While Coal Ash Kills Americans, the EPA Stands By

Elaine Steeles house sits on a hill just above where 5.4 million cubic yards of coal ash spilled after a dike containing the pond ruptured at Tennessee Valley Authoritys Kingston power plant in Roane County, Tennessee, in December 2008. For months later, she watched as men and women workers cleaned up hundreds of acres of thick, toxic gray sludge.

She told The Daily Beast they dug out iceberg-sized mounds of coal ash, a toxic byproduct of burning coal, to clear roads and trees and find buried homes. The workers she saw were always covered in the sludge from head to toe. Wed see them out working day and night, and I never once saw anyone wearing protective gear, Steele said.

The Kingston spill is one of the worst environmental disasters in U.S. history. Coal ash, which contains toxic metals like mercury, arsenic, and cadmium, smothered the water and soil in rural Roane County, and a decade later, residents like Steele are still unaware of whether the toxins have been removedor if they ever will be.

The long-term effects of the spill on those exposed to the ash cleanup are clear, however. In 2013, more than 30 current and former workers and some spouses filed a lawsuit in U.S. district court against Jacobs Engineering, a company hired to oversee cleanup efforts, claiming the company knowingly exposed the workers to the toxic coal ash. Other workers and their families keep coming forward. In March, 180 new cases of dead and dying workers who had cancer, heart disease, lung disease, and other conditions from working for months or years cleaning up the spill were recently filed in Roane County Circuit Court. The death toll is now more than 30, and those who fell ill have reached at least 200, according to an ongoing investigation by the Knoxville News-Sentinel.

Its shocking how many different bodily organ systems these can affect.
Barb Gottlieb, director of environment and health for the Physicians for Social Responsibility

In the years since the spill, theres been a widespread effort by communities around the U.S. to get utilities to clean up coal ash. To date, utility companies have excavated or committed to excavate about 90 million tons, Holleman said, but thats just a drop in the bucket: in 2014 alone, the U.S. produced 140 million tons of it, according to the EPA. Many utilities mix the ash with water and run it into lagoons or ponds nearby, held in by a dike usually made from earthen material, and others dump the fly ash in landfills. A recent analysis by utility companies showed evidence of groundwater contamination at more than 70 of these sites around the U.S.

The EPA estimates that these sites are responsible for at least 30 percent of all toxic pollution coming from industrial pollution, Frank Holleman, senior attorney for the Southern Environmental Law Center, said. [The Southeast] is much higher because we have more than our sharealmost every major river system in Southeast has one or two facilities near it.

Despite overwhelming evidence that coal ash is a major health risk, President Trumps administration is prepared to roll back federal regulations on the disposal and maintenance of coal ash, giving more power to states to decide how and where to store coal ash and how to clean up spills and leaks. Last month, Environmental Protection Agency chief Scott Pruitt announced the agency will move forward with more than a dozen changes to the the 2015 Coal Combustion Residuals rulethe first time the federal government finalized regulations for coal ash disposal. The EPA claims the changes will save the utility sector up to $100 million per year in compliance costs.

Pruitt claims the revisions will allow for public comment and flexibility for state regulators, but his agency just dismissed a lawsuit about the health impacts of coal ash, citing insufficient evidence Alabama regulators violated the Civil Rights Act by allowing a landfill company to operate in a black community. During the Kingston cleanup, 4 million tons of coal ash was shipped to a landfill in Uniontown, Alabama, a predominantly black town. Since then, Uniontown residents had been fighting the legal battle with state and federal environmental regulators.

What weve seen over and over again is that when we have fuzzy flexibilities, utilities take advantage to delay any decision on what they have to do, Holleman said. It puts maximum political pressure on the state agencies.

The communities who live and breathe adjacent to coal ash ponds or landfills know the risks all too well, but these facilities have ripple effects throughout the regions theyre located in. Since coal ash is not counted as a hazardous waste and is minimally regulated, there are many possibilities for exposure, Barb Gottlieb, director of environment and health for the Physicians for Social Responsibility, told The Daily Beast.

