Climate crisis can't break through noise of trade war and Mueller probe

Climate crisis can't break through noise of trade war and Mueller probe
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Last week, global data trackers quietly noted two important events. First, temperatures near the entrance to the Arctic Ocean hit 84 degrees Fahrenheit, 30 degrees above long-term average temperatures. Second, atmospheric carbon dioxide concentrations hit a new high, approximately 100 ppm over 1955 levels.

Combined with recent United Nations announcement that 1 million species are at risk of extinction and an early start to the summer ice melt in Greenland sparked by the second hottest March on record, it seems that the planet is sending out urgent SOS messages.

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While the preponderance of scientific evidence supports the fact that human actions have an impact on the earth, the GOP overtly and covertly resists this reality. In particular, the Trump administration has mastered the artform of distraction to divert the public’s attention away from issues of grave consequence in favor of speculative drama.

With great bluster and defiance, PresidentTrump planned to withdraw the U.S. out of the 2015 Paris Agreement, seeding a tidal wave of global critique. As attention quickly faded from Trump’s climate snub and while media and public attention have recently been focused on the Mueller report, an escalating tariff war with China and the humanitarian crisis at the border, the administration has discreetly set into motion a carefully orchestrated strategy of deregulation, aimed at expanding oil and gas production and use in the U.S. 

In his first week in office, Trump issued Executive Order 13771, which required that “for every new regulation issued, at least two prior regulations be identified for elimination…”. While this notion of efficiency may be enticing, if it occurs on the edges of public awareness, public health and safety can be compromised.

For example, in 2017, Trump reduced Bears Ears Monument, Utah land sacred to Native Americans, by 85 percent —  a move aligned with lobbying from a uranium firm led by Andrew Wheeler, who now heads the EPA. This combined with the reduction of the Grand Staircase-Escalante monument in Utah represents the largest rollback of federal land protection in the nation’s history, largely to free up more lands for energy extraction.

In late March, the president issued a new permit for the Keystone XL Pipeline, which was designed to avoid scrutiny as “an exercise of presidential authority that is not subject to judicial review under the Administrative Procedure Act.” Conveniently, this act not only ducks behind a circus of distracting headlines, but also imposes a secondary wall against public critique.

In early April, the president signed two executive orders to limit the tools that states have to block oil and gas pipelines. The first order seeks to weaken a part of the Clean Water Act that requires permits for any projects that may contaminate a water source. The second order shifts authority to “issue, deny, or amend” pipeline permits that cross international borders from the secretary of State to the president.

And finally, weeks after the ninth anniversary of the Deep Water Horizon disaster, which caused the largest oil spill in U.S. history, the Trump administration quietly reduced and rescinded safety regulations that were designed and enacted to prevent such an event from occurring again. The roll-backs targeted Obama administration safety rules that were implemented to specifically increase review and management of the equipment that failed and caused the BP oil well explosion in 2010, effectively putting the environment at risk for another disaster of this scale.

Trump continues to benefit from the deflection of American attention provided by the media’s focus on China and  Russia. While these too are important issues, as they dominate the headlines and our attention, policies that protect the public, including solutions to global climate changes, fall and new policies rise with too little attention. 

The Brookings Institute, a non-profit policy organization based in Washington, D.C. comprised of over 300 scholars, is tracking the dizzying number of Trump policy changes affecting not only energy development that adds more carbon to the atmosphere, but also impacts education, immigration, employment, healthcare, privacy and more.

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If the news cycle ever again slows, the U.S. citizenry will find that we are left holding a putrid bag of piercing climate consequences that will affect communities in every corner of the world and will be steepest for those most vulnerable. It seems that little that can be done to stop the frenzied unraveling of protections that, in large part, allow our democracy to proactively respond to global conditions. With a Senate impotent to control him, the president is left unrestrained.

Being informed for the 2020 election is essential. The media needs to broadly expand their reporting and we, as citizens, need to take a deeper dive in to see how our government and its policies are being transformed behind the curtain. 

Amy McCoy is co-founder of Martin & McCoy and a public voices fellow with The OpEd Project.

Felicia Goodrum Sterling is a professor at the University of Arizona and a public voices fellow.