By blocking these common sense standards, the administration is reversing progress in cleaning the air we breathe and fighting climate change

On Thursday, President Trump made international headlines by announcing his intent to withdraw from the Paris climate agreement—a landmark decision that was met with outrage and dismay from climate activists and environmentalists. But while the gesture carries great symbolic significance, signaling the president’s disinterest in international climate efforts, any hope of actually achieving our domestic climate goals pledged under the agreement had already long since vanished.

Since January, the Trump administration has taken swift steps to dismantle numerous climate and environmental priorities established under the Obama administration, including the repeal of multiple environmental regulations. And environmentalists are fighting back—by way of the courts, that is. Just about every environment-related action the Trump administration has taken has been met with a legal challenge.

Trump is no stranger to litigation—reports suggest he was sued thousands of times as part of his career in real estate before ever becoming president. But since assuming office, he’s also been met with record-setting numbers of legal challenges. In his first two weeks as president alone, his administration was sued more than 50 times, mostly over the travel ban he implemented shortly after his inauguration. By March, reports suggest the number of lawsuits had risen above 100.

A major reason for the high rate of litigation has to do with the president’s generous use of executive orders, often in ways that environmental and social groups feel oversteps his authority, according to Michael Burger, executive director of the Sabin Center for Climate Change Law at Columbia Law School. The travel ban is perhaps the most high-profile example of these.

What we’ve seen with Trump is an attempt to really use the executive order to create whole new policies.

“Executive orders tend to be directives from the president to administrative agencies to carry out internal tasks,” he said. “On occasion, they’re used to set broader policy agendas. But what we’ve seen with Trump is an attempt to really use the executive order to create whole new policies. And some of the policies that these executive orders are seeking to create are at direct odds with the statutes that provide the executive branch with its authority to take any action at all.”

To date, several dozen of the lawsuits currently filed against the Trump administration are directly related to climate and environmental issues. A number of them, although certainly not all, are related to executive orders.

In regard to Paris, White House advisers had actually cited potential lawsuits as an extra reason the president should withdraw from the treaty. Prior to Thursday’s announcement, they’d suggested that if the U.S. remained in the treaty while failing to enforce greenhouse gas-reducing regulations—namely, the Clean Power Plan, which the Trump administration has been actively working to unravel—environmental groups could pin new lawsuits advocating for climate regulations on the commitments laid out in the Paris agreement.

But as The Washington Post’s Amber Phillips recently pointed out, Trump’s getting sued for his environmental policies either way. He’s already facing a handful of cases over major policy points—and now that the Paris announcement has dashed hopes that the administration will make climate action a U.S. priority, more may be coming in the future.

We’ve put together some of the major examples of recent federal actions and the lawsuits they’ve inspired so far.


What we’ve seen with Trump is an attempt to really use the executive order to create whole new policies

The promised border wall

A cornerstone of President Trump’s campaign, from its earliest days, was the promise of a border wall between the U.S. and Mexico. And a January executive order on the topic of immigration sealed his intent, calling for the immediate construction of a wall along the Mexican border.

The idea has been met with resistance from a wide array of social communities and organizations, but it’s also been challenged by environmentalists concerned about its effect on the natural landscape. In April, conservation group Center for Biological Diversity and Arizona Congressman Raúl M. Grijalva filed a lawsuit against the Trump administration that would block the project’s construction, claiming that the government failed to adequately assess the wall’s potential environmental impact. The plaintiffs express concern that the wall could have a negative impact on water systems and native species, particularly endangered ones like jaguars.

The revival of the coal industry

Another key Trump campaign promise involved the reinvigoration of the declining coal industry. And in March, the Trump administration took a step in that direction by lifting an Obama-era moratorium on new coal leases on public lands. This directive was also issued in an executive order.

Almost immediately, the Northern Cheyenne tribe in Montana, along with a group of environmental organizations, sued the Trump administration for lifting the ban without completing an environmental review of the coal-leasing program. The plaintiffs suggest that the government should have first evaluated the program’s “significant environmental, health, and economic impacts—including impacts from climate disruption caused by the burning of fossil fuels such as coal, and socioeconomic and environmental impacts to local communities.”

Another chance for Keystone XL

Among the most controversial environmental issues that arose during the Obama administration was that of the Keystone XL pipeline. This proposal called for a new pipeline branch between Alberta and Nebraska, running through parts of Montana and South Dakota in the process. The idea was met with fierce protests from Native American, social justice and environmental groups, and it was ultimately rejected by President Obama.

But in January, Trump signed an executive order aimed at advancing the project, and in March the administration officially approved the pipeline’s construction. In response, multiple environmental organizations sued the administration, arguing that the approval of the project relied on an outdated environmental assessment and ignored new information about the pipeline’s potential impact. A separate lawsuit was also filed by conservationists and representatives of indigenous groups.

Tough breaks for wildlife

In yet another reversal of an Obama-era rule, Congress voted in February to undo a regulation aimed at protecting certain Alaskan wildlife from predator control operations on public lands, prohibiting the shooting of denning mother bears and wolves as well as certain types of trapping and aerial hunting. President Trump signed the reversal into effect.

In April, the Center for Biological Diversity filed a lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of the strategy Congress used to repeal the regulation—a little-known law that allows Congress to overturn federal regulations within a limited amount of time after they’re finalized. The case challenges an aspect of this law that stipulates that after a rule has been repealed in this manner, no substantially similar regulation may be enacted again without congressional approval. The case argues that “this constraint on future rulemaking violates the separation of powers that must be maintained between the legislative and executive branches under the U.S. Constitution.”

