Photo: Gage Skidmore
Every time I sit down to write one of these grim lists I seem to suffer targeted amnesia. I promise myself things weren’t so bad this month. “No, not this month. Last month, man, that was some bad shit.” Remember what we were dealing with last month? The Dakota Pipeline, soaring global temperatures, wanton abuse of baby pigs, the destruction of one of the seven natural wonders of the world.
Yeah, well, things aren’t getting better.
I’d ask you to bear in mind that I write these listicles not for their lurid charms but because these stories comprise individual crimes in the rap sheet of humanity. The stories I’ll briefly list below do not describe naturally-occurring disasters; they are man-made disasters. Ongoing disasters that could be fixed or avoided if healthy places to live rated above the bottom line. We don’t have to live in a smog-choked, oil-drenched, cancer-causing world. There are smarter ways to produce energy, more ethical ways to harvest palm oil. In some parallel U.S.A. I’m certain there’s enough cultural memory and/or shame to stop picking fights with Indians and just leave them the hell alone. Quantum theory supports me on this, though it remains a fantasy in this version of the universe.
In the post-truth, pro-Trump era, this may all sound like liberal pandering. Fresh off The Donald’s electoral sweep, his supporters have unofficially proclaimed 2017 the end of the PC era. Trashing white privilege and first world privilege and male privilege will no longer be tolerated. Protecting minorities’ right to vote will no longer be tolerated. Protecting women’s bodies and casting Japanese internment in a negative light will no longer be tolerated.
If you know your history then you know that civilization is not a ladder. Ask the Romans how that whole world domination thing is going. Civilization proceeds in fits and starts and sometimes great leaps forward. On the other hand, sometimes your whole economy collapses because it’s the 17th century and your fellow Dutchmen are way too obsessed with tulips.
President Barack Obama will be remembered for a few good and not so good things: Increasing drone warfare, not so good; Obamacare, a mixed bag; dedication to solid science in renewable technology and the environment, full marks. With the incoming President calling climate science a hoax and promising to reignite the coal industry, much of Obama’s environmental legacy could be swept away. That’s politics for you.
My point here (and forgive me for dragging it out, but it’s been a rough few weeks for green journalists) is that we need to list the worst environmental stories of the month. You need to know what’s being done to your world. Every year there is a great deal less of it. (Did you know we’re running out of frogs? Now you know.) So check out these five stories and help spread the word.
Facts themselves may be irrelevant come January 20, but knowledge will always be power. Use that power to change your world.
5) Arctic Sea Ice Is Disappearing
You know what we used to have a lot more of? Ice floating in the Arctic.
— UN Climate Action (@UNFCCC) November 23, 2016
Specifically old ice, which is thicker and more resilient. Multi-year ice (lasting longer than four years) can linger even through the summers in the Northern Hemisphere. But that ice is almost gone now. In the 1980s, about 20 percent of the ice in the Arctic was multi-year ice. Now it makes up less than three percent. What we’re left with is younger, thinner ice that melts away.
As Assad Razzouk pointed out last week, “This would be a planetary emergency if we weren’t living in a post-truth age.”
#Arctic Sea Ice Now 1 Million Sq Km Below Record. This Would Be A Planetary Emergency If We Weren’t Living In A Post-Truth Age
— Assaad Razzouk (@AssaadRazzouk) November 20, 2016
4) We’ll Soon Reach the Global Warming Tipping Point
You know 2016 will break the 136-year record for hottest year on the planet. This continues the trend set by 2015 and 2014 of incrementally warmer months around the globe, and the new century’s trend of categorically warmer weather in general. This month, scientists gave us yet another reason to freak out. As the planet heats up, gases sequestered in soil are projected to emit approximately 55 trillion kilograms of carbon into the atmosphere by 2050. According to Tom Crowther, the lead author of the study, that’s an extra 17 percent of carbon emissions previously unaccounted for – the equivalent of another United States.
This will make things much hotter and lead to extreme changes in weather, rising food scarcity and, ultimately, massive sea level rise.
Sea level rise will continue its inevitable march for centuries to come. This is what the future looks like pic.twitter.com/5NdJX3wkHn
— Climate Central (@ClimateCentral) November 30, 2016
If actions are taken now to limit the production of fossil fuels, further warming can be delayed and potentially mitigated. But time is running out.
3) Kellogg’s, Unilever and Nestlé Are Using Child Labor Palm Oil
On Tuesday, Amnesty International released a 110-page report alleging that products sold by Kellogg’s, Unilever, Colgate-Palmolive, Reckitt Benckiser and Nestlé, among others, are selling products “tainted by appalling human rights abuses…with children as young as eight working in hazardous conditions.”
