The Trump Administration’s Biggest Climate Lies

An aggressive disinformation campaign is borrowing from Big Tobacco’s playbook. Here’s what they’re feeding lawmakers.

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Scientists have been seriously investigating the subject of human-made climate change since the late 1950s and political leaders have been discussing it for nearly as long. In 1961, Alvin Weinberg, the director of the Oak Ridge National Laboratory, called carbon dioxide one of the “big problems” of the world “on whose solution the entire future of the human race depends.” Fast-forward nearly 30 years and, in 1992, President George H.W. Bush signed the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), promising “concrete action to protect the planet.”

Today, with Puerto Rico still recovering from Hurricane Maria and fires burning across California, we know that did not happen. Despite hundreds of scientific reports and assessments, tens of thousands of peer-reviewed scientific papers, and countless conferences on the issue, man-made climate change is now a living crisis on this planet. Universities, foundations, churches, and individuals have indeed divested from fossil-fuel companies and, led by a 16-year-old Swedish girl, citizens across the globe have taken to the streets to express their outrage. Children have refused to go to school on Fridays to protest the potential loss of their future. And if you need a measure of how long some of us have been at this, in December, the Conference of Parties to the UNFCCC will meet for the 25th time.

Scientists working on the issue have often told me that, once upon a time, they assumed, if they did their jobs, politicians would act upon the information. That, of course, hasn’t happened. Anything but, across much of the planet. Worse yet, science failed to have the necessary impact in significant part because of disinformation promoted by the major fossil-fuel companies, which have succeeded in diverting attention from climate change and successfully blocking meaningful action.


Much focus has been put on ExxonMobil’s history of disseminating disinformation, partly because of the documented discrepancies between what that company said in public about climate change and what its officials said (and funded) in private. Recently, a trial began in New York City accusing the company of misleading its investors, while Massachusetts is prosecuting ExxonMobil for misleading consumers as well.

If only it had just been that one company, but for more than 30 years, the fossil-fuel industry and its allies have denied the truth about anthropogenic global warming. They have systematically misled the American people and so purposely contributed to endless delays in dealing with the issue by, among other things, discounting and disparaging climate science, mispresenting scientific findings, and attempting to discredit climate scientists. These activities are documented in great detail in How Americans Were Deliberately Misled about Climate Change, a report I recently co-authored,as well as in my 2010 book and 2014 filmMerchants of Doubt.

A key aspect of the fossil-fuel industry’s disinformation campaign was the mobilization of “third-party allies”: organizations and groups with which it would collaborate and that, in some cases, it would be responsible for creating.

In the 1990s, these allied outfits included the Global Climate Coalition, the Cooler Heads Coalition, Informed Citizens for the Environment, and the Greening Earth Society. Like ExxonMobil, such groups endlessly promoted a public message of denial and doubt: that we weren’t really sure if climate change was happening; that the science wasn’t settled; that humanity could, in any case, readily adapt at a later date to any changes that did occur; and that addressing climate change directly would wreck the American economy. Two of these groups—Informed Citizens for the Environment and the Greening Earth Society—were, in fact, AstroTurf organizations, created and funded by a coal industry trade association but dressed up to look like grass-roots citizens’ action organizations.

Similar messaging was pursued by a network of think tanks promoting free market solutions to social problems, many with ties to the fossil-fuel industry. These included the George C. Marshall Institute, the Cato Institute, the Competitive Enterprise Institute, the American Enterprise Institute, and the Heartland Institute. Often their politically motivated contrarian claims were presented in formats that make them look like the scientific reports whose findings they were contradicting.

In 2009, for instance, the Cato Institute issued a report that precisely mimicked the format, layout, and structure of the government’s US National Climate Assessment. Of course, it made claims thoroughly at odds with the actual report’s science. The industry also promoted disinformation through its trade associations, including the American Legislative Exchange Council, the American Petroleum Institute, the US Chamber of Commerce, the National Black Chamber of Commerce, and the National Association of Manufacturers.

Both think tanks and trade organizations have been involved in personal attacks on the reputations of scientists. One of the earliest documented was on climate scientist Benjamin Santer at the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory who showed that the observed increase in global temperatures could not be attributed to increased solar radiation. He served as the lead author of the Second Assessment Report of the UN’s prestigious Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, or IPCC, responsible for the 1995 conclusion that “the balance of evidence suggests a discernible human impact on the climate system.” Santer became the target of a vicious, arguably defamatory attack by physicists from the George C. Marshall Institute and the Global Climate Coalition, who accused him of fraud. Other climate scientists, including Michael Mann, Jonathan Overpeck, Malcolm Hughes, Ray Bradley, Katharine Hayhoe, Kevin Trenberth, and, I should note, myself, have been subject to harassment, investigation, hacked emails, and politically motivated freedom-of-information attacks.

When it came to industry disinformation, the role of third-party allies was on full display at the House Committee on Oversight hearings on climate change in late October. As their sole witness, the Republicans on that committee invited Mandy Gunasekera, the founder and president of Energy45, a group whose purpose, in its own words, is to “support the Trump energy agenda.”

Energy45 is part of a group known, bluntly enough, as the CO2Coalition and is a perfect example of what I’ve long thought of as zombie denialism in which older players spouting industry arguments suddenly reappear in new forms. In this case, in the 1990s and early 2000s, the George C. Marshall Institute was a leader in climate-change disinformation. From 1974-1999, its director, William O’Keefe, had also been the executive vice president and later CEO of the American Petroleum Institute. The Marshall Institute itself closed in 2015, only to re-emerge a few years later as the CO2Coalition.

1) The misleading claim that climate change will be “mild and manageable.”There is no scientific evidence to support this. On the contrary, literally hundreds of scientific reports over the past few decades, including those US National Climate Assessments, have affirmed that any warming above 2 degrees Centigrade will lead to grave and perhaps catastrophic effects on “health, livelihoods, food security, water supply, human security, and economic growth.” The UN’s IPCC has recently noted that avoiding the worst impacts of global warming will “require rapid and far-reaching transitions in energy…infrastructure…and industrial systems.”