At the time it was filed, Reuters reported that the lawsuit—the first of its kind to make such a challenge—stood little likelihood of success.

The expansion of offshore drilling

Last month, President Trump signed an executive order that could expand offshore oil and gas drilling, directing Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke to review an Obama ban on drilling in certain parts of the Pacific, Atlantic and Arctic Oceans. In May, a group of environmental groups responded with a lawsuitchallenging the president’s authority to make such a move.

The plaintiffs point out that President Obama initiated the ban in the first place under a law called the Outer Continental Shelf Lands Act, which provides guidelines for oil and gas development leasing. They argue that this act allows presidents to withdraw certain areas from consideration for leasing—but that “neither OCSLA nor any other provision of law authorizes Presidents to undo such withdrawals.”

Attacks on energy efficiency programs

It’s not just environmental groups that are pushing back against the Trump administration’s environmental policies—states are jumping on the bandwagon now as well.

By blocking these common sense standards, the administration is reversing progress in cleaning the air we breathe and fighting climate change.

In January, the White House directed federal agencies to place new or pending regulations on hold until they could be reviewed by incoming Trump administration agency heads. Among the regulations delayed as a result were a series of energy efficiency appliance standards introduced by the Obama administration. Energy efficiency standards are widely regarded by environmentalists as an important way to cut down on the energy consumption of individual households, businesses and other buildings, reducing greenhouse gas emissions in the process.

As a result, in April a coalition of state attorneys general filed a notice of intent with the Department of Energy to sue within 60 days. The states were joined in their protest by the city of New York and the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection.

In a statement at the time, New York State Attorney General Eric Schneiderman decried the delays as harmful to both public health and the environment. “By blocking these common sense standards, the administration is reversing progress in cleaning the air we breathe and fighting climate change – and denying consumers and businesses some $24 billion in savings,” he said.

Written by CHELSEA HARVEY, published in FUSION 5 June 2017.


What Does Trump’s Budget Mean for the Environment?

His proposal would gut federal enforcement and effectively halt many Superfund cleanups.

Didn’t we just go through this?

In early March, President Trump proposed a budget that would have scaled back the federal government’s stewardship of the environment beyond recognition. The budget traded historically unprecedented cuts to the EPA for $50-billion boosts to defense spending, and it shuttered long-running programs that protect wild areas outside of any one state’s dominion, like the Chesapeake Bay, the Great Lakes, and the Atlantic and Pacific coasts.

The budget scared environmental leaders, who also assured supporters that such a plan could never pass Congress. (Among American adults, environmental protection is really quite popular.) And they were right. After two months of negotiations, Congress approved a bipartisan spending bill that preserved nearly all of the EPA’s funding while actually increasing support for renewable-energy programs.

In other words, all those Trump proposals—slashing the EPA’s budget by $3 billion, laying off 3,500 EPA employees, and closing many regional programs—never became a reality. Congress would not accept them. Trump signed the budget on May 5.

But that bill—and that fiscal year—will expire on September 30, 2017. So now the White House and Congress must go through the entire ordeal again for 2018. And it seems neither irresponsible nor inappropriate for the average news consumer to ask: Well, will this time be any different?

Trump’s approach this time around certainly seems no different in ambition. The White House’s proposed plan for the 2018 budget, unveiled Tuesday, adopts many of the same cuts that made the previous edition. Some cuts are even more severe. The highlights include:

  • Trump wants to cut the EPA’s budget by nearly a third, reducing its overall funding level to $5.6 billion. On a percentage basis, that is the largest proposed cut to any federal agency. It would give the EPA its smallest budget in 40 years, adjusting for inflation.
  • This would cut the EPA’s workforce by 20 percent, removing 3,800 jobs.
  • Most significantly, Trump wants to cut by 40 percent the EPA’s federal enforcement office—the people who make sure corporations are complying with federal regulations. Scott Pruitt, the agency’s administrator, has previously said that he believes that states—and not the EPA—should oversee enforcement of rules themselves. But Trump’s budget would alsocut by 45 percent the grants that allow states to do that enforcement. These changes would almost certainly ensure far less enforcement of existing environmental rules than happens now, at federal and state levels.
  • The EPA office which determines standards for the amount of acceptable pollution in drinking water will also have its budget cut by half. (Earlier this year, the same office struck the words “science-based” from its mission statement, replacing them with “economically … achievable.”)
  • Superfund, the EPA program that cleans up toxic-chemical spill sites that have become public-health hazards, will have its budget cut by 25 percent. Such a cut will halt many cleanups.
  • Trump also wants to shut down many of the same EPA programs targeted in March. He would terminate the Great Lakes, Chesapeake Bay, and Puget Sound cleanup programs. He would also close Energy Star, which informs consumers which home appliances are most energy-efficient.
  • Beyond the EPA, the budget also slashes environmental-science programs throughout the government. Many of these target climate change. Mick Mulvaney, Trump’s budget director, has said that he considers climate science to be a “waste of your money.” So Trump’s budget cuts $59 million in Earth-science research grants from NASA. Meanwhile, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s research office would see its budget reduced by one-fifth.
  • But the slashed science programs go far beyond climate change. Trump proposes to end a NOAA program to research and better predict tornadoes in the south, and he also cuts $11 million from a tsunami-warning program for the Pacific coast. He also wants to slash NOAA’s weather-satellite budgetby 17 percent.
  • Finally, he proposes to savage Department of Energy programs with environmental ends. While that department’s overall budget is only reduced by five percent, he would cut many of its greenest programs. Trump wants to close ARPA-E, the government’s energy-innovation R&D lab; and many of the loan-guarantee programs that support renewable-energy companies.
Donald Trump meets with his cabinet in early March. Scott Pruitt, the EPA administrator, and Mick Mulvaney, the budget director, sit together at the end of the table

These are—to state the obvious—a lot of cuts.

