Donald Trump, and the Slow Violence of Climate Change

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Credit: National Wildlife Federation

While Donald Trump embraces the modern equivalent of playing the fiddle while Rome burns, the world is hurtling towards the Biocrisis.

In catastrophic times (Stengers, 2015) like these, apocalyptic scenarios have become the norm. We only have four years until our “carbon budget” is blown – according to McSweeney and Pearce (2016):

“Four years of current emissions would be enough to blow what’s left of the carbon budget for a good chance of keeping global temperature rise to 1.5C.”

1.5C being the target of the COP21 Paris climate conference that aims to “significantly reduce the risks and impacts of climate change” (Pearce, 2016; King & Henley, 2016) and thus avoid the threat of “runaway” climate change. Global greenhouse gas emissions need to peak within the decade before precipitously dropping for this target to ever be reached (Walsh et al., 2017).

Meanwhile the Antarctic ice shelves continue to crack and fragment (Mooney, 2017), potentially accelerating sea level rise, and a “massive global permafrost melt” is underway that will release huge amounts of carbon dioxide that were previously buried in the frozen soil (Knight, 2017; Kokelj et al., 2017).

As climate change accelerates the Trump administration embraces the largest driver of this death spiral – fossil fuels – by repealing climate change legislation and planting an ExxonMobil CEO as Secretary of State (Lavelle, 2017; Stokes & Bowman, 2017; Meyer, 2017). Trump will make “America Safe through Energy Independence” by decimating public lands with accelerated fossil fuel extraction (Streater, 2017).

Like a ghastly cannibal cult, in the words of Carl Sagan (1997), “we subsist on the dead bodies of our ancestors and distant relatives”.

While the greenhouse gas levels rise, so will the seas – and so will the number of refugees seeking safety and stable climates (Out of the Woods, 2016). Climate change will displace millions and “reshape” the coastal geography of countries (Hays, 2017; Hauer, 2017), a fact now admitted by conservative policymakers and security experts (although such concerns focus on the dangers of terrorism and the loss of coastal military bases) (Milman, 2016; Nett & Rüttinger, 2016; Goodman, 2017). Indeed the first ever grant for climate refugees was issued in the USA just last year, allocating $48 million for the residents of Isle de Jean Charles, Louisiana in what is “the first allocation of federal tax dollars to move an entire community of climate refugees” (Hunziker, 2016).

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Scientists look down at a river of meltwater flowing from southern Greenland. Photo by Justine Evans/Alamy Stock Photo

As communities are forcibly relocated by the harsh realities of climate change, so too will others have their land stolen from them – except not by slow disaster, but by pipeline construction and fossil fuel extraction. Construction of the controversial Dakota Access pipeline was restarted by Trump recently (Brown, 2017), a week after a pipeline owned by pipeline equity co-owner Enbridge ruptured, spilling hundreds of thousands of gallons of oil in Texas (Horn, 2017). Sunoco, another player in the construction of the pipeline, has had hundreds of leaks (Hampton, 2016). The sheer number of pipeline spills, leaks, and failures in the USA is grotesquely astounding – thousands of incidents in the last thirty years, resulting in hundreds of deaths and billions in damages (Joseph, 2016).

Resistance and acts of sabotage against the Dakota Access pipeline continue to hamper its ability to reliably transport oil (Sexton, 2017; Nicholson & Karnowski, 2017).

Despite these struggles, pipelines are continuously being built in order to “unleash rich reserves of shale gas” so that the USA may “become one of the world’s top natural gas exporters” (DiSavino, 2017), despite problems concerning accurate shale gas reserve estimates and over hyped production forecasts (Rogers, 2013; Hughes, 2013). It is important to note at the forefront of these struggles, and those most affected by them, are indigenous populations (in the USA and the rest of the world), who still face an enduring legacy of colonialism and violence (Hall, 2017; Out of the Woods, 2017).

