'in the midst of flood and fire'
The climate crisis heats up
In its ongoing effort to “revive the U.S. coal industry and boost domestic fossil fuels production,” the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) under the Trump administration is planning on repealing the Clean Power Plan – “the centerpiece Obama-era climate change regulation,” as Valerie Volcovici observes at Reuters – but hasn’t decided whether it will replace it with anything. The EPA under administrator Scott Pruitt has sought to roll back what it views as legislation that overreaches its authority – a category the CPP, which has “been challenged in court by 27 states” and “suspended by the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals,” would appear to fall under.
The move, though long-expected, was “deeply disheartening,” according to the New York Times editorial board, because it “repeated the same false narrative that congressional Republicans have been peddling for years” and abdicated American leadership on climate change policy. It did nothing to prevent the continuing decline of the coal industry, despite Pruitt’s assertion that “the war against coal is over,” because natural gas continues to be markedly cheaper and more plentiful, and renewables continue to make strides – as Juliet Eilperin reports for The Washington Post, “Non-fossil-fuel generation outranked fossil fuels for the first time since World War II.”
In fact, coal’s share of the electric power sector has fallen from one-half in 2007, to less than a third today. As Alex Guillén and Eric Wolff report at POLITICO, the EPA’s repeal of the CPP – which, by the way, “could result in months, if not years of litigation,” according to the Post’s Eilperin – is the largest in a series of moves meant to bolster the coal industry: providing economic advantages to coal power plants, potentially slapping tariffs or a quota on imported solar panels, reconsidering mileage standards for cars, and opening federal lands to fossil fuels. These moves come even as many states and businesses vow to “maintain their efforts to reduce greenhouse gases”:
- Mars, Inc., a manufacturer of candy, beverage, and pet-care products, has vowed to “make its direct operations carbon-free by 2040”;
- General Motors, the largest American carmaker, announced its plans for “an emissions-free future for cars by pledging to sell 20 all-electric vehicles by 2023”;
- Under the auspices of the US Climate Alliance, many blue states, like California, Washington, and New York, are moving ahead with climate action plans that are even more ambitious than the Paris Climate Accord that Trump pulled out of, as are hundreds of cities across the country.
"In the midst of flood and fire, our federal government is resolutely deciding to cover its eyes,” said climate activist Bill McKibben. “History will judge few things more harshly.”
The administration’s posturing on energy and the environment also comes as massive wildfires are burning through more than 190,000 acres – an area bigger than New York City – and claiming at least 31 lives (as of this writing) in northern California’s wine country region. The fires, “unlike anything fire officials recall seeing in the area,” have also destroyed at least 3,000 buildings, leaving many area residents homeless. Governor Jerry Brown has declared a state of emergency in eight counties – Napa, Sonoma, Yuba, Butte, Lake, Mendocino, Nevada, and Orange, and FEMA “is providing federal disaster assistance” following President Trump’s major disaster declaration.
At Yale Environment 360, Nicola Jones examines the evidence and finds that “the increase in forest fires is directly linked to climate change.”
Speaking of natural disasters: Puerto Ricans are still struggling in the wake of Hurricane Maria. The Post’s Energy 202 newsletter – which you can subscribe to here – has a thorough recap of the situation as it stands: only 16 percent of the island has power, according to Puerto Rico’s government, which has dramatically affected healthcare – less than half of the island’s medical employees have been to work since the storm passed through. And although nearly 60 percent of the island now has access to drinking water, some isolated islanders have resorted to drinking water from hazardous waste ‘Superfund’ sites, according to Reuters. The governor has said the death toll stands at 45, although that number is almost certain to increase.
The island, too, is about to run out of money: Puerto Rico “is burning through the $1.6 billion it had on hand,” according to Ezra Fieser at Bloomberg, and should the Senate not find the will to approve the House’s $36.5 billion recovery package, Puerto Rico’s government will shut down completely – halting the hurricane recovery effort.
President Trump, meanwhile, has kept up his baffling, contentious behavior toward the island, tweeting out that “nobody could have done what I’ve done for #PuertoRico” and linking to a propaganda video that was edited to exclude the efforts islanders themselves made before FEMA arrived. A few days after, Trump shot out another tweet, warning Puerto Rico of “a financial crisis largely of their own making” and asserting that “we cannot keep FEMA, the Military & First Responders…in P.R. forever!”