Taken together, they advance a sweeping—and there is no word but radical—plan to roll back the government’s stewardship of the environment and natural resources. By the standard of the last 30 years of American politics, these are unprecedented proposals for the EPA specifically. For comparison, President George W. Bush (today considered no friend of the environment) proposed to cut the EPA’s budget by only 5 percent in his first budget.

Of course, Bush ran as a compassionate conservative; Trump promised during his campaign to abolish the EPA “in almost every form.” And this budget—while not zeroing out the agency—does point to how the White House could effectively knee-cap it. You cannot cut funding for the EPA office of enforcement by 40 percent, while slashing enforcement grants for states by 45 percent, and not expect to see a dramatic increase in unlawful pollution.

And yet. Trump can be as ambitious as he fancies in this document, because his plans are still extremely unlikely to go anywhere. As my colleague Annie Lowrey wrote in March, any federal budget passed before 2021 has to meet certain criteria created six years ago as part of the Budget Control Act. That law—usually called “sequestration”—set certain automatic spending cuts into effect. It also prohibited increasing defense spending while cutting non-defense discretionary spending. This is exactly what Trump proposes to do in 2018.

Congress can get around those rules, but it would need to clear the 60-vote filibuster threshold in the Senate. That means that Republican leaders will need some Democrats in the Senate to help them shepherd a budget through. And Senate Democrats will not agree to a 30-percent cut to the EPA.

And there is even some mild Republican opposition to some of these cuts. Scott Walker, the Republican governor of Wisconsin, wants to save the Great Lakes cleanup program. And it’s unlikely the 16 senators from states that touch the lakes would let it die.

But Republicans may still try to get many of smaller cuts through. Paul Ryan said Tuesday that “the aspiration and the goal [of this budget] is right on the target.” The budget hacks so far into the social safety net—Medicaid would be cut 47 percent by 2027—that Democrats may have to cede environmental ground to preserve some semblance of anti-poverty programs. And any cuts to the EPA that Republicans propose—even if they exceed the Bush 5-percent reduction—will seem moderate compared to Trump’s proposed lopping.

And even if the budget preserves Obama-era funding for the EPA, the agency won’t necessarily go about its Obama-era work. Many of Pruitt’s goals for the agency will require plenty of policy-writing staff. And elsewhere he can accomplish his means by other ends. For instance, even if the entire enforcement division survives, Pruitt can order the agency to hinder actual enforcement. There’s evidence he’s already doing exactly that.

Which is to say: None of the disclaimers—about Congressional intent, about political reality—make Trump’s proposal any less striking. This budget proposal has a clear goal. If he had the power, Donald Trump would allow polluters to spew carbon and chemicals into the air and water, muzzle the science that identifies why that’s a problem, and cut off the research and development which is finding a more renewable way of generating power.

As I wrote last go-round, Trump’s budget remains a kind of fiduciary fan fiction for Freedom Caucus conservatives, who can fantasize about a skinnier government without ever living with the political consequences. So even if it never come to pass, it’s worth noting: This is what they want.

Written by ROBINSON MEYER, published in The Atlantic 24 May 2017

Fell Purpose

The attempt to turn the Lake District into a World Heritage site would be a disaster

If this bid for power succeeds, the consequences for Britain will be irreversible. It will privilege special interests over the public good, shut out the voices of opposition and damage the fabric of the nation, perhaps indefinitely. No, I’m not writing about the election.

In the next few weeks Unesco, the UN’s cultural organisation, will decide whether or not to grant World Heritage status to the Lake District. Once the decision is made, it is effectively irreversible.

Shouldn’t we be proud that this grand scenery, that plays such a prominent role in our perceptions of nationhood, will achieve official global recognition? On the contrary, we should raise our voices against it. World Heritage status would lock the Lake District into its current, shocking state, ensuring that recovery becomes almost impossible.

Stand back from the fells and valleys and try to judge this vista as you would a landscape in any other part of the world. What you will see is the great damage farming has inflicted: wet deserts grazed down to turf and rock; erosion gullies from which piles of stones spill; woods in which no new trees have grown for 80 years, as every seedling has been nibbled out by sheep; dredged and canalised rivers, empty of wildlife and dangerous to the people living downstream; tracts of bare mountainside on which every spring is a silent one. Anyone with ecological knowledge should recoil from this scene.

This photo was used as the frontispiece of the “State of Conservation” section of the bid documents. It is meant to show how beautiful the fells are. If we saw it anywhere else, we would recognise it as an environmental disaster.

The documents supporting the bid for world heritage status are lavishly illustrated with photos, that inadvertently reveal what has happened to the national park. But this slow-burning disaster goes almost unmentioned in the text. On the contrary, the bid repeatedly claims that the park is in “good physical condition”, and that the relationship between grazing and wildlife is “harmonious”. Only on page 535, buried in a table, is the reality acknowledged: 75% of the sites that are meant to be protected for nature are in “unfavourable condition”.

This is another photo from the bid document, showing St John’s Beck in Thirlmere. The beck is notorious for its flashy response to rainfall – rising dangerously fast. It’s not hard to see why. As the photo shows, it has been dredged and canalised on behalf of the farmers in the valley, and now contains almost no natural features that can slow the flow.