What weve seen over and over again is that when we have fuzzy flexibilities, utilities take advantage to delay any decision on what they have to do.
Frank Holleman, senior attorney for the Southern Environmental Law Center

The toxinssuch as lead, mercury, and radiumcan leak into drinking water and contaminate the air miles from where facilities are located. Arsenic, also found in coal ash, is particularly dangerous when it penetrates skin or is ingested, as it can lead to heart disease and diabetes, as well as bladder, lung, kidney, and skin cancer. Chronic exposure to cadmium in drinking water can result in kidney disease and obstructive lung diseases like emphysema, bone mineral loss and osteoporosis. Drinking water laced with chromium can cause stomach ulcers, and breathing in the toxin can lead to lung cancer.

Its shocking how many different bodily organ systems these can affect, Gottlieb said.

The chemicals can also be spread in other ways. Through beneficial use policies, the coal industry is allowed to reuse coal ash in some concrete and other construction projects instead of storing it, which has caused its own host of problems. In Town of Pines, Indiana, for example, the product was used so extensively in building roads and building material, the town was declared a Superfund site. A golf course in Chesapeake, Virginia partially built with coal ash led to a years-long legal battle with Dominion Energy over environmental contamination.

Its hard for people to put the pieces together, Gottlieb said. How often are people informed about toxic substances? And some of the harm that will result happens years later, making it harder to determine what was the cause.

Steele said the thought of the damage coal ash caused her community and neighbors weighs on her. She moved to Roane County before the spill to retire and enjoy life on the water; she loves to kayak on the nearby Emory Riverwhere the coal ash eventually spilled intoand often takes her 4-year-old grandson to the beach. We dont know whats in that water to this day, she said. Theres still leaking, its still in groundwater, we still have ponds right up against the river.

Read more: https://www.thedailybeast.com/while-coal-ash-kills-americans-the-epa-stands-by

The Uneven Gains of Energy Efficiency

This story originally appeared on CityLab and is part of the Climate Desk collaboration.

On a rainy day in New Orleans, people file into a beige one-story building on Jefferson Davis Parkway to sign up for the Low-Income Heating and Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP), a federal grant that helps people keep up with their utility bills. New Orleans has one of the highest energy burdens in the country, meaning that people must dedicate a large portion of their income to their monthly energy bills. This is due in part to it being one of the least energy-efficient cities in the country.

For many city residents, these bills eat up 20 percent of the money they take in, and the weight of the burden can be measured in the length of the line.

“We’ve got folks wrapped around the block,” said Andreanecia Morris, the executive director of a housing advocacy non-profit called HousingNOLA. “There are people here paying 300, 400, 500 dollars a month. Some are paying utility bills that are as much as their mortgage.”

Andreanecia Morris of HousingNOLA says that energy costs play a central role in housing affordability in New Orleans.
Michael Isaac Stein

These bills, as indispensable as rent or healthcare, have exacerbated the affordability crisis as cities become increasingly inhospitable to all but the affluent. Energy costs increased at three times the rate of rent between 2000 and 2010. This rise, paralleling a dramatic stratification of wealth in some American cities, has widened the disparity in energy burdens between low-income and well-off households.

A 2016 study by the American Council for an Energy Efficient Economy (ACEEE) and Energy Efficiency for All (EEFA) set out to quantify what many already assumed: that low-income, black, and Hispanic communities spend a much higher share of their income on energy. The results were unsurprising, but stark. The researchers found that median energy burdens for low-income households are more than three times higher than among the rest of the population.

Utility bills are the primary reason why people resort to payday loans, and play an outsized role in the perpetuation of poverty. But the impacts of soaring energy bills go beyond finances. Living in under-heated homes puts occupants at a higher risk of respiratory problems, heart disease, arthritis, and rheumatism, according to ACEEE and EEFA. Then there are the tragedies, like that of Rodney Todd, a University of Maryland kitchen worker who died of monoxide poisoning, along with his seven children, while using a gas generator to power his home after his electricity was shut off by Delmarva Power.

One reason for the energy-burden gap is that the energy bills of the rich and poor aren’t in fact very different. “Energy is not discretionary,” said Anne Evens, CEO of Elevate Energy, an urban sustainability non-profit. No matter our income level, “We need energy to refrigerate our food, to heat our homes.”

Another cause, the 2016 study found, is that low-end housing is significantly less energy-efficient than other housing stock. People with less money aren’t just paying a greater proportion of their income for energy—they’re paying more per square foot. “Far from being an intractable problem related to persistent income disparity, the excess energy burdens [that low-income communities] face are directly related to the inefficiency of their homes,” the study authors concluded.

“What you’ll see is people finding cheaper rents in buildings because they’re older,” Morris said. “But their savings are offset, because their homes are so energy inefficient.”