A Picture and Its Story: Documenting Standing Rock

“Water protectors” demonstrate against the Dakota Access Pipeline. Photo by Lucas Jackson/Reuters

It is the poorest and most vulnerable who, just as under capitalism, will suffer the most with climate change. As Malm and Hornborg (2014) write,

“…witness Katrina in black and white neighborhoods of New Orleans, or Sandy in Haiti and Manhattan, or sea level rise in Bangladesh and the Netherlands, or practically any other impact, direct or indirect, of climate change. For the foreseeable future – indeed, as long as there are human societies on Earth – there will be lifeboats for the rich and privileged. If climate change represents a form of apocalypse, it is not universal, but uneven and combined.”

Similarly Stengers (2015) writes of “the possibility of a New Orleans on a global scale” where the wealthy survive and the fate of the poor is left uncertain – “but as for the others…”. Just because all humans share one planet and one atmosphere does not mean we are in this together (Purdy, 2016). To believe so depoliticises climate change – the apocalyptic imaginations so frequent in the headlines today “foreclose a proper political framing” by presenting global warming as a “humanitarian cause” that “is not articulated with specific political programs or socio-ecological project or revolutions” (Swyngedouw, 2010).

As the wealthy get wealthier, carbon emissions grow (Jorgenson et al., 2017). An average US citizen “emits more than 500 citizens of Ethiopia, Chad, Afghanistan, Mali, or Burundi” (Malm, 2015). A wealthy individual’s carbon emissions may be ten times higher than a poorer person (Wilkinson & Pickett, 2010). But this is the exact economic and social class of people who, as Davis (2008) warns, are capable “of creating green and gated oases of permanent affluence on an otherwise stricken planet” as the rest of us suffer.

The world’s poorest countries have contributed less than 1% of the greenhouse gases that endanger our stable climate system (Steffen et al., 2011). So we should call climate change what it truly is – violence, genocide against the poor, and inaction equals annihilation (Solnit, 2014; Klare, 2017). Where can we draw our tales of resistance and hope to guide us into the future?

(As this is written the 410 ppm threshold for atmospheric carbon dioxide levels has been reached, the first time since millions of years ago (Kahn, 2017). We are in the Biocrisis, inundated in it. The Biocrisis is the Anthropocene.)

References

Brown, A. (2017). As Construction Near Standing Rock Restarts, Pipeline Fights Flare Across the U.S. https://theintercept.com/2017/02/19/as-construction-near-standing-rock-restarts-pipeline-fights-flare-across-the-u-s/ Accessed 19th April 2017.

Davis, M. (2008). Living on the Ice Shelf http://www.tomdispatch.com/post/174949 Accessed 23rd April 2017.

DiSavino, S. (2017). RPT-ANALYSIS-New U.S. pipelines to drive natural gas boom as exports surge http://uk.reuters.com/article/usa-lng-pipelines-idUKL1N1HK1DT Accessed 20th April 2017.

Goodman, S. (2017). Climate change is a clear and present danger to US security http://thehill.com/blogs/pundits-blog/energy-environment/318950-climate-change-is-a-clear-and-present-danger-to-us Accessed 17th April 2017.

Hall, A. (2017). Colonialism, climate change and the need to defund DAPL https://www.opendemocracy.net/uk/amy-hall/colonialism-climate-change-and-need-to-defund-dapl Accessed 20th April 2017.

Hampton, L. (2016). Sunoco, behind protested Dakota pipeline, tops U.S. crude spill charts http://www.reuters.com/article/us-usa-pipeline-nativeamericans-safety-i-idUSKCN11T1UW Accessed 20th April 2017.

Hauer, M. E. (2017). Migration induced by sea-level rise could reshape the US population landscape. Nature Climate Change, doi:10.1038/nclimate3271.

Hays, B. (2017). Sea level rise to trigger human migration, reshape inland cities http://www.upi.com/Science_News/2017/04/17/Sea-level-rise-to-trigger-human-migration-reshape-inland-cities/9471492453676/ Accessed 17th April 2017.

Horn, S. (2017). Dakota Access Pipeline Approved a Week After Co-Owner’s Pipeline Spilled 600,000 Gallons of Oil in Texas https://www.desmogblog.com/2017/02/09/dakota-access-pipeline-approved-enbridge-spill-texas Accessed 20th April 2017.

Hughes, J. D. (2013). Energy: A reality check on the shale revolution. Nature 494, 307-308.

