With 2016 now locked in to be the hottest year ever recorded, easily surpassing the previous hottest year on record, which was last year, the need for dramatic government intervention aimed at lessening impacts of anthropogenic climate disruption (ACD) is paramount.
Yet, President-elect Donald Trump couldn’t be a worse person to lead the United States, given that he has called ACD “bullshit” and a “hoax” and is reportedly already working to remove the US from the Paris Agreement on climate change.
“We’re going to cancel the Paris climate agreement and stop all payment of US tax dollars to UN global warming programs,” Trump said in North Dakota earlier this year.
While we still don’t know what other actions he plans to take regarding ACD, but one of his first alarming actions after winning the election was naming Myron Ebell, a man well-known for his coal industry-funded attacks on climate science, to lead his Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) transition team — and possibly head the EPA.
Ebell is also extremely well known for his ACD denial: He is the chairman of the Cooler Heads Coalition, a group of nonprofit organizations that “question global warming alarmism and oppose energy-rationing policies.”
“There has been a little bit of warming,” Ebell told Vanity Fair in 2007, “but it’s been very modest and well within the range for natural variability, and whether it’s caused by human beings or not, it’s nothing to worry about.”
However, ACD denial is just the beginning of Trump’s threat to the planet.
“While Trump campaigned as a political outsider, his transition team is filled with corporate lobbyists,” Wenonah Hauter, the executive director of Food and Water Watch said in a recent press release. “His agriculture advisors are agribusiness insiders. He has called climate change a hoax, and his energy advisor is a lobbyist for the Koch Brothers. His reported top pick for energy secretary is Harold Hamm, a modern-day oil tycoon.”
As recently as the end of October, during a campaign stop in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, Trump laid out what his campaign deemed the “100-day plan to Make America Great Again,” within which he promised during his “first day in office” to, among other things, allow the Keystone XL pipeline to move forward, lift restrictions on fossil fuel production and cancel “billions in payments to UN climate change programs.”
His election has alarmed scientists around the globe.
“Trump will be the first anti-science president we have ever had,” Michael Lubell, director of public affairs for the American Physical Society in Washington DC told the media recently. “The consequences are going to be very, very severe.”
Hauter of Food and Water Watch told Truthout she believes we are at a point where, literally, everything is at stake.
“We are at a pivotal point in the Earth’s history, and we needed a leader who would prioritize our environment and promote policies that would incentivize energy efficiency and renewable energy,” she said. “Instead, we have elected a climate denier who will give the fossil fuel industry free reign, threatening the future of life on Earth.”
Moreover, the people with which Trump is surrounding himself regarding environmental policy indicate that if his administration’s plans are implemented, it will mean full speed ahead for ACD.
A Fossil Fuel Utopia
Trump’s shortlist for secretary of the Interior Department includes Sarah Palin. The Department of Interior (DOI) is responsible for managing federal lands and the country’s natural resources, as well as dealing with the land rights of Native Americans and making decisions about both fracking and offshore drilling.
While everyone remembers Palin’s famous “drill baby drill” campaign, her more recent comments on oil and gas production have been less publicized. Last year, when Donald Trump floated the idea of including Palin in his prospective administration, she expressed interest in heading the Department of Energy (DOE).
“Energy is my baby,” Palin said. “Oil, gas, minerals, those things God has dumped on this part of the earth for mankind’s use instead of us relying on unfriendly foreign nations for us to import their resources. If I were head of that, I’d get rid of it.”
Of course, oil and gas resource extraction is mainly under the purview of the DOI (not the Department of Energy). Palin’s comments do not bode well for an Interior Secretary appointment.
Another person on Trump’s shortlist for the DOI is Forrest Lucas, an oil industry executive and head of Lucas Oil. The NFL’s Indianapolis Colts play their home games in Lucas Oil Stadium, since Lucas paid over $100 million to have the stadium named after him a decade ago.
It should be noted as well that the current DOI Secretary, appointed by Barack Obama, is former Mobile Oil executive Sally Jewell.
Trump has chosen Mike McKenna, a fossil fuel lobbyist, to lead the transition at the DOE, meaning McKenna is on the top of the shortlist to head the department.
According to the Washington Post, McKenna has lobbied on behalf of MWR Strategies, a firm that is owned by the Koch Brothers, which was listed by Forbes as one of the largest private companies in the US. McKenna has also represented Dow Chemical and the energy firm EDF Suez, which holds fracking licenses in the UK.
Another person who Trump might tap for DOE secretary is Harold Hamm, a billionaire who is the CEO of Oklahoma-based Continental Resources, a fracking company. If chosen, Hamm would be the first person taken directly from the fossil fuel industry and placed in a cabinet position since 1977, and his company runs most of the Bakken shale formation drilling in North Dakota. Hamm has already called for Trump to abandon what he referred to as “overreaching regulations” in an effort to ramp up fossil fuel production.
During the presidential campaign, Hamm stated that Trump did not fully “understand” oil and gas issues after Trump said that local communities should have a say in whether or not fracking should be allowed where they live.
“Harold Hamm and Forrest Lucas are two oil industry tycoons whose names have been floated,” Hauter told Truthout of these two members of Trump’s shortlist. “They would be particularly bad, but none of the names inspire any confidence that our public lands will be protected from extractive industries, every indication is that the Trump administration will see them as a source of profit, not a resource to be protected.”