Recent events surrounding Hurricanes Sandy, Michael, Harvey, Maria, and Dorian, as well as the devastating wildfire at the ironically named town of Paradise, California, in 2018 and the fires across much of that state this fall, have shown that the impacts of climate change are already part of our lives and becoming unmanageable. Or if you want another sign of where this country is at this moment, consider a new report from the Army War College indicating that “the Department of Defense (DoD) is precariously unprepared for the national security implications of climate change-induced global security challenges.” And if the Pentagon isn’t prepared to manage climate change, it’s hard to imagine any part of the US government that might be.

2) The misleading claim that global prosperity is actually being driven by fossil fuels. No one denies that fossil fuels drove the Industrial Revolution and, in doing so, contributed substantively to rising living standards for hundreds of millions of people in Europe, North America, and parts of Asia. But the claim that fossil fuels are the essence of global prosperity today is, at best, a half-truth because what is at stake here isn’t the past but the future. Disruptive climate change fueled by greenhouse gas emissions from the use of oil, coal, and natural gas now threatens both the prosperity that parts of this planet have already achieved and future economic growth of just about any sort. Nicholas Stern, the former chief economist of the World Bank and one of the foremost experts on the economics of climate change, has put our situation succinctly this way: “High carbon growth self-destructs.”

3) A misleading claim that fossil fuels represent “cheap energy.” Fossil fuels are not cheap. When their external costs are included—that is, not just the price of extracting, distributing, and profiting from them, but what it will cost in all our lives once you add in the fires, extreme storms, flooding, health effects, and everything else that their carbon emissions into the atmosphere will bring about—they couldn’t be more expensive. The International Monetary Fund estimates that the cost to consumers above and beyond what we pay at the pump or in our electricity bills already comes to more than $5 trillion dollars annually. That’s trillion, not billion. Put another way, we are all paying a massive, largely unnoticed subsidy to the oil, gas, and coal industry to destroy our civilization. Among other things, those subsidies already “damage the environment, caus[e]… premature deaths through local air pollution, [and] exacerbat[e] congestion and other adverse side effects of vehicle use.”

4) A misleading claim about poverty and fossil fuels.That fossil fuels are the solution to the energy needs of the world’s poor is a tale being heavily promoted by ExxonMobil, among others. The idea that ExxonMobil is suddenly concerned about the plight of the global poor is, of course, laughable or its executives wouldn’t be planning (as they are) for significant increases in fossil-fuel production between now and 2030, while downplaying the threat of climate change. As Pope Francis, global justice leader Mary Robinson, and former UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon—as well as countless scientists and advocates of poverty reduction and global justice—have repeatedly emphasized, climate change will, above all, hurt the poor. It is they who will first be uprooted from their homes (and homelands); it is they who will be migrating into an increasingly hostile and walled-in world; it is they who will truly feel the heat, literal and figurative, of it all. A fossil-fuel company that cared about the poor would obviously not be committed, above all else, to pursuing a business model based on oil and gas exploration and development. The cynicism of this argument is truly astonishing.

Moreover, while it’s true that the poor need affordable energy, it is not true that they need fossil fuels.More than a billion people worldwide lack access (or, at least, reliable access) to electricity, but many of them also lack access to an electricity grid, which means fossil fuels are of little use to them. For such communities, solar and wind power are the only reasonable ways to go, the only ones that could rapidly and affordably be put in place and made available.

5) Misleading assertions about the costs of renewable energy. The cheap fossil fuel narrative is regularly coupled with misleading assertions about the allegedly high costs of renewable energy. According to Bloomberg News, however, in two-thirds of the world, solar is already the cheapest form of newly installed electricity generation, cheaper than nuclear, natural gas, or coal. Improvements in energy storage are needed to maximize the penetration of renewables, particularly in developed countries, but such improvements are happening quickly. Between 2010 and 2017, the price of battery storage decreased a startling 79 percent and most experts believe that, in the near future, many of the storage problems can and will be solved.

6) The false claim that, under President Trump, the United States has actually cut greenhouse gas emissions. Republicans have claimed not only that such emissions have fallen but that the United States under President Trump has done more to reduce emissions than any other country on the planet. One environmental reporter, who has described herself as “accustomed to hearing a lot of misinformation” about climate change, characterized this statement as “brazenly false.” In fact, US CO2 emissions spiked in 2018, increasing by 3.1 percent over 2017. Methane emissions are also on the rise and President Trump’s proposal to rollback methane standards will ensure that unhappy trend continues.


And by the way, when it comes to the oil companies, that’s just to start down a far longer list of misinformation and false claims they’ve been peddling for years. In our 2010 book, Merchants of Doubt, Erik Conway and I showed that the strategies and tactics used by Big Energy to deny the harm of fossil-fuel use were, in many cases, remarkably similar to those long used by the tobacco industry to deny the harm of tobacco use—and this was no coincidence. Many of the same PR firms, advertising agencies, and institutions were involved in both cases.

The tobacco industry was finally prosecuted by the Department of Justice, in part because of the ways in which the individual companies coordinated with each other and with third-party allies to present false information to consumers. Through congressional hearings and legal discovery, the industry was pegged with a wide range of activities it funded to mislead the American people. Something similar has occurred with Big Energy and the harm fossil fuels are doing to our lives, our civilization, our planet.

Still, a crucial question about the fossil-fuel industry remains to be fully explored: Which of its companies have funded the activities of the trade organizations and other third-party allies who deny the facts about climate change? In some cases, we already know the answers. In 2006, for instance, the Royal Society of the United Kingdo0m documented ExxonMobil’s funding of 39 organizations that promoted “inaccurate and misleading” views of climate science. The Society was able to identify $2.9 million spent to that end by that company in the year 2005 alone. That, of course, was just one year and clearly anything but the whole story.

Nearly all of these third-party allies are incorporated as 501(c)(3) institutions, which means they must be non-profit and nonpartisan. Often they claim to be involved in education (though miseducation would be the more accurate term). But they are clearly also involved in supporting an industry—Big Energy—that couldn’t be more for-profit and they have done many things to support what could only be called a partisan political agenda as well. After all, by its own admission, Energy45, to take just one example, exists to support the “Trump Energy Agenda.”

I’m an educator, not a lawyer, but as one I can say with confidence that the activities of these organizations are the opposite of educational. Typically, the Heartland Institute, for instance, has explicitly targeted schoolteachers with disinformation. In 2017, the institute sent a booklet to more than 200,000 of them, repeating the oft-cited contrarian claims that climate science is still a highly unsettled subject and that, even if climate change were occurring, it “would probably not be harmful.” Of this booklet, the director of the National Center for Science Education said, “It’s not science, but it’s dressed up to look like science. It’s clearly intended to confuse teachers.” The National Science Teaching Association has called it “propaganda” and advised teachers to place their copies in the recycling bin.