There is a great amount of potential for energy savings in these older buildings. ACEEE and EEFA found that 97 percent of the excess energy burdens for renting households could be eliminated by bringing their homes up to median efficiency standards. And a 2015 study by the U.S. Department of Energy found that the value of energy upgrades is 2.2 times their cost. This figure is even higher for the most inefficient homes.

The question is how to find the capital to realize those gains, and whether the benefits can reach those who need relief.

Energy efficiency for some

Energy efficiency programs can go a long way to closing the energy burden gap, but they often do just the opposite.

A revolution in efficiency programs and home weatherization has opened the door to the world’s cheapest energy source: avoided energy waste. But for the most part, it is only accessible to people who can afford an upfront investment. Think of someone who’s renovating their kitchen and decides to replace the appliances with more energy-efficient ones, or a person who puts solar panels on the roof of his house, motivated less by cost savings and more by a bumptious desire to be the chief environmentalist on the block.

An A/C unit in a house in New Orleans. Gaps in windows and walls can cause air to leak out, and energy bills to rise.
Michael Isaac Stein/CityLab

“Energy inequity is about the energy system as a whole,” said Evens. “As we make this transition to cleaner energy, who is really benefiting? As we become more energy efficient, is that benefiting all people? Who’s being left behind?”

Even programs that subsidize efficiency upgrades may be inaccessible to, or underutilized by, low-income households because they still require upfront investment and won’t yield benefits for years. For many, the need for aid is immediate.

A growing network of programs, both private and public, is trying to correct the imbalance. Local housing authorities all over the country have upgraded their public housing units and designed affordable-housing tax credits that ensure a high degree of energy efficiency. Non-profits and utility companies are helping homeowners make upgrades to their homes by deferring upfront costs and using energy savings to pay down the debt.

But for all the good they do, many of these initiatives sideline a large and vulnerable group of low-income individuals: renters. The number of Americans who use HUD vouchers in the private market greatly outnumbers the public-housing population. And the number of urban renters is only increasing as home prices soar out of reach.

Renters are left out of the efficiency boom because they’re left to the whims of their landlords’ investment decisions. If a tenant pays their own utility bill, there isn’t much incentive for the landlord to make improvements. And renters are unlikely to make long-term efficiency improvements themselves, uncertain of whether they’ll be able to stay there long enough to reap the benefits.

Shrinking resources

Policymakers will continue to experiment with new forms of incentives and targeted funding. Whatever solutions they construct, advocates agree that success will require a bigger pot of money than currently exists. Unfortunately, funding for low-income energy efficiency is shrinking.

“There are so many different programs that have been cut, rolled back, or attacked,” said Michelle Romero, the deputy director of Green For All, a non-profit founded by Van Jones. “Without programs that invest in helping low-income communities afford energy efficiency, you’re going to see the disparity increase.”

LIHEAP is the government’s largest grant focused on low-income energy affordability. But it’s been cut by a third since 2009. Trump has threatened to eliminate LIHEAP entirely, along with similar programs like the Department of Energy’s Weatherization Assistance Program. For now, the programs are still funded, but advocates remain uneasy. “We don’t know what’s going to happen,” said Evens. “Predictability has kind of gone out the window. So we have to be really, really vigilant.”

As funding contracts, efficiency initiatives are the first to go. Only 14 percent of LIHEAP dollars go to energy-efficiency investment. The rest is used for direct bill assistance for those whose needs are too immediate to focus on long-term efficiency.

“You can’t tell someone, ‘We’re not going to help you pay your light bill this month, but in a year we can guarantee your apartment will be energy efficient.’ Well, they may not make it through the year,” Morris said. But prioritizing short-term fixes isn’t a real solution: “We can’t end up in these positions where we’re spending all this money on direct assistance so we can’t do anything else.”

Read more: https://www.wired.com/story/the-uneven-gains-of-energy-efficiency/

Vehicles are now America’s biggest CO2 source but EPA is tearing up regulations

Transport overtook power generation for climate-warming emissions in 2017 but the Trump administration is reversing curbs on auto industry pollution

Some of the most common avatars of climate change hulking power stations and billowing smokestacks may need a slight update. For the first time in more than 40 years, the largest source of greenhouse gas pollution in the US isnt electricity production but transport cars, trucks, planes, trains and shipping.