This great national property has degenerated into a sheepwrecked wasteland. And the national park partnership, that submitted the bid, wants to keep it this way: this is the explicit purpose of its attempt to achieve world heritage status. It wants to preserve the Lake District as a “cultural landscape”. But whose culture? Whose landscape? There are only 1080 remaining farms in the district. Should the entire national park be managed for their benefit? If so, why? The question isn’t raised, let alone answered.

I can see the value and beauty of the traditional shepherding culture in the Lake District. I can also see that the farming there, reliant on subsidies, quad bikes and steel barns, now bears little relationship to traditional practice. As the size of landholdings has increased, it looks ever more like ranching and ever less like the old system the bid describes. The bid’s claim that farming there is “wholly authentic in terms of … its traditions, techniques and management systems” is neither intelligible nor true. Remnants of the old shepherding culture tend to be represented ceremonially, as its customs are mostly disconnected from the farm economy.

Shepherding is not the only cultural legacy in play. The other is that the Lake District is the birthplace of the modern conservation movement. Inspired by the Picturesque and Romantic movements, much of our environmental ethic and the groups representing it, such as the National Trust, originated here. Attempts to preserve natural beauty in the district began in the mid-18th century, with complaints against the felling of trees around Derwent Water. Today, the national park cares so little for this legacy that, as the bid admits, “there are no data available” on the condition of the Lake District’s woodlands.

The small group favoured by this bid sees environmental protection as anathema. Farmers’ organisations in the Lake District have fought tooth and nail against conservation measures. They revile the National Trust and the RSPB, whose mild efforts to protect the land from overgrazing are, with the help of a lazy and compliant media, treated like bubonic plague. As one of these farming groups exults, world heritage status “gives us a powerful weapon” that they can wield against those who seek to limit their impacts. If the plan is approved, this world heritage site would be a 230,000-hectare monument to overgrazing and ecological destruction.

30 years ago, this was a bare sheep pasture (with a couple of seeding birch trees). This is a photo I took (with my failing phone) on a hill elsewhere in Britain. It gives an idea of what parts of the Lake District fells could look like if they were allowed to recover.

This is not the only sense in which the bid is unsustainable. Nowhere in its 700 pages is Brexit mentioned. It was obviously written before the referendum, and has not been updated. Yet the entire vision relies, as the bid admits, on the economic viability of the farming system, which depends in turn on subsidies from the European Union.

Without these payments, there would be no sheep farming in the Lake District: it operates at a major loss. European subsidies counteract this loss, delivering an average net farm income of £9,600. Unsurprisingly, people are leaving the industry in droves: the number of farms in the national park is declining by 2% a year. And this is before the payments cease.

What is the national park partnership, that prepared this bid, going to do – march people onto the fells at gunpoint and demand they continue farming? Or does it hope that the government, amid the massacre of public investment that will follow Brexit, will not only match but exceed the £3bn of public money currently being passed to UK farmers by the European Union? Your guess is as good as mine. This omission alone should disqualify the bid.

The failure to mention this fatal issue looks to me like one of many attempts to pull the Herdwick wool over Unesco’s eyes. The entire bid is based on a fairy tale, a pretence that the rural economy of the Lake District hasn’t changed for 200 years. If Unesco grants world heritage status on these grounds, it will inflict irreparable harm on both our natural heritage and its own good standing.

The hills, whose clothes so many profess to admire, are naked. The narrative we are being asked to support is false. The attempt to ensure that the ecological disaster zone we call the Lake District National Park can never recover from its sheepwrecking is one long exercise in woolly thinking.

By George Monbiot, published in the Guardian 9th May 2017

How Climate Change Denial Set the Stage for Fake News

I wasn’t worried when the newspaper I worked for started publishing “climate skeptics.” I should have been

Written by  and published in The Walrus the 1st of May 2017

The website recently ran an image of a hospitalized senior citizen along with the following garbled caption: “BREAKING: This is 78 years old Trump supporter who was beaten by Muslim refugees in Ohio. Trump going to support them all do you support this?” It’s a painfully obvious example of the sort of fake news that spreads deliberate misinformation in exchange for easy clicks. In the wake of Donald Trump’s election, media watchdogs have been naming and shaming these sites; meanwhile, new tools being rolled out by Google, Facebook, and Wikipedia promise to filter out this sort of nonsense from our news feeds.

But even if these groups succeed, it will not completely solve our fake-news problem—because some of the most damaging misinformation on the web is spread in subtler ways. While it is a simple thing to fact-check whether refugees beat an old woman in Ohio, it is not so easy to correct misapprehensions caused by faux-authoritative articles about vaccines, GMOs, or the purported benefits of organic food. In part, this is because the science behind such issues is complicated. But it is also because misleading articles on scientific subjects often appear in otherwise respectable publications. In 2010, for instance, Bret Stephens wrote in the prestigious Wall Street Journal that “global warming is dead, nailed into its coffin one devastating disclosure, defection and re-evaluation at a time.” This was fake news, yet the article is still up there on their web site. And Stephens himself has just been named as a columnist for The New York Times. Even before Donald Trump came around, there were certain subjects that always lent themselves to fake news—and the mainstream media was a willing partner.

Some years ago, I attended a fundraising dinner in New York City for a well-known conservative magazine that I then contributed to regularly as a book reviewer. As a mere Canadian, I considered it a great honour to hob-knob with America’s right-wing brain-trust—this being the era when conservative American punditry was still defined by the respectable likes of Charles Krauthammer and David Brooks.