Yet, as much as we know about the activities of Heartland and other third-party allies of the fossil-fuel industry, because of loopholes in our laws we still lack basic information about who has funded and sustained them. Much of the funding at the moment still qualifies as “dark money.” Isn’t it time for citizens to demand that Congress investigate this network, as it and the Department of Justice once investigated the tobacco industry and its networks?

ExxonMobil loves to accuse me of being “an activist.” I am, in fact, a teacher and a scholar. Most of the time, I’d rather be home working on my next book, but that increasingly seems like less of an option when Big Energy’s climate-change scam is ongoing and our civilization is, quite literally, at stake. When citizens are inactive, democracy fails—and this time, if democracy fails, as burning California shows, so much else could fail as well. Science isn’t enough. The rest of us are needed. And we are needed now.

‘No more’: Trump says he’ll cut off federal funds to fight California wildfires


President Donald Trump said Sunday that he wants to cut off federal funds to fight wildfires raging across California, tweeting that Gov. Gavin Newsom should “get his act together” and properly manage the state’s forests.

Trump, in a series of tweets, lauded the efforts of firefighters but accused Newsom of catering to environmentalists instead of focusing on fire deterrence. He said he previously warned Newsom that the state must “clean” forest floors of incendiary debris.

“Every year, as the fire’s rage & California burns, it is the same thing-and then he comes to the Federal Government for $$$ help,” Trump said. “No more. Get your act together Governor. You don’t see close to the level of burn in other states.”

Newsom responded on Twitter that, since Trump does not believe in climate change, he is “excused from this conversation.”

‘It’s not an unsolvable problem’:PG&E and Southern California Edison have turned off power to minimize fires. It hasn’t worked. What will?

The federal government owns more than half of California’s forest land while most of the rest is privately owned. The state owns about 3%. Newsom issued a statement saying the U.S. Forest Service has twice this year reduced its forest management targets on its land in the state. Trump’s 2020 budget calls for more cuts in the hazardous fuels reduction account, Newsom added.

Last month, the governor signed a series of bills aimed at improving California’s wildfire prevention, mitigation and response efforts.

“We’re successfully waging war against thousands of fires started across the state in the last few weeks due to extreme weather created by climate change,” Newsom said, “while Trump is conducting a full on assault against the antidotes.”

A Cal Fire firefighter works on the Maria blaze in the hills near Ventura, Calif., on Nov. 1, 2019.

Trump has threatened to cut off firefighting funds before. In January he tweeted that “billions of dollars are sent to the State of California for Forest fires that, with proper Forest Management, would never happen. Unless they get their act together, which is unlikely, I have ordered FEMA to send no more money. It is a disgraceful situation in lives & money!”

Newsom responded then that he was working to modernize forest management, adding that “disasters and recovery are no time for politics.”

Trump administration rolls out final environmental review for Arctic Refuge oil leasing

Caribou graze on the coastal plain of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, with the Brooks Range as a backdrop. (USFWS)
Caribou graze on the coastal plain of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, with the Brooks Range as a backdrop. (USFWS)

Today, the Trump administration took one of the last necessary steps before it allows oil leasing in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.

The Interior Department has released its final environmental analysis for oil lease sales in the northernmost 1.6 million acres of the refuge, known as the coastal plain. The agency is expected to sign a final decision on oil leasing in the refuge in roughly 30 days.

In its final environmental impact statement, the agency selected a preferred option that would give oil companies the chance to express interest in close to the entirety of the refuge’s coastal plain.

Interior had proposed alternatives with tighter restrictions, including one that would put hundreds of thousands of acres off limits to help protect caribou habitat.

Still, during a call with reporters, Bureau of Land Management Alaska State Director Chad Padgett said he believes the agency’s preferred choice would strike the right balance between economic development and protecting the environment.

“I’m confident that we are on track to do what Congress has asked us to do in a safe and balanced way, that advances the president’s goals of job creation and energy independence with the minimal impact to the area,” Padgett said.

There are restrictions to how oil companies can develop in the area under the preferred alternative, including limitations on how much surface area can be covered by infrastructure.

But environmental groups immediately condemned Interior’s analysis, calling it a “sham.”

In an interview, Susan Culliney with Audubon Alaska said she isn’t surprised the Trump administration’s preference is to try to maximize the amount of land available for oil leasing:

“No matter how you cut it, we don’t think oil drilling belongs in the Arctic Refuge, but this is a particularly bad way to do it,” Culliney said.

The issue has long been hugely controversial, and following Congress’ vote to allow drilling in the refuge in 2017, Interior’s push to make it happen has been tumultuous.

An effort to allow early-stage oil exploration in the refuge last winter stalled. Joe Balash, the Interior official spearheading the effort to hold a lease sale, recently left the Trump administration to take a job at an oil company.

And today, the U.S. House of Representatives passed a bill that would once again block oil development in ANWR. That legislation is largely symbolic, as it has little chance of passing the Republican-led Senate. Still, it sends a strong signal regarding Democrats’ position on drilling in the refuge ahead of next year’s presidential election.

Alaska’s political leaders condemned the House bill and praised the release of the environmental review.

“I’m hopeful we can now move to a lease sale in the very near future, just as Congress intended, so that we can continue to strengthen our economy, our energy security, and our long-term prosperity,” said Sen. Lisa Murkowski, who played a pivotal role in passing the legislation that allowed for oil development in ANWR.

Arctic Slope Regional Corporation, an Alaska Native corporation with a significant stake in potential oil development on the coastal plain, also welcomed the release.

“We are encouraged the Department heard our voices and incorporated our concerns into the final EIS. We look forward to a successful lease sale and strongly believe exploration and production can incorporate cultural and environmental protections while providing for the nation’s energy security,” ASRC said in a statement.

Neets’aii Gwich’in leaders from Alaska Native communities south of the refuge, who have long opposed drilling there, accused the Interior Department of downplaying potential impacts.