Emissions data has placed transport as the new king of climate-warming pollution at a time when the Trump administration is reviewing or tearing up regulations that would set tougher emissions standards for car and truck companies. Republicans in Congress are also pushing new fuel economy rules they say will lower costs for American drivers but could also weaken emissions standards.

Opponents of the administration fret this agenda will imperil public health and hinder the effort to address climate change.

This Environmental Protection Agency doesnt seem to have met an air regulation that it likes, said Mary Nichols, chair of the California Air Resources Board and a former EPA assistant administrator. Ive not seen any evidence that this administration knows anything about the auto industry, they just seem to be against anything the Obama administration did.

Vehicle emissions are going up, so clearly not enough is being done on that front. The Trump administration is halting further progress at a critical point when we really need to get a grip on this problem.

The 1970 Clean Air Act, signed by Richard Nixon, set standards for a cocktail of different pollutants emitted from new vehicles. New cars and trucks, which account for more than 80% of transport emissions, now have to meet fuel efficiency standards and display this information to consumers. This approach has helped cleanse previously smog-laden American cities and tamp down greenhouse gas emissions.

But in 2016, about 1.9bn tons of carbon dioxide emissions were emitted from transportation, up nearly 2% on the previous year, according to the Energy Information Administration. This increase means that transport has overtaken power generation as the most polluting sector in the country, and its likely to stay that way.

Cheap gasoline prices have led to a recent uptick in vehicle emissions, despite the fuel standards, at the same time that coal is being rapidly displaced by an abundance of cheap natural gas and the steady rise of renewable energy, driving a sharp decline in CO2 emissions from the power grid.

While coalminers have lost their jobs to technological advancement and environmental protesters have thrown their bodies in the path of oil pipelines, there has been far less to disrupt the basic emissions-emitting models of cars, trucks and planes.

Americans are buying larger cars and taking more flights domestic aviation emissions grew 10% between 2012 and 2016 and face little opposition in doing so.

The change in power generation has been very impressive over the past 10 to 15 years, said Brett Smith, assistant director of the Center for Automotive Research.

In the automotive sector, there isnt the same push. There are certainly Americans concerned about global warming but people are driving bigger and bigger vehicles each year. Its not a priority for them. The cost of fuel is pretty cheap and at the moment there isnt a better option out there than the internal combustion engine.

Transport accounts for about a quarter of all US planet-warming emissions but also poses a direct health threat to about 45 million Americans who live, work or attend school within 300ft of roads that are shrouded in high air pollution levels.

This pollution can stunt lung growth, trigger asthma attacks, exacerbate heart disease and cause developmental problems. The EPA estimates 17,000 schools across the US are located next to roads with heavy traffic, with children from low-income and minority groups disproportionately put at risk. California is the only state in the US to ban the construction of a school on the cheap land found beside major highways.

US cities havent emulated the likes of London and Stockholm by charging drivers a congestion fee to coax them on to public transport, cycling or walking; nor does the US feature the comparatively high rates of fuel tax seen in Europe. Frances move to ban sales of petrol and diesel cars by 2040 would be politically unthinkable in the States.
But the air is much cleaner in American cities than it was in the 1970s, and a world away from the fug that now envelops Beijing and Delhi, in part due to vehicle emissions standards that have progressively been ratcheted up by the EPA.

That trajectory has been cast in doubt by the Trump presidency. In March, the EPA scrapped a deal struck between Barack Obamas administration and automakers that would require new cars to run 54.4 miles per gallon of fuel, up from 27.5 miles per gallon, by 2025.

The White House said the new rules had been shoved down the throats of car makers, with the main industry lobby group pointing out that consumers overwhelmingly prioritize safety, driving performance and value for money over fuel efficiency. There are more than 70 car models on sale that achieve 40 miles per gallon and they account for just 1% of total new vehicle sales.

Then, last month, the EPA cited regulatory overreach by the previous administration for its decision to waive clean truck standards that would have phased out glider vehicles that produce 55 times more diesel soot than new trucks. Scott Pruitt, administrator of the EPA, said his predecessors had attempted to bend the rule of law and expand the reach of the federal government in a way that threatened to put an entire industry of specialized truck manufacturers out of business.

These rollbacks from the executive branch have dovetailed with an effort by Republicans in the Senate and the House to revamp fuel efficiency rules by replacing state and federal requirements with a single standard. Environmental groups and previous administration officials fear this will lead to a further weakening of emissions standards.