At my table were several wealthy donors, who seemed understandably disappointed not to be seated with a more well-known contributor. But their eyes brightened when I said that I worked at the National Post. They told me that they knew the newspaper well, and that they regularly visited the web site to surf their favourite columnists. Then they recited, from memory, the headlines of several recent articles—all variations on the idea that man-made climate change is a hoax. “Your newspaper is very brave,” one of them told me. “We don’t have many real newspapers in the United States that are willing to tell the truth like that.”

Señor Codo

When I think about the origins of what we now call “fake news,” I come back to this story. The Post is, in just about every other respect, a scrupulously fact-based newspaper. And over its lifetime, it has been home to numerous award-winning journalists who have broken huge stories—from the early days of Shawinigate to its recent scoop about a former Vice Canada editor allegedly running a global smuggling operation out of his office. It’s a newspaper that I continue to read and trust.

But there always was an unwritten rule at the Post that when it came to global warming, all bets were off. As with the Wall Street Journal and other conservative media, global-warming denialism turned the Post into a weird hybrid: a beefy entrée of genuine information, with a 1 percent garnish of fake news—a situation that persists to this day. And since many conservatives have an enormous hunger for respectable-seeming news sources that confirm their ideologically motivated skepticism of environmentalism, this tiny slice of fake fare accounted for a massively disproportionate share of our most popular stories. Like other journalists in the newsroom, I would complain to Post brass about these stories—sometimes even doing so publicly, on Twitter. But it was quietly understood that this niche was simply too popular to give up. And as I learned in New York, climate-change denialism truly did give us an international profile.

Besides: How much harm could this fake climate news do? We were telling readers the truth in every other area. We didn’t promote bogus anti-vaccine conspiracy theories, or suggest that George W. Bush blew up the Twin Towers, or question the birthplace of Barack Obama. So was it really the end of the world if we published fake news on this one specific subject? If the Wall Street Journal could do it, why not us?

The fake-news climate columns we were running didn’t look like conspiracist propaganda. They often came with all sorts of impressive looking graphs and tables, and many were written by people who seemed to have some sort of scientific credential—even if they generally weren’t actual climatologists, and even if the data and arguments they were presenting had never passed peer review at a mainstream scientific publication. I reasoned that the people who write and read these articles were true believers who were never going to be convinced by science anyway. So what was the harm in letting them use the Post to babble at one another about “Climategate”?

What I didn’t realize then was that the (largely successful) effort to sow confusion about climate change could never be contained within that one narrow pseudoscientific silo. That’s because one of the core dogmas of the global-warming denial movement—whose adherents now include the President of the United States—is that both the media and the international scientific community are both completely corrupt. I say “dogmas” because, absent the presumption of such corruption, there is simply no way to explain why every prestigious scientific body and A-list media outlet in the Western world acknowledges the truth that the world is getting hotter, and that the main reason for this is the production of greenhouse gasses by human activity.

In this particular sense, climate denialists are very similar to, say, Obama Birthers, or anti-vaccine conspiracy theorists—who also believe that the entire mainstream media is a bought-and-paid for subsidiary of some global puppet-master. Indeed, that is why there are so many conspiracy theorists who come to inhabit all of these conspiratorial sub-categories simultaneously (such as Trump himself, or his friend Alex Jones). Once you have popularized and legitimized the idea that the most respectable intellectual and political institutions in our society are lying to us about something so fundamental as our climate, the wall between truth and fiction starts to vanish.

Out of the climate denial movement emerged all sorts of useful basic strategies that would become broadly applicable to other fake news campaigns on the right. For instance, since no layperson can really understand the vastly complicated business of modeling the earth’s climate, denialists have come to rely on isolated factoids and mantras that they can understand, and which traffic well in 140 characters or less: Ice has gotten thicker in some parts of Antarctica. The earth has always exhibited natural variation in temperature from year to year. Snippets of email from a hacked University of East Anglia server, removed from context, suggest statistical foul play. Through the groupthink of the conservative internet silo, every Rebel or Breitbart fan you meet is armed with the same canon of “smoking gun” denialist lines. Put enough of these together, and you can hold your own in any dinner-party debate. Of particular note: Unlike the creationists of yore, climate deniers give the appearance of engaging in rigorous scientific analysis—even if they’ve never heard of Boyle’s law or the Stefan–Boltzmann constant.

Finally, global warming deniers were smart enough to realize that, at root, most of us trust people, not numbers. And since global warming is complicated, even the most well-informed lay activist is occasionally going to say or do something that exposes them to the claim of hypocrisy or ignorance within the environmentalist movement. Go back and read the climate denial columns of Ezra Levant, Rex Murphy and Conrad Black over the last decade or so. You will find little discussion of the technical fine points of solar irradiance and thermal inertia, but much sneering about the fancy international conferences where David Suzuki and Al Gore hold court. By this fashion, the denialists gradually have deftly turned the debate over a scientific subject into a referendum on the moral character of sanctimonious globetrotting leftists. Columnist Mark Steyn was especially passionate about this tactic, and even went so far as to compare one of the world’s most acclaimed climate scientists to a pedophilic sex criminal—an act of journalistic lunacy that has tied him up in libel litigation for the last five years.

There is a direct line between the right-wing campaign to discredit legitimate science and the post-truth atmosphere that suffuses virtually every aspect of Donald Trump’s political cult. Trump and his acolytes don’t have to engage intellectually with the mainstream media, because they already have decided the media is dishonest and corrupt. (Indeed, 76 percent of US Republicans—compared with 6 percent of Democrats—now agree with the statement “journalists and the media are the enemy of the American people.”)