Hunziker, R. (2016). The Political Era of Climate Refugees http://www.counterpunch.org/2016/10/28/the-political-era-of-climate-refugees/ Accessed 19th April 2017.

Jorgenson, A., Schor, J., Huang, X. (2017). Income Inequality and Carbon Emissions in the United States: A State-level Analysis, 1997–2012. Ecological Economics 134, 40-48.

Joseph, G. (2016). 30 Years of Oil and Gas Pipeline Accidents, Mapped https://www.citylab.com/environment/2016/11/30-years-of-pipeline-accidents-mapped/509066/ Accessed 25th April 2016.

Kahn, B. (2017). We Just Breached the 410 PPM Threshold for CO2 https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/we-just-breached-the-410-ppm-threshold-for-co2/ Accessed 24th April 2017.

King, A., Henley, B. (2016). We have almost certainly blown the 1.5-degree global warming target https://theconversation.com/we-have-almost-certainly-blown-the-1-5-degree-global-warming-target-63720 Accessed 19th April 2017.

Klare, M. T. (2017). Climate Change As Genocide: Inaction Equals Annihilation http://www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/climate-change-as-genocide-inaction-equals-annihilation_us_58f8c4a3e4b0cb086d7eaf4e Accessed 20th April 2017.

Knight, N. (2017). Study Shows Massive Global Permafrost Melt Underway While Trump Mentions Climate Not Once https://www.commondreams.org/news/2017/03/01/study-shows-massive-global-permafrost-melt-underway-while-trump-mentions-climate-not Accessed 17th April 2017.

Kokelj, S. V., Lantz, T. C., Tunnicliffe, J., Segal, R., Lacelle, D. (2017). Climate-driven thaw of permafrost preserved glacial landscapes, northwestern Canada. Geology, G38626.1.

Lavelle, M. (2017). Trump’s Executive Order: More Fossil Fuels, Regardless of Climate Change https://insideclimatenews.org/news/28032017/trump-executive-order-climate-change-paris-climate-agreement-clean-power-plan-pruitt Accessed 17th April 2017.

Malm, A. (2015). The Anthropocene Myth https://www.jacobinmag.com/2015/03/anthropocene-capitalism-climate-change/ Accessed 24th April 2017.

Malm, A., Hornborg, A. (2014). The geology of mankind? A critique of the Anthropocene narrative. The Anthropocene Review 1 (1), 62–69.

McSweeney, R. Pearce, R. (2016). Analysis: Only five years left before 1.5C carbon budget is blown https://www.carbonbrief.org/analysis-only-five-years-left-before-one-point-five-c-budget-is-blown Accessed 17th April 2017.

Meyer, R. (2017). Rex Tillerson Says Climate Change Is Real, but … https://www.theatlantic.com/science/archive/2017/01/rex-tillerson-climate-change/512843/ Accessed 17th April 2017.

Milman, O. (2016). Military experts say climate change poses ‘significant risk’ to security https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2016/sep/14/military-experts-climate-change-significant-security-risk Accessed 17th April 2017.

Mooney, C. (2017). The huge crack in this Antarctic ice shelf just grew by another 6 miles https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/energy-environment/wp/2017/01/19/enormous-antarctic-ice-shelf-rift-grows-by-another-6-miles/ Accessed 17th April 2017.

Nett, K., Rüttinger, L. (2016). Insurgency, Terrorism and Organised Crime in a Warming Climate https://uploads.guim.co.uk/2017/04/20/CD_Report_Insurgency_170419_(1).pdf Accessed 25th April 2017.

Nicholson, B., Karnowski, S. (2017). Reported Dakota Access Pipeline Vandalism Exposes Risk of Sabotage http://www.insurancejournal.com/news/midwest/2017/03/23/445462.htm Accessed 19th April 2017.

Out of the Woods (2016). Refuges and death-worlds https://libcom.org/blog/refuges-death-worlds-25112016 Accessed 17th April 2017.

Out of the Woods (2017). Lies of the land: against and beyond Paul Kingsnorth’s völkisch environmentalism https://libcom.org/blog/lies-land-against-beyond-paul-kingsnorth%E2%80%99s-v%C3%B6lkisch-environmentalism-31032017 Accessed 20th April 2017.