There’s not a whole lot of analysis out there right now on the situation in Puerto Rico, but what there is appears to be focused on Trump’s Twitter feed – at FiveThirtyEight, Dhrumil Mehta crunches the numbers and confirms:
Once outlets started talking about Puerto Rico, however, the coverage wasn’t all about the hurricane’s devastation and efforts to recover from it. Much of the media’s efforts went toward covering the controversial statements President Trump made about Puerto Rico.
As Mehta reports, about 25 percent of online news headlines about Puerto Rico in the two weeks after the hurricane mentioned Trump – compared to just 10 percent after Hurricane Harvey battered Texas, and just 5 percent after Hurricane Irma swept through Florida.
Here’s a taste of some of that coverage, just from the past couple of days: at The New Yorker, Masha Gessen argues that, despite what some journalists believe, Trump’s tweets are noteworthy, because he “appears to think that he can govern by tweet.” At The Atlantic, Vann R. Newkirk II uses Trump’s Thursday morning tweetstorm to inventory the damage and recovery efforts and make a larger point about Trump’s treatment of Puerto Rico: the “message out of Washington amounts to a doctrine of personal responsibility and culpability applied only to Puerto Rico and its people – not the other areas of the United States affected by recent storms.” Meanwhile, at the conservative National Review, David French takes a look at what the president’s tweets are “doing to the political character of his Republican supporters,” which, in short, is: damaging them, in ways that will endure beyond the current administration. And Rod Dreher echoes this sentiment at The American Conservative when he entreats Congress to “get into this!”:
Republican members, do you have any heart, any spine? Stand up to this cruelty…Where are Donald Trump’s court Evangelicals on this? If you cannot stand up to your friend the US president when he threatens to stop sending humanitarian aid to American citizens who are hungry, thirsty, sick, and without shelter, then God help you when you come before the King of Kings.”
North Korea – the world’s most dangerous game of chicken
In a speech to the “powerful Central Committee of the ruling Workers’ Party” on Saturday, Kim Jong un asserted that his country’s increasing nuclear capability was a “powerful deterrent” that guaranteed its survival as a sovereign state. Kim also promoted his sister, 28-year-old Kim Yo Jong, to the politburo, in a move many analysts believe indicates that Kim is consolidating power. Kim’s comments and move came just a day before President Trump – a man referred to as “President Evil” in North Korea – took to Twitter to denounce diplomatic action and obliquely assert that “only one thing will work,” when it comes to North Korea – a reference, possibly, to military action.
US, South Korean, and Japanese bombers “carried out mock missile launches off both coasts of South Korea” on Tuesday night, in an explicit show of force meant to emphasize Trump’s oblique Twitter assertion. Or, as the US military put it, to “demonstrate how U.S. military forces in the Indo-Asia-Pacific are always ready to defend the American homeland and how the U.S. stands resolutely with Japan and the ROK to honor their unshakeable alliance commitments.” That same day, a South Korean lawmaker alleged that North Korean hackers had stolen “a large cache of military documents from South Korea,” which included plans to assassinate Kim Jong un, as well as “wartime contingency plans drawn up by the US and South Korea.” South Korea “has been subject to a barrage of cyber attacks by its communist neighbor in recent years,” according to the BBC, whose hacking abilities have, according to one defector, advanced “beyond imagination.”
At CNN, Joshua Berlinger details the strategies North Korean hackers use to steal sensitive information and money, how they’re recruited, and who they target.
In an NBC News exclusive, Courtney Kube, Kristen Welker, Carol E. Lee and Savannah Guthrie report that President Trump had asked for a “a nearly tenfold increase” in the nuclear stockpile in a meeting over the summer, during a discussion about North Korea:
Trump’s comments, the officials said, came in response to a briefing slide he was shown that charted the steady reduction of U.S. nuclear weapons since the late 1960s…According to the officials present, Trump’s advisors…were surprised. Officials briefly explained the legal and practical impediments to a nuclear buildup and how the current military posture is stronger than it was at the height of the buildup.
According to that same report, it was after this meeting that Secretary of State Rex Tillerson referred to Trump as a moron, a comment which, when reported, touched off a week’s worth of controversy and intrigue about Tillerson’s place in the Cabinet.
Via Twitter (lots of controversial Twitter action this week, on multiple fronts), Trump threatened to revoke NBC’s broadcasting license after the report’s publication and, during a press conference with Canadian prime minister Justin Trudeau, called the press – all of it – “disgusting,” setting in frenzied motion the composition of hundreds of analyses, commentaries, and denouncements, of which the best are here, here, and here.
For more on North Korea, take a listen to The Daily’s Thursday episode, a conversation with Nicholas Kristof, a New York Times columnist who recently visited the communist country.
header image: "regional media day: 7/25/17," the white house / flickr