuccessfully sued the EPA over its Regional Haze Rule, a law designed to foster cleaner air at national parks by reducing coal-fired power plant emissions.
  • As earthquakes caused by fracking and waste disposal have ravaged Oklahoma, Pruitt has done nothing to protect the people of his state or hold the fossil fuel industry accountable.
  • None of this should come as a surprise, given that Pruitt has accepted over $300,000 in campaign contributions from the fossil fuel industry.

As the above record indicates, Pruitt as EPA Administrator would be a disaster for the environment. But it’s worth noting that environmental harm also means human harm. When water is polluted by factory farms, it means that people living downstream get poisoned. When air is polluted by power plants and refineries, it means people living nearby get poisoned. When water systems are allowed to deteriorate and there is insufficient federal response – like in Flint, Michigan – it means people get poisoned. When fossil fuel companies are allowed to drill and dispose of waste with impunity causing earthquakes, it means people’s homes are damaged and working people have to pay more for insurance. And when climate change is denied and allowed to accelerate, it means more superstorms, which means significant property damage and possible loss of life for people living in coastal areas.

The environment should not be a partisan issue, and someone with Scott Pruitt’s record should not be allowed anywhere near the EPA, let alone put in a position to lead it. We urge you to not only vote against Pruitt’s nomination, but actively use all the power of your office and position to block it. We urge you to lobby your colleagues on both sides of the aisle to oppose his nomination, to speak out in the media highlighting his egregious environmental track record, and use all procedural means at your disposal to block Scott Pruitt from becoming EPA Administrator.

ADD YOUR SIGNATURE

Thank you for signing! But there’s one more thing: Here’s a list of the Senators whose committee will be considering Pruitt’s nomination to the EPA. Please call just two of them. If any are from your state, by all means, call them. But regardless, please make two calls. You’re entitled to make your voice known to committee members. You’ll be leaving a message with a staffer, or on a recording machine. If you’re not certain what to say, try this:

Senator [Name], Thank you for your service on the committee to consider the nomination of Scott Pruitt as EPA Administrator. I urge you to vote AGAINST confirmation. Pruitt in the EPA would be the fox in the henhouse. Our communities and our children deserve clean air, land and water. [My own community … provide any personal context.] Pruitt’s history makes clear that he would do great harm to all efforts to achieve a sustainable, clean, safe environment. Please, I urge you, vote against his confirmation, and take all steps within your power to see to it that he is not confirmed. Thank you.

Here are links to every member of the committee that must rule on Scott Pruitt’s nomination before it goes to the full Senate for a vote. Call two today! And thank you!

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