Pearce, F. (2016). What Would a Global Warming Increase of 1.5 Degrees Be Like? https://e360.yale.edu/features/what_would_a_global_warming_increase_15_degree_be_like Accessed 19th April 2017.

Purdy, J. (2016). What I Had Lost Was a Country https://nplusonemag.com/online-only/online-only/what-i-had-lost-was-a-country/ Accessed 20th April 2017.

Rogers, D. (2013). Shale and Wall Street: Was the Decline in Natural Gas Prices Orchestrated? http://shalebubble.org/wp-content/uploads/2013/02/SWS-report-FINAL.pdf Accessed 20th April 2017.

Sagan, C. (1997). Billions and Billions: Thoughts on Life and Death at the Brink of the Millennium. Random House, Inc., New York.

Sexton, J. (2017). Dakota Access Pipeline sabotaged in two states http://hotair.com/archives/2017/03/22/dakota-access-pipeline-sabotaged-in-two-states/ Accessed 19th April 2017.

Solnit, R. (2014). Call climate change what it is: violence https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2014/apr/07/climate-change-violence-occupy-earth Accessed 20th April 2017.

Steffen, W., Persson, A., Deutsch, L., Zalasiewicz, J., Williams, M., Richardson, K., Crumley, C., Crutzen, P., Folke, C., Gordon, L., Molina, M., Ramanathan, V., Rockström, J., Scheffer, M., Schellnhuber, H. J., Svedin, U. (2011). The Anthropocene: From Global Change to Planetary Stewardship. Ambio 40 (7), 739-761.

Stengers, I. (2015). In Catastrophic Times: Resisting the Coming Barbarism. Translated from French by Goffey, A. Open Humanities Press, Paris.

Stokes, E., Bowman, T. (2017).  Trump’s Pro-Coal Orders Are Doomed to Fail http://time.com/4709796/trump-epa-climate-fossil-fuels/ Accessed 17th April 2017.

Streater, S. (2017). BLM ‘priority’ list pushes drilling, wall — leaked docs https://www.eenews.net/stories/1060052879 Accessed 17th April 2017.

Swyngedouw, E. (2010). Apocalypse Forever? Post-political Populism and the Spectre of Climate Change. Theory, Culture & Society 27 (2-3), 213-232.

Walsh, B., Ciais, P., Janssens, I. A., Peñuelas, J., Riahi, K., Rydzak, F., van Vuuren, D. P., Obersteiner, M. (2017). Pathways for balancing CO2 emissions and sinks. Nature Communications 8, doi:10.1038/ncomms14856.

Wilkinson, R., Pickett, K. (2010). The Spirit Level: Why Greater Equality Makes Societies Stronger. Bloomsbury Press, New York.

Trump and the EPA

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Donald Trump is now President, an unpalatable fact but unfortunately a reality we must learn to live with. Over the next few posts we will analyse what his presidency might mean for the environment, and the changes that have already come to pass in the few months since he has come to power. Among environmentalists Trump is known as a climate change denier and a person with scant regard for the ecosystem services provided by a healthy environment so it will certainly be interesting to look into. It won’t all be doom and gloom as we will also address ways we can all be hopeful and fight the changes he has enacted.

First up, the EPA:

What is the EPA?

For those living outside the US, the EPA (Environmental Protection Agency) is an agency of the US government created with the aim of protecting human health and the environment. It writes and enforces regulations according to laws passed by Congress, and conducts environmental assessments, research and education.

Who is now in charge?

Scott Pruitt, a climate change doubter, who in the past has actually sued the EPA several times when he was Attorney General for Oklahoma, an oil-producing state.  Since coming to power Trump has already ordered the EPA to remove all references to climate change from the site, so it’s clear he has appointed a like-minded person in Pruitt. Despite Pruitt being confirmed by the US Senate, there has been resistance from former EPA staff, concerned that he has no interest in upholding environmental laws. Prior to Pruitt’s confirmation, senator Cory Booker had stated: “If you look at this individual, Scott Pruitt, if you look at his track record, you will see that his actual work has undermined the mission of the agency that he is now nominated to lead“, so the Republicans were aware of these concerns. 