“Any impacts to the Porcupine Caribou Herd from changes in migration patterns, lower fertility rates, and loss of habitat will have significant adverse social, cultural, spiritual, and subsistence impacts on our people,” Native Village of Venetie Tribal Government First Chief Margorie Gemmill said in a statement. “This process must be stopped.”

With the release of the final environmental review, leaders at Trump’s Interior Department reiterated that they aim to let oil companies bid on land in ANWR’s coastal plain before the end of the year.

With the Gears of Impeachment Finally Grinding, the Hard Part Begins

Now that House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has enough votes in hand to open an official impeachment inquiry into the rogue presidency of Donald Trump, it is worthwhile to contemplate what got us here, or more specifically, what didn’t.

Meticulously documented cases of Trump obstructing justice didn’t get us here, nor did his ongoing violations of the emoluments clause, his ongoing policy of caging separated children in concentration camps, his Muslim ban, his public embrace of racism and fascist white nationalism, his frontal assault on the climate, his serial assaults on women, his 12,000 bald-faced lies, or his documented hush money payments to hide his infidelities.

A strong argument can be made that impeachment in this situation is unavoidable because seeking foreign assistance in disrupting an election is a serious matter, as is undertaking a cover-up of those activities. The circumstances here are clear-cut and unequivocal, while the other gross violations of the public trust are harder to explain in 30-second coughs of television to an audience riddled with its own racism and misogyny. Ukraine is an easy layup by comparison. In the atomized, bubble-infested media landscape we endure, “easy” is not to be sneezed at in this circumstance.

Because of this, impeaching Trump does not mean justice will be served for all who have been harmed by the illegal and immoral actions of this administration. In point of fact, there is no guarantee that Trump will even be impeached at all. If he is impeached, his removal from office is even less likely.

Speaker Pelosi currently has 223 votes to open an inquiry, but only 27 House members have said they will actually vote to impeach. That number is certain to rise as more damning information is gathered and disclosed, but until the number of committed impeachment votes reaches 218, the deal is not sealed.

Assuming the evidence in combination with Pelosi’s vote-wrangling prowess compels the House to cross that 218-vote threshold, impeachment will still not mean removal from office. If Trump is impeached in the House, the process will move to a trial in the Senate, where Sen. Mitch McConnell holds sway over a Republican majority that has stood stoutly with Trump through every scandal so far.

If Senator McConnell even allows a Senate trial to take place at all, there must be 67 votes to convict for Trump to be officially removed from office. Currently, the Senate is comprised of 53 Republicans, 45 Democrats and two Independents who caucus with them. If every Democrat and Independent votes to convict — hardly a guarantee in a chamber that contains Joe Manchin — 18 Republicans will have to join them for removal to be achieved.

This would seem on its face to be a bridge way too far, but the rumblings of Republican discontent over the Ukraine revelations are not insignificant. We are into the third year of the GOP playing the role of broom man behind Trump’s excrement-filled elephant parade, and enough “Yes” votes would solve a lot of problems for the party.

“These Senate Republicans are going to be pinned down to a yes-no answer,” long-time GOP insider Mike Murphy told MSNBC’s Andrea Mitchell on Wednesday. “And if they provide cover to Donald Trump for this, a clear violation of his role as president, we’re going to lose [the Senate seat in] Colorado with Cory Gardner. We’re going to lose Maine with Susan Collins. We’re going to lose Arizona with Martha McSally. And the Democrats will put the Senate very much in play.”

“One Republican senator told me if it was a secret vote, 30 Republican senators would vote to impeach Trump,” Murphy then confided. It was a telling revelation regarding the level of exhaustion Republicans are feeling after allowing Trump to take over their party. In the end, however, these people are proven cowards. The Senate vote, should the process reach that point, will be very public. To paraphrase Robert Frost, that makes all the difference.

It was unyielding public pressure that got us to this point — there is little doubt Speaker Pelosi would ignore the Ukraine scandal along with the others if she could, but she can’t — and it will be public pressure that makes any proceeding in the Senate more than a show trial. Disquiet within Republican ranks is very real, and the issue at hand is so starkly simple that even those artful dodgers may not be able to do their standard duck and cover routine for long if the pressure remains high.

Some have already begun voicing concerns that Trump is relishing this fight, that he will turn it to his advantage in a way that guarantees his election. But his behavior, and the behavior of his allies, do not paint a portrait of a happy man.

On Thursday, Trump bluntly threatened the life of the whistleblower and the lives of the witnesses who were present for, and then voiced deep concerns over, Trump’s call with the Ukraine president. His personal attorney, Rudy Giuliani, had a full-fledged meltdown on Wednesday after the whistleblower report was made public. “When this is over, I will be the hero!” he raged to The Atlantic’s Elania Plott. “Anything I did should be praised.”

Meanwhile, public support for impeachment continues to grow.

Whatever the outcome, there is undeniable merit in the effort, even as that effort fails to address Trump’s other numerous — and more severe — transgressions against the office he holds and the people he is supposed to serve. At the end of the day, Trump has finally heard the word “No,” and neither he nor his people are enjoying the taste of it. That will suffice for the moment, but the hard part has only just begun.

Final Plan for Arctic Refuge Drilling Could Cause Extinctions, Admits Government

The decision to open the refuge’s entire coastal plain to development, combined with climate change, ‘may result in extinction’ for some birds.


By Andy McGlashenAssociate Editor, Audubon Magazine

September 17, 2019

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The U.S. Department of the Interior last week took a major step toward the first-ever oil drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. In a decision that outraged but did not surprise environmentalists, the agency announced its final plan to develop one of the world’s last great wildernesses, acknowledging that its chosen course might wipe out some bird species and harm other animals that make their home on the pristine reserve.

The Trump administration had multiple options when planning to open the 19.3 million-acre sanctuary to drillers. After Republicans in Congress and President Trump directed Interior in 2017 to create a leasing plan for the refuge’s 1.5 million-acre coastal plain, the department laid out three possible scenarios for energy development there. But on Thursday, Interior Secretary David Bernhardt announced that the department’s Bureau of Land Management (BLM) had chosen the most extreme plan, one that makes the entire coastal plain eligible for leasing and comes with the fewest restrictions on industry’s footprint.

