During the past several days, I’ve spent time, as I often do, cruising through internet sites that are concerned mainly with environmental issues, especially climate change, and those that provide insights on the state of the body politic. The snippets I’ve picked up make for a consistent picture. For example, I’ve seen of late is that the moral and intellectual deficiencies of the Trump administration, including agencies headed by Trump appointees, are being countered in states across the country. Here are several instances:
Colorado and New Mexico have adopted new policies aimed toward capturing methane, a potent greenhouse gas, from oil and gas operations in the state, a counter to the Trump administration’s rollback of Obama-era rules targeting those emissions. Oregon is also taking aim at the Trump administration's rollbacks. Governor Kate Brown is expected to sign a bill codifying into state law federal clean air and clean water standards that were in place before Trump took office. New Mexico Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham recently signed a landmark bill that puts the state’s energy sector on an ambitious path. The Energy Transition Act accelerates the state's current renewable electricity standard of 20 percent by 2020 to 50 percent by 2030, 80 percent by 2040, 100 percent carbon-free by 2050. Two other states, Hawaii and California, have already set forth plans for a path to zero-carbon electricity.
California is mounting probably the biggest legal battle of all with federal regulators. The state, with some of the most smog-choked cities in the country, is trying to tighten auto emissions standards, even as the EPA and Transportation Department loosen tailpipe rules on new cars and smaller pickup trucks. Trump, of course, doesn’t like this. He took numerous jabs at California during an address at a National Association of Realtors’ legislative meetings on Friday, as reported in Politico. He repeated his criticism of the state’s high-speed rail project and said that inadequate “forest management.” was to blame for the state's spate of deadly wildfires. “He blames it on global warming,” Trump said of California Gov. Gavin Newsom. “I say, ‘Look, try cleaning the floor of the forest a little bit. So you don’t have four feet of leaves and broken trees that have sat there for 25 years.’" It hardly needs to be pointed out that Trump’s knowledge of best practices in forest management is on a par with his weak understanding of how global warming has ushered in major changes in rainfall and temperature patterns.
E&E News reports. “Louisiana is in the midst of an existential crisis,” the state government report says. “We must accept that some areas of Louisiana cannot be preserved as is and that some residents will have less land and more water, potentially impacting their livelihoods and communities.”
On a related note, it’s interesting that climate change is affecting the Panama Canal, which has experienced lower water levels because of a serious drought. Carlos Vargas, the Panama Canal Authority’s executive vice president for environment, water, and energy, called the last five months “the driest dry season in the history of the canal,” the New York Times reports. The shift has resulted in some shippers having to reduce how much cargo they carry. This drought is affecting more than the canal: it is responsible for tragic losses of crops in Central American countries, where most people live close to the edge in terms of their standard of living.
Undark magazine reports that since 2007 the concentration of atmospheric methane, a powerful greenhouse gas, surged suddenly and unexpectedly. Possible causes for the rising emissions range from the anthropocentric—leaky natural gas operations, landfill decomposition, livestock belching, and certain forms of agriculture, to the natural—wetlands, rivers and lakes, wildfires, geological seeps, thawing permafrost and even the work of termites. One possible source is tropical wetlands, which release methane as part of a natural decomposition process. That's a worrisome scenario. A warming planet causes natural methane seeps to accelerate, which in turn leads to yet more planetary warming.
I wonder if President Trump isn't showing symptoms of mental illness. He recently went to southwest Louisiana, on an official taxpayer-funded trip, ostensibly to talk up his administration's effort to open U.S. natural gas to international markets. But--as he seems to do compulsively--instead of acting presidential, he went off-script to overtly attack his political rivals in his signature unpleasant style. This even as the administration's trade policies threaten the growth of the natural gas export business Trump went to Louisiana to promote. And of course, he failed to take notice of Louisiana's predicament vis a vis climate change, as described above. Trump's behavior is of more significance than just party politics; the President of the nation, focused on his childish personal insecurities, is dismissive of the vast accumulated knowledge that climate change presents a present and long-range threat to the welfare of the country—indeed, of the planet.
It's encouraging that states are picking up the slack insofar as they're able, but there is such a lot that needs doing! At some future time, when a politically critical level of awareness has been achieved at the national level, there’ll be frantic stabs at action, blaming, and unrest—and a good bit of human tragedy. The time is short before the pressures of climate change rather than reasoned forethought brings us to that place. When I feel frustrated about this, I’ve found it helpful to meditate at times on Lao-tzu’s philosophy. I read regularly in A Path and a Practice, William Martin’s very accessible rendering of Lao-tzu’s Tao Te Ching. Lao-tzu teaches that while each of us is on a path, we live in the now:
The present moment is all we have,
so we are not constantly seeking
a faster way to do things
or a better place to be
The Roman Stoic, Epictetus, opens his manual of ethical advice with the line, “Some things are in our control, others not.” He follows with this: When something is not in your control, say to yourself, “Then it’s none of my concern.” Ah, but these Stoics leave us in an uneasy place. How can we conclude that we have no control? It’s all too easy to let ourselves off the hook. So we keep at possibly quixotic efforts. Until next time...write to me with your thoughts.