I don’t know when—or even if—the era of fake news will end. But if we do get our societal sanity back, we should guard it more preciously. What this means is that we cannot afford to treat any important arena of public discourse as somehow beyond the realm of fact. To adapt George Orwell, unless you insist that two plus two makes four—not just usually, but always—you’re never far from the shrieking la-la-land of a late-night Donald Trump Tweetstorm.

Farewell, giant pine: Climate change kills a champion at Washington Park Arboretum

One of the state’s biggest pines is headed for the saw, after climate change and bugs weaken a champion at the Washington Park Arboretum

Written by  and published in The Seattle Times the 13 May 2017

The state’s champion pitch pine towers over David Zuckerman, manager of horticulture at the Washington Park Arboretum. The tree has died and must come down. (Alan Berner/The Seattle Times)


It saw the flight of Boeing’s first jet; the World’s Fair, the founding of Microsoft. It survived the eruption of Mount St. Helens, witnessed the state’s centennial, and the confession of the Green River Killer.

But after 72 years, Pinus rigida 212-45-C, the state’s champion pitch pine, has died and will be cut down at the Washington Park Arboretum.

The cause of death was climate change: steadily warming and drier summers, that stressed the tree in its position atop a droughty knoll. Red turpentine beetles, catching the scent of stress chemicals emitted by the tree as it struggled, bored in.

The beetles chewed and fed on the tree’s phloem, conduits just below the bark for the tree’s life-giving juices. Just as damaging, the beetles were vectors for fungus that plugged up other conduits carrying water into the tree. It wasn’t long before arborist Clif Edwards, making his usual rounds, noticed something amiss in the pinetum, the collection of pines at the arboretum.

“I saw this big orange (tree) canopy in the sky, got closer to investigate, and got the not-so-good answer,” Edwards said.

He alerted other experts at the arboretum, who confirmed by the plethora of exit holes about the size of the point of a crayon that the tree was badly infested with beetles. Now the tree must be removed before the infestation spreads to other trees in its grove, noted David Zuckerman, manager of horticulture for the arboretum.


Since 2005, the arboretum has lost some 40 pine trees in just this way, as warming average temperatures combine with summer’s drought to stress trees. The arboretum has not in the past irrigated its collection of pines. But staff will begin pouring on the TLC with mulch and water this season to help its collection of stressed pines, Zuckerman said.

But for this big old pine, it’s too late. With its witchy, stark bare branches and bronze dead needles, it stands apart in the surging green of spring. It’s studded with a bumper crop of cones, each the size of a chicken egg, hard as a stone, and covered with sharp prickles. Trees near death typically put on a large crop of seeds, a desperate bid to persist into future generations.

A close-up look at the tree shows exit holes drilled by the beetles that have killed it, along with the pitch produced by the tree to try to heal its wounds. The 72-year-old giant will be cut down sometime this month. (Alan Berner/The Seattle Times)


The tree’s yellowed accession card, marked with pencil and scanned for preservation in the arboretum’s digital archives, tells of its life and times. First stratified, or readied for germination by cooling a few weeks after the seeds arrived, the seed for the big pine was planted in flats on May 17, 1945, and transplanted to the nursery at the arboretum in September 1946. On April 16, 1948, it was planted atop the knoll in the prime spot in the pinetum.

In 2004, in a flurry of taxonomic activity, its name was changed from pinus nigra to pinus rigida. And all the while, the tree grew steadily on.

The tree outdistanced all others in its class, becoming the state champion in Washington of its species, at more than 70 feet high with a bigger-than-35-foot crown spread and nearly 6 feet around at its trunk at breast height.

The pitch pine’s rugged form and spiny cones belie a gentle presence. At the arboretum, this pine was graced by a bench in its shade, with a placard advising “peace” on its back. The ground in front of the bench is worn smooth by years of visitors’ feet, and the tree is just steps from the incantations of an active nest of a Cooper’s hawk and red-breasted nut hatch.

The state’s champion pitch pine, 72 years old and more than 70 feet tall, must be removed so that the beetles that killed it won’t endanger the rest of the pine grove around it at the Washington Park Arboretum. (Alan Berner/The Seattle Times)

Visitors seem to know what is happening; someone inscribed a small purple heart in magic marker on the tree’s bark, the ink still fresh and bright from a recent visit. For the tree’s suffering is evident, in the sawdust heaped by chewing beetles at its feet, and the frass pushed out of their homes, deep within the tree’s sap wood, staining exit holes drilled all through its bark.

The tree has fought back nobly; gobs of hardened pitch, produced by the tree to seal its wounds, mound in golden heaps all over its trunk. But it was not enough.

And so the next stop for this tree is the Cedar Grove composting facility, the only way to safely and quickly dispose of the big logs that this tree will soon become.

Every last bit of the tree will be removed, even grinding the stump. Its tag — already removed, leaving the bare hook bereft in the tree’s bark — will be recycled, and the tree’s epitaph recorded in the arboretum’s saddest ledger: its Dead Plant Report.

In an arboretum boasting more than 21,000 trees, shrubs and vines in its collection, each one, for those who care for them, is an individual. Zuckerman and Ryan Garrison, plant-health specialist at the arboretum, were quiet Friday, as they examined the pine and made plans to cut it down later this month.