Such an aggressive approach, the BLM acknowledged in its final environmental impact statement, combined with the effects of climate change, could drive birds to extinction, as E&E News first reported. Species that nest in the refuge “already are experiencing decreasing populations, and many could suffer catastrophic consequences from the effects of global climate change in one or more of their seasonal continental or even global habitats,” the document says. “These effects combined with development-related impacts across the ranges of many bird species may result in extinction during the 85-year scope of this analysis.”

Some 200 bird species rely on the refuge, including hardy year-round residents like American Dipper, Gyrfalcon, and Rock and Willow Ptarmigan. The area fills with birdlife each summer, including migrants from every U.S. state and six continents, such as Red-throated Loon, Buff-breasted Sandpiper, Whimbrel, and the federally threatened Steller’s and Spectacled Eider.

According to the BLM report, development could require energy companies to pump out large volumes from the coastal plain’s limited water bodies, resulting in food and habitat loss for loons and other waterbirds. Additional species could lose nesting habitat to roads and other infrastructure, and a variety of birds will likely be injured or killed in collisions with drilling rigs, communications towers, and vehicles.

Birds are far from the only wildlife with habitat at stake on the coastal plain, a strip of tundra, rivers, and wetlands wedged between the Brooks Range foothills and the Beaufort Sea. Federally threatened polar bears, which nurture their cubs in dens along its rivers and shoreline, will likely be killed as interactions with humans become more common, the impact statement says. Caribou migrate hundreds of miles each spring to give birth on the plain, where there’s plenty to eat, sea winds to keep mosquitoes at bay, and few predators to threaten their calves. With new development, they might find less food there, and are more likely to die in vehicle collisions, among other impacts noted by the BLM.

Spectacled Eiders are among some 200 bird species that rely on the Arctic Refuge. Photo: Danita Delimont/Alamy

While the impact statement mentions some potential threats to wildlife, many experts believe it is not explicit enough when addressing the potential risks and even likelihood of extinction for a variety of species. “Oil and gas infrastructure in the Arctic Refuge, when considered in conjunction with climate change, poses an existential risk to several Arctic bird species,” said Audubon Alaska in a press release. Moreover, choosing such an aggressive development plan despite the toll it will take on wildlife “just goes to show how far this administration is willing to go to extract oil and gas, even in what should be a protected area,” says Susan Culliney, the group’s policy director.

In several high-stakes fights over the past 50 years, advocates for preserving this rare expanse of untouched wild have prevailed over the oil companies, Alaskan politicians, and native corporations that have pursued drilling. Political headwinds—produced in part by the public outrage after the 1989 Exxon Valdez oil spill in Alaska—have blocked past attempts to open the refuge. A bill to do so made it through Congress in 1995, but President Bill Clinton vetoed it. Democrats and some Republicans have voted to stop other such efforts. A 2017 Yale University poll found that 70 percent of Americans oppose drilling in the refuge.

But that dynamic shifted in December of 2017, when Republicans in Congress, backed by the administration’s call for “energy dominance,” tucked into a tax bill a provision to establish a fossil-fuel leasing program on the refuge’s coastal plain. Sometimes referred to as the 1002 Area, the coastal plain is considered the ecological heart of the refuge, but federal scientists estimate that it also sits atop 7.7 billion barrels of recoverable oil. The bill gave Interior until 2021 to conduct the first of at least two lease sales, each offering 400,000 or more acres. Department officials have pledged to hold that initial sale this year.

One reason for the aggressive timeline is to give industry a foot in the refuge’s door during President Trump’s first term, since having leases in place would complicate a future administration’s efforts to block drilling there, U.S. Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) said last year.

As a result, the regulatory process—typically measured and deliberate—has been rushed, confusing, and even misleading, according to reports from federal agency employees. A comprehensive review for any leasing program over such a large area would typically take two or three years. But the administration compressed that timeline: The draft environmental impact statement was published last December, only eight months after the review began. Investigations have found that, in its hurry, Interior omitted relevant information, and even altered reports from career scientists to downplay potential environmental impacts. And the rush for leasing this year didn’t leave time for seismic testing to give energy companies an idea of where oil deposits most likely exist, which can only happen when the tundra is frozen.

On Thursday, Interior Secretary David Bernhardt called the final environmental impact statement “a big step to carry out the clear mandate we received from Congress to develop and implement a leasing program for the Coastal Plain, a program the people of Alaska have been seeking for over 40 years.”

Energy development in the Arctic Refuge will likely harm polar bears and other wildlife. Photo: Steven J. Kazlowski/Alamy

Many Alaskans support drilling in the refuge—perhaps not surprising in a place where, over the past four decades, oil revenue has averaged about 85 percent of the state budget—but questions linger around the purported economic benefits of doing so. The Congressional Budget Office estimates that lease sales would generate only half of the $1.8 trillion in revenues claimed by the Trump administration. More recently, a New York Times analysis found that sales may generate just $45 million across the entire coastal plain.

Although some Alaska Natives advocate tapping into the oil reserves, the Gwich’in people have been outspoken opponents. They live outside the refuge but hold sacred the Porcupine caribou herd that migrates there each spring, and subsist by hunting the animals. The plan announced last week “demonstrates that this administration and the Alaska delegation will disregard our way of life, our food, and our relationship with the land, the caribou, and future generations to pander to industry greed,” said Bernadette Demientieff, executive director of the Gwich’in Steering Committee, in a statement.

Even before the administration’s plan was announced, there was pushback on Capitol Hill. Hours earlier, the House of Representatives passed a bill to prohibit energy development in the refuge. A companion bill was introduced in the Senate on Wednesday, but it stands little chance of passing the Republican-majority chamber where pro-drilling Alaska Sen. Lisa Murkowski holds the powerful chairmanship of the Energy and Natural Resources Committee. “I’m hopeful we can now move to a lease sale in the very near future, just as Congress intended,” Murkowski said in a statement, “so that we can continue to strengthen our economy, our energy security, and our long-term prosperity.”

Environmental groups, meanwhile, are gearing up to fight the plan in the courts. While the plan is final, Interior still needs to issue a formal record of decision, expected in about a month. Once it does so, lawsuits will certainly follow, as they did when the Trump administration lifted protections from national monuments and gutted the Migratory Bird Treaty Act, the Endangered Species Act, and other environmental laws and regulations.

The plan is “categorically illegal,” said Jamie Rappaport Clark, president and CEO of Defenders of Wildlife, in a press release. “We will not tolerate the administration’s brazen attempt to paper over the impacts of this disastrous proposal, and we will see them in court for this reckless effort to turn this iconic American landscape into an industrial oilfield.”