The appointment of Scott Pruitt will also be closely followed by those in South Florida. Miami Beach is experiencing increased flooding in its streets at spring tides due to sea level rise and this will only get worse if no action is take to curb carbon emissions and greenhouse gases. California will also be keeping a close eye considering their struggle with drought and water shortages.

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Scott Pruitt

Can the EPA just ignore climate change?

Well, it’s not that the EPA is ignoring climate change. I am sure the EPA is full of scientists who just want to get on with their work, but are being forced into silence by the Trump administration. As former EPA scientists stated: “Reasoned action and acknowledgment of scientific truth are fundamental to democracy, public health, and economic growth. Scientific evidence does not change when the administration changes.” However, the results of EPA studies must now all undergo political review before the information can be passed to the press. Politics should never interfere with the distribution of scientific findings and fact. The public face of the EPA can deny climate change as much as they want, but that doesn’t stop it from existing. It DOES exist and we need to do something about it. Even FOX news network, a normal ally and favourite of Donald Trump roasted Scott Pruitt in an interview over his beliefs.

Budget Cuts

Republican congressman, Matt Gaetz has recently released text of a proposed bill to abolish the EPA. Luckily, nothing seems to have come of that, but Trump has since released his budget proposals and it’s not good news for the EPA. The proposal would see the EPA have its funding cut by almost a third and roughly one in five EPA employees would lose their jobs. Funding reductions would mean the cancellation of all climate change research and even a reduction in the air and water quality work they do. In addition, the Clean Power Plan, along with 50 plus other initiatives would be scrapped.

Clean Power Plan

The Clean Power Plan was one of the best things, at least in my mind, to come out of the Obama administration: a plan to try and reduce greenhouse gas emissions from power plants. As one of the biggest emitters of greenhouse gas emissions, the USA needs a plan like this to get on track with tackling climate change.  However, all Trump wants to do is increase jobs by bringing coal plants back on line and increase the use of oil and gas.  In a recent speech he continually talked about “clean coal”, a contradiction if ever I heard one. Even industry leaders in the fossil fuel sector believe that coal has had its day. There is a grain of hope as the proposal does still have to pass Congress, but that is controlled by Republicans so I am not sure how much resistance it will receive.

Clean Water

Trump is currently asking the EPA and Army Corp of Engineers to review the Waters of the US rule, which expanded the authority of regulators over waterways and wetlands. The rule is disputed by landowners and developers who think it has been too overreaching in its powers, but I think it is very sensible. It helps prevent people polluting drinking water and draining wetlands, effectively saving the environment in cases where development or farming methods are too intensive or not suitable to the land. In the UK we have a similar thing called the Environment Agency which has helped clean up our waterways immensely in conjunction with the relevant local water authorities and councils. It issues fines where rules have been flouted but I don’t see why the US think that is an overreaching power. If a regulation has been broken, there should be some penalty in place to discourage further flouting of the law. I think it’s clear from this that the Trump administration are more concerned about putting people in work than having clean air and water.

Conclusion

Overall, it’s clear that big changes are afoot for the EPA and the USA as a whole. It will take a while to see what the impact of the Trump administration is going to be, but initial signs indicate less protection for environmental resources, and a move away from curbing climate change to increased use of fossil fuels. Among all this doubt though there is certainly resistance. Most recently the Natonal Resources Defence Council and Pesticide Action Network have filed a case against the EPA over its move to ignore the results of a scientific study stating the pesticide chlorpyrifos has links to brain damage. I wish them the best of luck in taking on the EPA and am sure this will be the first of many challenges against the EPA if they continue on in this way.

 

 

 

 

 

Donald Trump and the Environment

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Source: Huffington Post

 

So, it’s election day in the US and the world is waiting to see who will be their next president: Donald Trump or Hilary Clinton. In this article focus on Donald Trump  and what he has (or hasn’t) said regarding the environment if he ends up in office. Sources for all the information are listed at the end.