Americas clean car standards have dramatically improved the fuel efficiency of vehicles, saving consumers billions of dollars and cutting pollution in the process, said Carol Browner, a former administrator of the EPA.

Instead of rolling back commonsense, successful and popular clean cars standards, we should focus on innovation and technology that will continue the auto industrys growth and the pollution reductions weve achieved since these standards were first established.

In the short term, this new approach risks a flashpoint between the federal government and California, which has a long-held waiver to enact vehicle pollution standards in excess of the national requirements. Twelve other states, including New York and Pennsylvania, follow Californias standards, an alliance that covers more than 130 million residents and about a third of the US vehicle market.

Nichols said she had been disturbed by signals coming from Pruitt and other EPA officials that she said show the federal government is looking to end Californias waiver.

We are very concerned because these standards are the bedrock of our whole climate change platform, she said. Scott Pruitt has made threatening noises about the Californian waiver, saying that we are trying to run the country. It feels like this is going to be the next shoe to drop. If it does, we will litigate and fight for our rights in the political arena with other states and consumer advocates.

With federal regulation set to be pared back, technological advances in electric and gas-powered cars, as well as consumer preferences, are likely to play an increasingly important role in whether vehicle emissions are forced back down.

A flurry of recent optimistic studies have forecast that, by 2040, as much as 90% of all cars in the US will be electric. But the current conundrum is that petroleum-fueled vehicles are cheaper and seen as more reliable than their electric counterparts by most new buyers. Affordable gasoline is competing with electric recharging stations that are considered too sparse by many drivers to risk running out of puff, no matter the benefit to the environment.

Its a challenging position for automotive companies because they are touting electric vehicles but ultimately they have to sell more cars, said Smith. Consumers in the US arent pushing for electric vehicles to the extent they are in Europe and unless we take a very different approach as a country, that doesnt look like it will change soon.

You will need to see a major change in battery technology to make it viable. People are becoming more aware and concerned about global warming, but we arent there yet. And when you look at the vehicles being put out by the major car companies, you could argue its not an issue for them, either.

Read more: https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2018/jan/01/vehicles-climate-change-emissions-trump-administration

Animal agriculture is choking the Earth and making us sick. We must act now | James Cameron and Suzy Amis Cameron

Film-maker James Cameron and environmentalist Suzy Amis Cameron writes that to preserve Americas majestic national parks, clean air and water for future generations leaders must be pressed to address foods environmental impact

Our collective minds are stuck on this idea that talking about foods environmental impact risks taking something very intimate away from us. In fact its just the opposite. Reconsidering how we eat offers us hope, and empowers us with choice over what our future planet will look like. And we can ask our local leaders from city mayors to school district boards to hospital management to help, by widening our food options.

On Monday and Tuesday, the city of Chicago is hosting a summit for the Global Covenant of Mayors for Climate and Energy to discuss climate solutions cities can undertake. Strategies to address and lower foods impact should be front and center.

Animal agriculture is choking the Earth, and the longer we turn a blind eye, the more we limit our ability to nourish ourselves, protect waterways and habitats, and pursue other uses of our precious natural resources. Raising livestock for meat, eggs and milk generates 14.5% of global greenhouse gas emissions, the second highest source of emissions and greater than all transportation combined. It also uses about 70% of agricultural land, and is one of theleading causes of deforestation, biodiversity loss, and water pollution.

On top of this, eating too much meat and dairy is making us sick, greatlyincreasing our risk of heart disease, type 2 diabetes, several major cancers (including breast, liver and prostate) and obesity. Diets optimal for human health vary, according to David Katz, of the Yale University Prevention Research Center, but all of them are made up mostly of whole, wholesome plant foods.

So what gives? Why cant we see the forest for the bacon? The truth can be hard to swallow: that we simply need less meat and dairy and more plant-based options in our food system if were to reach our climate goals.

The Avatar movie set had plant-based menus. Photograph: 20th Century Fox/Everett/Rex Features

This can start with individual action. Five years ago, our family felt hopeless about climate change, and helpless to make meaningful change. But when we connected the dots on animal agricultures impact on the environment, coupled with the truth about nutrition, we took heart because it gave us something we could actually do.