Are We About to Attack Iran?

John Bolton is gone from the White House, yet war with Iran is suddenly imminent. I had begun to believe irony was dead.

“[Bolton] calls for the preemptive bombing of Iran with dreary regularity during his many Fox News appearances,” I wrote after he became Donald Trump’s national security adviser in March of 2018, “and has labored for years to arrange the proper set of circumstances that would allow Tehran to be rendered into a pile of rubble.”

I was actually foolish enough to indulge in a brief moment of optimism after Bolton was unceremoniously shown the door last week. There was talk of Secretary of State Mike Pompeo taking on Bolton’s role like some dual use neo-Kissinger, but that idea guttered out quickly. Trump could replace Bolton with Ghidorah the Three-Headed Monster, I told myself, and war with Iran — the issue over which Bolton reportedly lost his gig — would still be less likely. It felt like a tiny reprieve in a chaotic age.

Yemen’s Houthi rebels claimed responsibility on Saturday for drone attacks on the crown jewel of Saudi Arabia’s petroleum empire: the Abqaiq oil facility, the centerpiece of Saudi Arabia’s petroleum infrastructure, which sits astride the massive Hijra Khurais oil field. Secretary of State Pompeo immediately accused Iran of direct involvement in the attack. On Monday afternoon, Saudi Arabia claimed that Iranian weapons were used in the attack. Iran has vehemently denied the accusation.

Oil markets reeled as news of the attack spread. In a world that runs on fossil fuels, the attack was the equivalent of a punch in the heart.

Approximately 100 million barrels of oil are burned globally each day. With a stroke, the drones wiped out nearly six percent of the oil that is globally consumed, and a price hike is almost certain to follow. How high and for how long will depend upon the speed with which Saudi Arabia can repair the facility. After the attack, smoke from the fires at Abqaiq could be seen from space, and the rebels have warned of further attacks to come against Saudi Arabia’s petroleum centers.

Think of it as Saudi Arabia’s 9/11, but without the enormous death toll. The U.S. was hit in the money when the Twin Towers were attacked, causing enormous financial disruption. By hitting Abqaiq, the attackers hit Saudi Arabia in its petroleum breadbasket.

The Abqaiq attack and 9/11 are both examples of a far less powerful group striking back at an aggressor at a vulnerable, sensitive point of weakness. The Houthi rebels have been at the receiving end of a brutal war Saudi Arabia has been waging in Yemen since 2015. Some 90,000 Yemeni civilians have been killed by weapons sold to Saudi Arabia by the U.S., and the U.S. has stood solidly by its staunch regional ally amid howls of international outrage over the ongoing carnage.

Saudi Arabia has been accused of deliberate atrocities during the Yemen war, such as targeting civilians at hospitals, weddings and marketplaces, and in one notable instance, a bus filled with children. The U.S., for its own part, spent years before 9/11 raining bombs and fire on various portions of the Middle East.

Pompeo was immediately out of the gate on Saturday with statements about possessing “intelligence” that confirms Iran’s role in the attack, but failed to provide it to the press. Trump, ever the balanced internationalist, tweeted that the U.S. military is “locked and loaded depending on verification.”

This is particularly worrisome because relations with Iran are already disastrously bad. During the period when Bolton enjoyed actual influence as Trump’s Shiny New Thing, the U.S.’s poor relationship with Iran deteriorated noticeably. Over the course of Bolton’s time in the White House, the Trump administration bailed on a nuclear treaty with Iran that was working, and tried to turn an incident in which oil tankers were attacked into casus belli for a war. Bolton wanted to cry havoc after a U.S. drone was shot down in the region back in June, but Trump did not let that dog off the leash.

That drone incident was the moment Trump and Bolton’s relationship began to deteriorate. That relationship went into a death spiral after Trump suggested opening talks with Iran about its nuclear program and other issues. Bolton, of course, hated the idea because peace with Iran would put a final end to his lifelong dream of wiping that nation off the map.

With such talks now in serious doubt, the idea of an Iran summit has transformed into a bitter point of contention between the president and the media. In the aftermath of the Abqaiq attack, news outlets pointed out that Trump has twice said he would meet with Iranian leaders with “no conditions,” an assertion later confirmed by Pompeo.

“The Fake News is saying that I am willing to meet with Iran, ‘No Conditions,’” Trump rage-tweeted on Saturday. “That is an incorrect statement (as usual!).” On Monday, when asked in the Oval Office about the potential for war with Iran, Trump unspooled yet another one of his verbal blue-plate specials for the assembled media.

“Because we were in a position where with a certain country, I won’t say which one, we may have had conflict,” Trump said, for reasons no one can quite explain. “And he said to me, sir, if you could delay it because we’re very low on ammunition. And I said, you know what, general, I never want to hear that again from another general. So we are very high on ammunition now. That is a story I’ve never told before. Breaking news. But we were very low. I could even say it stronger. I don’t want to say no ammunition but that gets a lot closer.”

Nothing like steady, focused leadership in a crisis, right? Please let me know when you see some, c/o Truthout’s general mailbox.

“In short: it’s all super unclear,” writes Jack Crosbie for Splinter News, “but the president’s public vow to bomb whoever Saudi Arabia tells us to is not reassuring. The Saudis are perfectly capable of fighting their own battles — we’ve sold them more than enough weaponry — but Trump’s stance throughout the crisis has been that, essentially, the U.S. military stands by to defend our favorite brutal authoritarian theocracy at any cost.”

If Trump does commit the U.S. to a war in Iran on behalf of Saudi Arabia, it would unsurprisingly be one of the worst calamities of an administration made of calamities. The only surprise here is the fact that John Bolton will have to watch it all on his flat-screen at home, or from the office of his now-anti-Trump super PAC. Maybe irony has a pulse after all.

Green new ride: 2020ers race toward an electric car future.

Trump haeas other ids.

The candidates’ proposals set up a clash with the president, who has mocked electric cars and tried to deregulate the industry to allow vehicles to pollute more.
Image: Dem's Green New ride

Adrian Lam / NBC News

Green new ride: 2020ers race toward an electric car future. Trump has other ideas.