Denial of Climate Change

Firstly, Trump doesn’t outline any environmental policy on the issues section of his campaign site. To my mind this indicates he doesn’t think the environment is a worthwhile issue and there is information to back up this theory; he denies climate change. It is well known that back in 2012 he tweeted “The concept of global warming was created by and for the Chinese in order to make U.S. manufacturing non-competitive.” He hasn’t deleted this tweet, so presumably he still believes this. In fact, if he were to be elected he would be the only leader of a country to deny climate change. Trump has also stated that he would remove the US from the Paris agreement which, as outlined on the European Commission’s website, is “the first-ever universal, legally binding global climate deal”. This deal is ever more important than the Kyoto agreement and would be a devastating blow for the planet if the US left.

Abolishment of the EPA

The EPA (Environmental Protection Agency) would be abolished under a Trump presidency. To put this into perspective this is the equivalent of the UK doing away with the Environment Agency. Trump believes the EPA has created too much red tape over the years limiting the ability of companies to operate. I admit that no environmental agency is perfect, but the red tape is usually there for good reason: to protect the environment from humans and their activities. The strange thing is, whilst he wishes to destroy the EPA, he wants to improve water and air quality, aims that are surely at odds with one another. At an oil conference in Bismarck, North Dakota he states:  “My priorities are simple: clean air and clean water.” He hasn’t deemed to outline how he aims to do that without the EPA, and I don’t think I need to point out the irony of him making this statement at an oil industry conference. He has also been accused of using the ongoing water crisis in Flint, Michigan, for self promotion and not out of real concern for the residents. 

Energy Policy

Trump supported the Keystone XL pipeline before it was rejected by Obama due to climate change concerns, and it has now emerged he owns stocks in two fossil fuel companies involved in the Dakota Access pipeline. One of his energy advisers is an oil billionaire and CEO of the largest US fracking company, Harold Hamm. It should therefore come as no surprise that he wishes to increase oil and gas production and he recently stated “We’re going to save the coal industry”.  This all sounds rather worrying in an age where we should be moving to renewables, but there have been warning signs that he isn’t a fan of renewable energy. For example, has been waging a battle for some years now against the proposed building of an offshore windfarm near his Aberdeenshire golf course. 

Trump has also stated he would relax the Clean Power Plan, which includes stricter fuel efficiency standards for vehicles in the US. How would he prioritise making the air cleaner whilst at the same time allowing vehicles to be more polluting?

Other Environmental Issues

Trump has proposed a wall is built along the entire Mexican/US border. Whilst the aim of this idea is clearly to prevent illegal immigration I don’t think anyone has considered the environmental impact this would have. Animals don’t keep to borders. Birds can fly over a wall, but what are others to do? Tunnels could be put in the wall for them to move through however that is no substitute for the freedom of populations to roam. Any species that is already low in numbers could be split in two, reducing the gene pool further and making extinction more likely. I imagine cougars and desert bighorn sheep wouldn’t be able to have tunnels built, as they would be large enough for humans to fit through, and therefore render the wall pointless.

Conclusion

Whether it be the denial of climate change, proposed abolition of the EPA or his energy policy it is clear that Donald Trump has scant regard for the environment. It can be hard to cover everything in one post, but I hope this at least makes you aware of the basics. I for one don’t think he is fit to be in charge of a country, but it is up to each of you to make up your minds. If you are an American citizen I hope you have gone out and voted, and remember, only if you vote do you have the right to criticise the outcome.

P.S. There was meant to be an article on Hilary Clinton to portray a balanced view on both of the Democratic and Republican candidates. Unfortunately, we have run out of time, but hope to bring you that one at a later date regardless of the outcome of the election.

Sources

https://www.donaldjtrump.com/issues/

https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/the-intersect/wp/2016/09/27/trump-didnt-delete-his-tweet-calling-global-warming-a-chinese-hoax/

http://www.dailydot.com/layer8/trump-vs-clinton-environmental-issues/

http://www.ecowatch.com/voter-guide-climate-change-2012756804.html

https://ec.europa.eu/clima/policies/international/negotiations/paris/index_en.htm

https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2016/sep/14/donald-trump-flint-visit-water-plant-tour

http://www.vox.com/2016/5/26/11788374/donald-trump-energy-speech

http://www.ecowatch.com/donald-trump-dakota-access-pipeline-2040029544.html

https://www.epa.gov/cleanpowerplan/clean-power-plan-existing-power-plants

https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2016/jul/22/trump-resumes-fight-against-windfarm-near-his-golf-course

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/science-environment-37200583