“I try to look on the bright side,” Zuckerman said. This pine is survived by two others on the knoll from the same gift of seeds from the New York Botanical Garden. “And this will make space for a new plant,” Zuckerman said. “Something that does not need summer water.”

The Logging Company That Wants to Take Down Greenpeace

A Canadian company is suing Greenpeace for $220 million—and it might have a case

Written by David Ferry and published in Outside the 16th of May 2017

For the past year, Greenpeace has been quietly embroiled in a lawsuit the environmental group says is designed to sue it “out of existence.”

The suit, a $220-million behemoth that’s received little media attention since it was filed in May 2016 in federal court in the southern district of Georgia, was brought by one of the largest forestry and newsprint companies in the world, Canada’s Resolute Forest Products. Greenpeace has been a fierce critic of Resolute’s logging practices in Canada’s sensitive boreal forests. And while the group has regularly been on the receiving end of legal action, this is no trespassing or defamation case. Instead, Resolute has brought a case forward that’s defined as much by its aggressive legal strategy as its apparent intention to punish the eco-group.

In its complaint, the logging giant claims that Greenpeace is an illegal enterprise, a racket designed only to raise money. And, by using a law designed to take down organized criminal enterprises like the mafia, Resolute is aiming to bury the eco group in debt and silence its critic, according to an amicus brief filed in court last fall by several First Amendment groups.

“This is not right,” says Greenpeace spokesman Rodrigo Estrada. “This is a complete attack on free speech.”

A logging truck loads up with freshly cut trees in Canada.    Photo: Jeremy Rempel/Flickr


Resolute’s suit argues that Greenpeace is in violation of the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act (RICO), an exceptionally powerful law enacted in 1970 to put corrupt entities like the mob out of business. The legal tactic allows Resolute to sue Greenpeace for triple any damages it says the environmental group has caused. So far, Resolute asserts, Greenpeace has cost the company about 100 million Canadian dollars in lost revenue due to its public campaign to label Resolute a “forest destroyer” and convince costumers to drop the company’s paper products.

“RICO is purposely designed to put corrupt organizations—racketeers—out of business,” says James Wheaton, senior counsel at the First Amendment Project, a non-profit group that provides free legal services for defendants in free speech cases. “When you take that blunderbuss and point it at a non-profit, the effect is pretty stunning.”

Tuesday, the court in Georgia agreed to transfer the case to the northern district of California, where many of Greenpeace’s defendants are based. Estrada hailed the decision in a press release as a victory because of the state’s strong free speech laws. And several hours earlier, Greenpeace released a report pushing back against Resolute’s suit and trying to rally allies to its side.

The lawsuit, Greenpeace’s report says, “could impact individuals and groups across civil society that seek to make positive changes by making it too expensive and risky to engage in free speech, advocacy, informed expert opinions, and even research.” Some of Resolute’s most prominent customers, the report notes, are companies that rely on free speech to exist—publishers including Penguin Random House. Several newspapers, like News Corp’s Wall Street Journal, are printed on Resolute’s paper, too. If Greenpeace loses, says Amy Moas, a campaigner and defendant in the suit, “not only could it mean a world without Greenpeace and the 45-year record of a movement to protect the environment, but a world where free speech becomes more restricted for advocacy groups, individuals, artists, journalists, and publishers.”

The lawsuit marks the bitter end of a detente that began in 2010. That year, Greenpeace and several other environmental groups and forestry companies, including Resolute, signed the Canadian Boreal Forest Agreement. The companies agreed to suspend logging in 29 million hectares of boreal forest to preserve old growth and ensure that the threatened boreal caribou could thrive. In return, Greenpeace and the other environmental groups agreed to drop any boycotts they were promoting against the forestry companies. In Canada, where forestry is big business, environmental groups like Greenpeace had been publicly condemning Resolute and others for logging in sensitive areas for decades. Media reports at the time described it as a landmark “peace agreement” between two warring factions.

But by December 2012, the truce had faltered. Greenpeace and other environmental groups said Resolute wasn’t keeping up its end of the deal. Greenpeace then published photos that it claimed showed Resolute’s destructive activities, like road-building, in the protected forest areas. But the photos, it turned out, weren’t actually taken in the protected areas and Greenpeace retracted its claims. Soon after, Resolute sued Greenpeace for defamation in Canadian court. (Greenpeace says the evidence the photos purported to show was not the only reason the group pulled out of the forest agreement. The group also notes in its report that by end of 2013, “every environmental organization had either left the agreement or publicly broken off dialogue with Resolute” because the company “would not do the minimum that the science says is required to protect our forests.”)

Resolute says in its court complaint that it lived up to its part of the bargain, and that there is “no evidence” it ever deviated. Greenpeace, the company says, has made exaggerated claims about the effect Resolute’s logging had on caribou habitat. The environmental group “will be held accountable” for its false claims and fake photos, Resolute VP for communications and sustainability Seth Kursman wrote in an email to Outside. The group’s behavior is “reprehensible,” he added. In an op-ed published yesterday, Kursman argued that Resolute has a “moral and ethical obligation” to go after “bullies” like Greenpeace.

“Greenpeace is a fraud,” the company’s filing begins. It goes on to say that Greenpeace’s true focus is on “emotionalizing” issues and raising funds rather than any lofty environmental initiatives. “Because soliciting money, not saving the environment, is Greenpeace’s primary objective,” Resolute argues, “it has demonstrated time and time again that it will do anything to drive donations, including fabricating evidence”—a reference to the photos Greenpeace retracted. Greenpeace, the suit alleges, is an “illegal enterprise” and its efforts to disseminate information about Resolute’s logging practices constitute mail and wire-fraud, since the group uses its campaign to fundraise and pitch donors. Greenpeace, the filing continues, is a “rogue environmental group engaged in illegal and unethical behavior to make money for itself and its leaders.”