The candidates’ proposals set up a clash with the president, who has mocked electric cars and tried to deregulate the industry to allow vehicles to pollute more.
Image: Dem's Green New ride

Adrian Lam / NBC News

Trump Auctions Off 150,000 Acres of Public Lands for Fracking Near Utah National Parks


Arches National Park. Chris Dodds / Flickr / CC BY-SA 2.0

Dozens of Utahns gathered at the state Capitol to protest the lease sale, which included lands within 10 miles of internationally known protected areas. In addition to Arches and Canyonlands, the Bureau of Land Management leased public lands for fracking near Bears Ears, Canyons of the Ancients and Hovenweep national monuments and Glen Canyon National Recreation Area.

“Utahns have demonstrated their commitment to transition away from dirty fossil fuels through clean energy resolutions passed in municipalities across our state. Yet, these commitments continue to be undermined by rampant oil and gas lease sales, which threaten our public health, public lands, and economy. While Utah’s recreational and tourism economies continue to flourish, these attempts to develop sacred cultural, environmental, and recreational spaces for dirty fuels remain a grave and growing threat.” said Ashley Soltysiak, director of the Utah Sierra Club. “Utah is our home and the reckless sale of our public lands with limited public engagement is simply unacceptable and short-sighted.”

Fracking in these areas threatens sensitive plants and animals, including the black-footed ferret, Colorado pikeminnow, razorback sucker and Graham’s beardtongue. It also will worsen air pollution problems in the Uinta Basin and use tremendous amounts of groundwater. Utah just experienced its driest year in recorded history.

“This is a reckless fire sale of spectacular public lands for dirty drilling and fracking,” said Ryan Beam, a public lands campaigner at the Center for Biological Diversity. “These red-rock wonderlands are some of the West’s most iconic landscapes, and we can’t afford to lose a single acre. Fracking here will waste precious water, foul the air and destroy beautiful wild places that should be held in trust for generations to come.”

“BLM’s shortsighted decision threatens Utah’s red rock wilderness as well as significant cultural and archaeological resources,” said Landon Newell, staff attorney with the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance. “BLM’s ‘lease everything, lease everywhere’ approach to oil and gas development needlessly threatens iconic red-rock landscapes and irreplaceable cultural history in the ill-conceived push for ‘energy dominance.'”

Fracking destroys public lands and wildlife habitat with networks of fracking wells, compressor stations, pipelines and roads. Injecting toxic wastewater into the ground pollutes rivers and groundwater and causes earthquakes that damage infrastructure and property. Oil industry activities also pollute the air with dangerous toxins linked to human illness and death. The federal government’s own report shows that oil and gas production on public land contributes significantly to U.S. greenhouse gas emissions.

Kara Clauser / Center for Biological Diversity

The next target in the climate-change debate: your gas stove

WASHINGTON/LOS ANGELES (Reuters) – Dozens of cities in liberal-leaning states such as California, Washington, and Massachusetts are studying proposals to ban or limit the use of natural gas in commercial and residential buildings. The movement opens a new front in the fight against climate change that could affect everything from heating systems in skyscrapers to stoves in suburban homes.

Berkeley, California, in July became the first U.S. city to pass an ordinance banning gas systems in new buildings, and it may soon be followed by many others, according to interviews with local officials, activists and industry groups. Los Angeles and Seattle are among those considering laws that could drastically reduce natural gas consumption.

“Berkeley is the opening salvo,” said Bruce Nilles, managing director of think tank Rocky Mountain Institute’s building electrification program.

Local officials and environmentalists cite mounting evidence that unburned gas leaking from pipes and compressor stations harms the climate more than carbon dioxide, the byproduct of burned fossil fuels.

Many environmentalists until recently considered natural gas a “bridge fuel” to a future of renewable energy because gas burns cleaner than oil or coal. Now local officials are stepping into what they call a federal regulatory void under the administration of President Donald Trump, who argues fossil-fuel restrictions needlessly damage the economy.

Residential and commercial buildings account for about 12% of U.S. greenhouse gas emissions, according to the Environmental Protection Agency. They are also crucial to natural gas sales: Direct gas consumption amounted to about 8.45 trillion cubic feet in 2018, rivaling the 10.63 tcf used by utilities to power the grid, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA).

If gas bans in buildings become widespread, they could upend the business models of some of the world’s biggest energy companies, which are investing billions of dollars to produce and ship more natural gas on the belief the fuel will play a key role in the transition to a cleaner energy economy. Big gas producers including Exxon Mobil here (XOM.N), Shell here (RDSa.L), and BP here (BP.N), argue gas improves the environment by replacing dirtier fuels such as coal.

Natural gas companies alarmed by the trend are pushing back with ad campaigns and research promoting gas as a superior cooking fuel and an affordable option in a country that has become the world’s top gas producer.

“We are trying to get ahead of it,” said Stuart Saulters, the Director of Government Affairs of the American Public Gas Association. “We think there is a chance this can domino.”

Climate Crisis Weekly: Trump no-show at G7 climate change meeting, Amazon forest fires, Great Barrier Reef in a ‘very poor’ state

  • Donald Trump skips the G7 climate change meeting in France.
  • More repercussions — both good and bad — from the Amazon forest fires.
  • Thousands of fires are also burning in central Africa, but it’s not quite the same as the Amazon.
  • Climate activists will fly drones at London Heathrow to pressure the UK government to reduce emissions.
  • The Great Barrier Reef is rated as being in a ‘very poor’ state in a new report.
  • And more…

A friend’s young son said to her yesterday about the state of our environment: “There’s a hurricane coming to Florida and the rain forest is on fire. This is horrible!” It’s been one heckuva tough week for the Earth’s environment.

So let’s kick off the Climate Crisis Weekly with a quick look back at the G7 meeting in Saint-Jean-de-Luz, France. The crucial climate change, biodiversity, and oceans meeting was held on Monday, and world leaders discussed how to reduce carbon emissions and the Amazon rain forest fires, among other issues.

But not everyone attended the meeting. See that empty chair above, between the Egyptian and Chilean presidents? That’s Donald Trump’s chair. Trump said he couldn’t go because he had meetings scheduled with Angela Merkel and Narendra Modi, but the German and Indian leaders were both at the climate change meeting. (That’s Merkel’s hand on the far right.) Trump’s aides went to the meeting without him.