To create change at the scale needed, this will take more than individual choice we need to get climate leaders on board about the impact of food. Cities and counties have used their buying power to transition fleets from diesel to electric, and we need to do the same with how we purchase food. We have done this in our own community, moving the lunch program of Muse School, in Calabasas, California, and the Avatar movie set to plant-based menus. Scaling up initiatives like these can make a big difference: if the US reduced meat consumption by 50%, its the equivalent of taking 26 million cars off the road. We think thats damn hopeful.

Decision-makers on all levels can make it easier for us to eat better, by expanding access to food options that are good for our health, affordable, and climate-friendly. Nationwide, cities and school districts have adopted food purchasing policies that include environment, health and fair labor standards. The city of Chicago is a recent adopter of this Good Food Purchasing Program, and so the solutions-focus of the summit is the perfect place to discuss how food can move us toward climate goals. In the same breath that we discuss fossil fuels, we should be talking animal ag, or were missing a big part of the problem and a big part of the solution.

Yes, food is inherently personal. Its the cornerstone of holidays, it fuels high school athletes and long workdays, and it nourishes nursing mothers and growing children. And yes, Americans love meat and cheese. But more than that, we love our majestic national parks, family beach vacations and clean air and water for our children and grandchildren.

As individuals, we can make choices on how to better nourish our families, and as citizens, we can encourage local leaders to make choices that will allow us to enjoy our land and natural resources now and in the future.

James Cameron is a film-maker and deep-sea explorer. Suzy Amis Cameron is a founder of Muse School and Plant Power Task Force.

Read more: https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2017/dec/04/animal-agriculture-choking-earth-making-sick-climate-food-environmental-impact-james-cameron-suzy-amis-cameron

America Crowns a New Pollution King

For the first time in 40 years, power plants are no longer the biggest source of U.S. greenhouse gas pollution. That dubious distinction now belongs to the transport sector: cars, trucks, planes, trains and boats.  

The big reversal didn’t happen because transportation emissions have been increasing. In fact, since 2000 the U.S. has experienced the flattest stretch of transportation-related pollution in modern record keeping, according to data compiled by the U.S. Energy Information Administration. The big change has come from the cleanup of America’s electric grid. 

The chart below shows carbon dioxide emissions from transportation exceeding those from electricity production in 2016 for the first time since 1978. The pollution gap has continued to widen further in 2017, according to a Bloomberg analysis.

Electricity use in the U.S. hasn’t declined much in the last decade, but it’s being generated from cleaner sources. A dramatic switch away from coal, the dirtiest fuel, is mostly responsible for the drop in emissions. Coal power has declined by more than a third in the last decade, according to the EIA, while cleaner natural gas has soared more than 60 percent. Wind and solar power are also increasingly sucking the greenhouse gases out of U.S. electricity production. 
This is good news, and not just because carbon dioxide emissions are the biggest contributor to global climate change. The shift to cleaner energy also has immediate local improvements to health by reducing the burden of asthma, cancer and heart disease.

The transportation sector is also entering a critical period of reformation. Cars are becoming more efficient under aggressive pollution rules passed under President Barack Obama, but that’s so far been offset by an ever-rising American appetite for SUVs, crossovers and pickup trucks. Even the nation’s clean-air policies could soon change. The Trump administration is considering rolling back the toughest fuel-efficiency standards, which are set to take effect in the early 2020s. 

Investments in electric cars may soon begin to do to the transportation sector what wind and solar have done to the power sector: turn the pollution curve upside down. The price of battery packs has been plummeting by about 8 percent a year, according to Bloomberg New Energy Finance, and electric cars are now projected to become cheaper, more reliable, and more convenient than their gasoline-powered equivalents around the world by the mid-2020s.

When the electrification of the U.S. auto fleet begins in earnest, pollution from the two biggest energy sectors—electricity and transportation—may ultimately converge. Those electric cars are going draw their power from the grid.

    Read more: http://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2017-12-04/america-crowns-a-new-pollution-king

    Surrendering to fear brought us climate change denial and President Trump | John Abraham

    John Abraham: I propose that people take indefensible positions like climate denial and Trump support simply out of fear

    This story picks up where an earlier post left off a few weeks ago. Then, I discussed some of the political realities associated with inaction on climate change. In that post, I said I would revisit the question of why so many people deny the evidence of a changing climate. Now is the time for that discussion.

    What continually befuddles people who work on climate change is the vehement and indefensible denial of evidence by a small segment of the population. I give many public talks on climate change, including radio and television interviews and public lectures. Nearly every event has a few people who, no matter what the evidence, stay in a state of denial. By listening to denialist arguments, I find they fall into a few broad categories. Some of them are just plain false. Examples in this category are ones like:

    There was a halt to global warming starting 1998.