The Lesser of Two Evils
Steve Horn, a writer and researcher at DeSmogBlog.com and a freelance investigative journalist, believes that, while Trump and the people he is bringing into power spell disaster for the planet, even the Democratic Party wouldn’t do nearly enough to contend with ACD.
“Trump is not a unique climate change villain, nor is his staff,” Horn told Truthout. “They’re just climate denial taken to the extreme.”
Horn believes that most people in power, including liberal elites like President Obama and Hillary Clinton, are in their own form of climate denial.
“Just look at the UN Paris climate change deal or Obama’s Clean Power Plan, both of which are under threat of being ripped apart by the Trump Administration, and how experts have said they’re both inadequate for dealing with the climate crisis,” Horn pointed out.
Horn believes that, while Trump will, indeed, make a horrific problem worse — more quickly than the Democrats would — we must not kid ourselves about what Hillary Clinton would have ushered in, or what steps Obama has taken vis-a-vis ACD.
“For anyone who follows this issue closely, they understand an entirely different economic paradigm is needed, and these are not solutions put on the table by either Democrats or Republicans,” Horn warned.
Goodbye Clean Air, Water and Safe Food
MSNBC ran a piece recently titled, “Trump’s FDA plan should raise concerns for Americans who eat food,” expressing grave concern about what the president-elect might have in store for us on the food safety front.
Trump has made it clear that he intends to scale back governmental food safeguards, just as congressional Republicans have done for years now.
In his campaign’s aforementioned plan to Make America Great Again, Trump highlighted a number of specific regulations to be eliminated, including what he calls the “FDA Food Police.”
Trump’s campaign also stated that FDA rules on things like inspections of food facilities, temperatures at which food can be safely stored, and “farm and food production hygiene” were of particular interest as far as being changed or eliminated.
As for who his agriculture secretary might be, one of the standouts on the current shortlist of candidates is Sid Miller, currently Texas’ agriculture secretary, who just prior to the election referred to Hillary Clinton as a “c—-” on his campaign’s Twitter account. Other candidates include Texas Gov. Rick Perry, along with Charles Herbster, a well-known Republican donor and agribusiness leader.
The overall quality of air and water in the US, however, certainly appear to be under grave threat since the aforementioned Myron Ebell is likely to become Trump’s EPA head.
Ebell is head of the Competitive Enterprise Institute (CEI) libertarian think tank, which says of itself: “CEI questions global warming alarmism, makes the case for access to affordable energy, and opposes energy-rationing policies, including the Kyoto Protocol, cap-and-trade legislation, and EPA regulation of greenhouse gas emissions. CEI also opposes all government mandates and subsidies for conventional and alternative energy technologies.”
CEI also runs SafeChemicalPolicy.org, a coalition that lobbies against virtually any and all regulation of the chemicals industry. It promotes the “life-enhancing value of chemicals,” including even those that scientists claim “significantly increase our risks of cancer, developmental defects, and even obesity.”
Ebell’s CEI produced a TV commercial about CO2 that, incredibly, stated, “And as for carbon dioxide, it isn’t smog or smoke, it’s what we breathe out and plants breathe in. They call it pollution. We call it life.”
In a 2002 email to George W. Bush’s White House Council on Environmental Quality, Ebell actively worked to undermine the EPA by urging the White House to discredit the EPA’s scientific reports about ACD as well as pushing them to fire EPA Administrator Christine Todd Whitman.
“It seems to me that the folks at EPA are the obvious fall guys, and we would only hope that the fall guy (or gal) should be as high up as possible,” Ebell’s email said. “I have done several interviews and have stressed that the president needs to get everyone rowing in the same direction. Perhaps tomorrow we will call for Whitman to be fired.”
As previously mentioned, Ebell also runs the Cooler Heads Coalition, a group that describes itself as working to “dispel the myths of global warming” and lists the neoconservative American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) and the Heartland Institute among its members. It is worth remembering that the Heartland Institute has attempted to block the teaching of ACD in schools, while ALEC’s denial-based politics have become so extreme that even oil giants BP and Shell ended their membership in the group.
Horn, on the other hand, thinks that Trump floating Ebell as a possible EPA head is “just red meat for the climate change denial right-wing machine.”
He is more worried about the people who actually know how to get things done in Washington, DC.
“That includes folks like Mike Cantazaro and Mike McKenna, who are partisan in background orientation but also sort of bipartisan in that they’re mainstream DC lobbyists, who will be at the center of making deals with the Democrats and others which could be extremely detrimental from a climate change perspective,” Horn said.
In DC, it is the lobbyists who really know how to work the system. With denial-minded lobbyists in high places, we should be extremely concerned about not only the proposal of destructive environmental policies, but the likely possibility of their implementation.
Department secretaries are not the only positions with heavy influence, and Horn pointed to another key office to watch.
“Keep your eyes on who Trump picks to serve as energy envoy for the US Department of State’s Bureau of Energy Resources,” he said. “That’s the person in charge of the weaponization of energy on behalf of — in essence — US imperialism. That’s not something anyone’s really talking about, but it’s something to watch out for.”
Whoever Trump ends up choosing to head these various departments and agencies, it is bad news for a planet that is already burning.