Trump described himself at the G7 as an “environmentalist” who cares about “clean air, clean water.” (In the Paris agreement naysayer’s latest move, he deregulated highly polluting methane emissionsin the US on Thursday, but hey.)

CNN’s Chris Cillizza had a theory about Trump’s no-show:

He didn’t decide he wanted to meet with staff from the governments of India and Germany. He just didn’t want to go. He didn’t want to sit around and be, in his mind, lectured by foreign leaders about how he needs to think and feel about the issue.

U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres expressed hope that the American people would do what its president won’t:

I am very optimistic about American society and its capacity to deliver in relation to climate action. What matters here is to have a strong engagement of the American society and of the American business community and the American local authorities.

The G7 countries pledged $20 million to fight the Amazon rain forest fires at the climate change meeting. It’s not a huge sum, but they hoped it would bring more attention to the crisis. However, Brazilian president Jair Bolsonaro rejected the money over a bunfight with French president Emmanuel Macron (and he then hinted at a reversal). Bolsonaro announced a ban of fire to clear land for 60 days on Thursday.

And in a weird twist, Trump’s love of trade threats had a positive knock-on effect in EU discussions with Brazil, according to Time:

President Trump’s destruction of trade norms may have cleared the way for a powerful new weapon in the fight as countries increasingly crack down on rogue climate counterparts.

As tens of thousands of fires engulfed the Amazon, the European Union threatened to block a landmark trade deal with Brazil and ban imports of Brazilian beef if the country’s right-wing leader, Jair Bolsonaro, didn’t act. Within days of the threat, and as G7 leaders prepared to discuss the matter in France, Bolsonaro buckled, abandoning his passive approach to the crisis and sending more than 40,000 troops to fight the fires.

There was another interesting side effect of the horrific Amazon fires. Search engine Ecosia partners with Microsoft’s Bing and “donates 80% of the revenue it makes from search ads to planting trees.” According to Business Insider, Ecosia saw a 1,150% increase in downloads on August 22 in response to the Amazon fires. Ecosia’s daily download is around 20,000, and on that day, it was around 250,000. Ecosia works with tree planters in Brazil; they have their work cut out for them.

And finally, it’s not just the forest and the animals who are affected by the fires. The indigenous tribes are suffering, too. The tribes near the Xingu River (an Amazon tributary) released a message saying they will fight for the forest. (Learn more about the tribes here):

We are going to resist for our way of living, to produce without destroying, for the future of our children and grandchildren, for the planet.

Lillys Plastic Pickup@lillyspickup

Share this message everywhere- they are in the fight for their lives

Embedded video

64.4K people are talking about this

And finally, to see footage of the Amazon destruction’s aftermath, head over to our sister-site DroneDJ, who posted a Guardian video taken by a drone.

Nasa’s Fire Information for Resource Management System map (be warned, it looks shockingly red) shows nearly five times as many fires burning in central Africa than in South America. Deliberately set, controlled fires have been a part of agriculture in central Africa for millennia. But as the Independent explains, a “lack of traditional grasslands is driving increased slash-and-burn clearing of forests in parts of Africa, and therefore concerns are growing.”

CNN urges readers to exercise caution when it comes to being alarmed about the fires in Zambia, Angola, and the Democratic Republic of the Congo — they call it “comparing apples to oranges.” They point out that the controlled fires can increase soil quality, and that satellite data doesn’t give the cause or type of fire. But, as Macron said on Twitter in so many words, it’s definitely something to keep an eye on.

OK, back to drones. Climate activist group Heathrow Pause says they are going to fly toy drones to disrupt London Heathrow Airport from September 13. It’s “a step they hope will ground flights and put pressure on the government to take tougher steps to reduce carbon emissions,” Reuters reports.

The Heathrow Pause group said it would fly toy drones within a 5 km (3.1 mile) restricted zone around the airport but outside the flight paths of the airport, a step the group said would force the airport to ground flights.

“This is a symbolic action, using a legal loophole and participants’ self-sacrifice to draw attention to the most serious and urgent crisis humanity has ever faced,” the group said.

“The government’s inaction on climate change, and the looming catastrophe of airport expansion, gives us no choice and compels us to act.”

A Heathrow spokesperson replied: “We agree with the need to act on climate change. This is a global issue that requires constructive engagement and action. Committing criminal offenses and disrupting passengers is counterproductive.”

The Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority (GBRMPA) has downgraded Australia’s Great Barrier Reef’s outlook from “poor” to “very poor” in its latest report, according to the BBC. This is due to warming waters as a result of human-driven climate change. The GBRMPA produces the report every five years.

The 1,400-mile (2,300-km) reef is a World Heritage site. There were mass coral-bleaching events in 2016 and 2017.

Addressing reporters in Sydney, the GBRMPA’s chief scientist, David Wachenfeld, agreed the reef’s problems were ‘largely driven by climate change.

‘Despite that, with the right mix of local actions to improve the resilience of the system and global actions to tackle climate change in the strongest and fastest way possible, we can turn that around,’ he added.

Guess we loved bottlenose dolphins just a little too much.

New Zealand’s government has banned people from swimming with bottlenose dolphins in the North Island’s Bay of Islands region. “Human interaction was ‘having a significant impact on the population’s resting and feeding behavior,’” according to New Zealand’s Department of Conservation (DoC) [via the Guardian].

“Their numbers in the Bay of Islands have declined by 66% since 1990,” according to the DoC. There is also a 75% mortality rate among their calves, the highest in New Zealand, internationally, and in captivity.

Tourists can still swim with common or dusky dolphins in tours operated in the South Island.

Eylul Tekin, a research assistant for Clever, analyzed data from the Notre Dame Global Adaptation Initiative (ND-GAIN) to see which cities should be most worried about climate crisis.

Her findings? “The cities that are most vulnerable to climate disasters happen to also be the least prepared for managing those catastrophes,” according to an article in Mother Jones. Further:

The poorer the city, the higher its vulnerability to climate change, and the lower its preparedness for those impacts.

Madison, Wisconsin, was the most prepared, and the least prepared cities included Hialeah, Florida; Santa Ana, California; Miami; and Newark, New Jersey. That’s pretty worrying, seeing how an increasingly powerful Hurricane Dorian is headed for south Florida.

To see all of Tekin’s charts, visit the article.

Check out our past editions of Climate Crisis Weekly.