    Humans are only responsible for a tiny fraction of the greenhouse gases in the atmosphere.

    Scientists are colluding to create this fraud.

    Others are not false but are completely irrelevant. For example:

    Climate is always changing.

    We didnt have thermometers a million years ago to measure global temperatures.

    Cities are hotter than their surroundings.

    Why would people think things or repeat statements that are known to be false or irrelevant? I am convinced that for the vast majority of people, they are not intentionally being incorrect. Something must be forcing them to be wrong. What could that be? Why are people so willing to believe and repeat lies?

    That brings me to the connection with President Trump. His sheer number of falsehoods and flip-flops is so great, you lose track of them all. For instance, let us take the so-called wall to stop illegal immigration. First he said Mexico will pay for it and it will be so tall; now, he wants it to be paid by the US taxpayer. He falsely exaggerated the number of jobs that have been created since he came into office. He made false statements about the size of his electoral win. He made false statements about President Obamas birthplace. He has made false and unsupported claims about voter fraud. He has made false claims about climate scientists.

    Finally, there is the current investigation into his and his administrations potential collusion with Russia and obstruction of justice. I could go on and on and likely will get complaints from readers that I forgot this or that falsehood, but I have to limit the length of this post.

    In a sane world, everyone would understand the threat of climate change and our ability to take meaningful action to handle it. In a sane world, no one would believe a president who has misled them time and time again.

    So that raises the question – what is the reason people still discount the incontrovertible climate change evidence? What is the reason a persistent minority still support this dishonest president? I think I have figured it out, and if Im right, it makes it much easier to reconcile the generally logical people I know with their seeming indefensible belief systems.

    In a certain respect, this reason is something we as humans are nearly powerless to counteract. Before I give the reason, I want to be clear that I am sure others have noticed this too. I am sure others have written learned papers articulating this much more clearly than I can. My discovery is just a personal observation; something I should have recognized long ago. I am also not a psychologist so this is just my observations as a physical scientist.

    The reason isnt religion, it isnt political ideology, it isnt lack of scientific knowledge, it isnt politics, it isnt tribal identification. Its none of those things.

    The reason is fear.

    Whether people are reciting a litany of falsehoods about climate change or whether they are contorting themselves to justify support for this president, they are doing so because they have to. They have to, because they are afraid of what happens if they accept reality.

    With climate change, people are afraid for two reasons. First, they are afraid there is nothing they can do about it. Humans hate to have threats that are beyond our control. We are more afraid of Ebola than heart disease. We are more afraid of flying than driving, we are more afraid of sharks than toasters. We afraid of things we feel we cannot directly control.

    Secondly, we are also afraid of bad news. How often have you not checked your bank account because you dont want the bad news? Have you ever known someone who didnt go to a doctor because they just didnt want to know what their ailment was? It is so much easier to pretend a problem doesnt exist. In fact, Ill go a step further and say that people like to be lied to when it quiets their fear.

    So with respect to climate change, that puts the population into two groups. The first group (which I am part of) knows that there is a problem, wants to face it head on, and solve it together. The second group cannot bear to look the problem honestly in the face and finds it easier to deny its existence.

    The same is true for Trump supporters. Many people are afraid. Afraid of change, afraid of the future, afraid of people who are not just like us, afraid of terrorism, just plain afraid. For those people it is so easy to buy the lie that the president will build a wall, bring the jobs back, stop the terrorism, and make everything perfect.

    We know intellectually this is all false, but facts dont matter. Speaking to our fears is what matters. So, the psychological forces that bring people to deny climate change are, in my opinion, the same factors that bring people to support Trump. These factors dont mean climate deniers are stupid, nor are Trump supporters. It doesnt mean that they are bad people or immoral in any way. Rather, it tells me that their brain handles fear differently than mine and yours.

    Read more: https://www.theguardian.com/environment/climate-consensus-97-per-cent/2017/jul/17/surrendering-to-fear-brought-us-climate-change-denial-and-president-trump

    Is All Life Equal?

    Are humans special compared to all other animals and do we deserve to have dominion over them? Does species matter and should certain species be considered more important than others?

    Intro: Maldito by Blood for Blood
    Outro: Beef by KRS-One
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