Whether Greenpeace is “rogue” or not will be up for the courts to decide. The far-left advocacy group is indeed known for its controversial stunts and die-hard resistance to corporate malfeasance and environmental degradation. (Going after whaling ships is just the most public example of its advocacy.) The group is regularly condemned—and lionized—for going too far, and in the past has published incorrect information and misleading photos in its campaigns. In its reply to Resolute’s motion, Greenpeace’s attorneys argued that statements the group made about Resolute’s logging were “non-actionable opinion and rhetorical hyperbole protected by the First Amendment.”


Regardless of the veracity of Greenpeace’s statements, Resolute alleges, the group has cost the logging company millions of dollars in lost revenue. In November 2014, Greenpeace launched a boycott of Best Buy urging the company to stop using Resolute’s paper products to print its mailers and catalogues. “Best Buy is wasting ancient forests, one flyer at a time,” the group said. On Black Friday that year, over 50,000 Greenpeace supporters flooded the retailer’s site with fake reviews and emails. Resolute’s suit alleges that a hacking group shut down Best Buy’s website that day, as well. By December, Best Buy announced that it would find another source for its paper.

To Greenpeace, the move was intended to convince Resolute to improve its environmental practices. To Resolute, it was an attack. “Real peoples’ lives have been impacted. People have lost their jobs and the socio-economic repercussions in communities has been vast,” Kursman said, noting that the company had “closed machines and mills” because of “misinformation” from Greenpeace. The lawsuit Resolute filed last May is meant to recoup damages Greenpeace has cost the company, according to Resolute’s court filing.

But according to first amendment groups, the case may well be an effort by Resolute to silence its most outspoken critic by burdening it with heavy legal spending. The First Amendment Project’s Wheaton says this is an example of a lawsuit called a SLAPP suit, meaning a “strategic lawsuit against public participation.” Often, Wheaton says, plaintiffs don’t even expect to win their SLAPP suits—they just use them to crush opponents with hefty legal fees. “They’re intended to threaten. And the threat is intended to divert your attention, tie up your resources, drive away supporters and legalize political disputes,” says Wheaton, who teaches first amendment and media law at Stanford and Berkeley’s journalism schools.

“This is a classic SLAPP,” Wheaton says. “It’s not just a classic SLAPP, it’s the paradigm of a developer or resource extractor angry at their environmental non-profit critics and lashing out at them.” The First Amendment’s broad protections on free speech, combined with anti-SLAPP laws in Georgia, where the case was filed, means that Wheaton ultimately thinks the law is on Greenpeace’s side. “I’m quite confident that Resolute is going to lose,” he says, in the long run.

But in the meantime, Greenpeace is still on the hook for ballooning legal costs. The court in California will now consider pre-trial motions before the case moves forward and, Greenpeace’s Estrada says, “anything could happen.”

Court Gives Trump Small Victory in Push Against Clean Power Plan

A federal court said on Friday it would halt consideration of a major lawsuit over former President Barack Obama’s signature policy aimed at tackling global warming, handing the Trump administration a modest and perhaps temporary victory.

The United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit granted a request from the Trump administration to defer for 60 days a decision on litigation over a contested 2015 Environmental Protection Agency regulation, known as the Clean Power Plan. The rule, aimed at shutting down heavily polluting coal-fired power plants and replacing them with renewable energy sources, was the centerpiece of Mr. Obama’s efforts to enact a series of ambitious regulations to reduce the United States’ contributions to global warming.

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Image taken from “How Americans Think About Climate Change”. Read the full article here.

Twenty-eight states and several major industry groups had sued the Obama administration seeking to overturn the rule, arguing that it was unduly burdensome to utilities and too costly for consumers.

The regulation was a major target for Mr. Trump, who called it “stupid” and a “job killer” on the campaign trail and has begun taking steps to repeal it. In an executive order last month, Mr. Trump directed his E.P.A. administrator, Scott Pruitt, to begin the lengthy legal process of dismantling it, and at the same time requested that the court put the lawsuit on hold while the agency came up with a new plan.

Had the court rejected Mr. Trump’s request and upheld the Clean Power Plan, it would have made it far more difficult for Mr. Pruitt to roll back the rule.

“This ruling is important, because it means it will now be easier for the Trump E.P.A. to revoke or revise the Clean Power Plan,” said Jeff Holmstead, a lawyer with the firm Bracewell, which represents many of the fossil fuel companies suing to overturn the rule. “At the very least, it means it will take less time.”

The legal hold will have little practical impact, however, upon the nation’s energy economy and coal industry. The climate change rule has never been formally put in place, after the Supreme Court last year said that states did not have to comply until all litigation had been resolved.

But the ruling comes as the environmental movement is galvanized against what many advocates for climate action have called a concerted assault on environmental protections by Mr. Trump. On Saturday, thousands of demonstrators are expected to march in Washington and across the country to protest those actions.

“This further delay by the court comes even as hundreds of thousands around the country prepare to march tomorrow for the climate protection that polls show an overwhelming majority of Americans strongly support,” said Paul Bledsoe, a former climate adviser for the Clinton administration who is now a lecturer at the Center for Environmental Policy of American University. “Coming on top of the unprecedented Supreme Court stay last year, it gives the appearance to average citizens that the courts are standing with the far-right wing against sensible climate action.”