These companies claim they use palm oil produced sustainably and without human rights abuses but appear to neglect actual confirmation of those facts.
Here’s a video produced by Amnesty on its investigation into palm oil company Wilmar. Their clients include the companies listed above, and the blatant exploitation of their workers is appalling.
Amnesty is not asking consumers to boycott these companies. Instead, hold them accountable. Ask your brands where their palm oil comes from. Tell them to stop human rights abuses on palm plantations.
2) Native Americans Continue to Struggle Against the DAPL
Our #1 story from last month is only growing more contentious. Despite their peaceful protests, the Standing Rock Sioux and other demonstrators have been blasted by water cannons in sub-freezing temperatures; shot with rubber bullets, tasers, sound weapons; and exposed to pepper spray and tear gas.
— IndigenousEnviroNet (@IENearth) November 21, 2016
In the video above, the protesters scream “water is life” as they are pummeled by the water cannons of a highly militarized police force.
— Lisa Pease (@lisapease) November 24, 2016
Though construction of the Dakota Access Pipeline is almost completed, Energy Transfer Partners has not obtained the final permit to drill under the river the Standing Rock Sioux are fighting to protect. In mid-November the US army corps of engineers called for “additional discussion and analysis” of the area, citing the “repeated dispossessions” of the Sioux in a letter to the tribe. Assistant secretary of the army Jo-Ellen Darcy has proposed “potential conditions in an easement” that would take the pipeline over the Missouri River but with an allegedly smaller risk of an oil spill.
— Phil A. Buster (@onekade) November 25, 2016
Since that time, North Dakota Senator John Hoeven has blamed the conflict on President Obama and his failure to grant the final easement. Morton County police initially indicated they would block delivery of food and medicine to protesters who refused to leave the Oceti Sakowin camp before public outcry convinced them otherwise. Now, more than 2,000 U.S. military veterans are planning to form a human shield to protect protesters from further violence.
1) Donald Trump
When the 45th President of the United States is a man who claims that global warming is a “hoax” created by the Chinese, you can be damn certain to find him squatting at the bottom of this despicable list. I mean, folks, what can I say that hasn’t already been said? The most positive spin I can put on this is that he isn’t technically President yet, so he won’t be allowed to actually ruin the environment for another two months.
Where do I start? Should I even mention that he convened a press conference last week to scream at the media about how they’re “liars,” how their coverage of him has been “outrageous” and that he wants them to use more flattering pictures of him in their stories? For those who insisted Trump will mellow out in his presidency, this was a rude awakening. One member of the press told The New Yorker’s David Remnick that Trump proved himself “the same kind of blustering, bluffing blowhard as he was during the campaign.” Another called his behavior “totally inappropriate” and “fucking outrageous.”
I should probably mention it. I’d like to reserve my spot in the gulag now – because you know it’s going to fill up fast.
This is the man who will be in office for the next four years, guiding the ship of state, carrying the nuclear football, tweeting to the cast of “Hamilton” and “SNL.”
But let’s get back to the environment.
Trump wants to scrap NASA’s climate research. According to Bob Walker, chair of the President-elect’s NASA transition team, “Climate research has been heavily politicised. We need good science to tell us what the reality is.” Currently, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration is considered the foremost authority on climate change (see here, here, here and here). I’d explain how its science differs from the Trump administration’s definition of “good science,” but to do that I’d need to first hit myself in the head with a hammer an indefinite number of times.
Trump has picked Myron Ebell as his transitional leader of the EPA. For those who don’t know, the Environmental Protection Agency is in charge of protecting health and the environment, and Ebell is the 63-year-old director of the Competitive Enterprise Institute, a libertarian advocacy group funded in part by the coal industry. You may perceive a conflict of interest.
Ebell does not believe in global warming. Well, maybe just a little bit.
“There has been a little bit of warming,” Ebell told Vanity Fair in 2007. “[B]ut 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.”
As for that scientific consensus on global warming, in which 97 percent of scientists say it’s linked to man-made activities? Ebell calls that consensus “phony” and “not based on science.”
Last year Ebell called Pope Francis’ encyclical on climate change “theologically suspect,” “leftist drivel,” “scientifically ill informed, economically illiterate, intellectually incoherent and morally obtuse.”
Finally (for now), Trump is trying to use his nascent office to get British politician Nigel Farage to oppose offshore wind farms that will spoil the view from his Scottish golf course.
Cause who says the most powerful man in the world can’t be the most petty, too?