Opinion | I Am Watching My Planet, My Home, Die – By Margaret Renkl – The New York Times

By 

Contributing Opinion Writer

Credit…Damon Winter/The New York Times

“NASHVILLE — I was writing a love letter to autumn and its perfect miracle of timing — the way berries ripen just as songbirds migrate through berry-filled forests — when the songbirds suddenly began to die. With no warning at all, thousands and thousands of birds, possibly millions of birds, were simply falling out of the sky.

It’s not yet clear why the birds were dying — smoke from the wildfires on the West Coast? an unseasonable cold snap? the prolonged drought? — but whatever its immediate reason, the die-off was almost certainly related to climate change or some other human-wrought hazard. Every possible explanation for the birds’ deaths leads back to our own choices.

We think of songbirds as indicator species — so sensitive to environmental disruptions that they serve as an early warning of trouble. But the fact that the environment has become increasingly inhospitable to songbirds — and to human beings — is only one measure of a planet under life-threatening stress.

The earth is getting measurably hotter, each year breaking records set the year before, while Arctic sea ice continues to thinWildfires are growing hotter, more frequent, more widespread and more deadly. Northeastern forests are sick. Our oceans are full of plastic. The world’s largest wetland is on fire, and the Amazon rainforest is on its way to becoming a savanna. The pandemic that has paralyzed global life is itself the manifestation of a disordered relationship between human beings and the natural world.

None of this is new. We’ve seen it all happening, worsening with every passing year, for decades now. Any chance of reversing climate change is long since gone, and the climate will inevitably continue to warm. The question now is only how much it will warm, how terrible we will let it become.

There are days when I lose all hope, when it feels as if the only thing left to do is to sit quietly and bear witness to all that will soon be gone: the rain forests and the tidal estuaries, the redwood forests and the Arctic sea ice, the grasslands and the coral reefs. Every wild place and every living thing that wild places harbor, all gone. I held my father’s hand as he died, and I held my mother’s hand as she died, and now it feels as though I am watching my planet die, too.

But that isn’t how I feel most days. On most days I am still fighting as hard as I can possibly fight, living as lightly on the earth as I can manage. The only other option is surrender.

But personal responsibility isn’t going to save the planet by itself. Saving the earth at this late date will also require us to reform the entire global economy. It will require government regulation. It will require industry innovation. It will require companies to invest in the very planet they have been profiting from.

None of that can happen in a country governed by “leaders” in thrall to the fossil fuel industry. Instead of getting serious about climate change, Republicans have run headfirst into the fire, repealing or weakening nearly 100 existing environmental protections. Those changes alone, if left to stand, will add 1.8 billion metric tons of greenhouse gases to the atmosphere by 2035.

We cannot let them stand, and I’m heartened by signs that we won’t. Money from philanthropic organizations is finally flowing into planet-saving research. As the costs of failing to address climate change have become increasingly clear, people on both sides of the political aisle are beginning to wake up: Today, 72 percent of Americans recognize that climate change is happening, a marked departure from the position of the climate-denier in the White House. Fewer than 10 percent share his view that climate science is a hoax.

Despite the Democratic Party’s forward-thinking position on conservation and Joe Biden’s own $2 trillion plan to address climate change, Mr. Biden is not an environmentalist’s dream candidate: There is just no responsible way forward that includes fracking, which Mr. Biden would not move to end. Nevertheless, he represents our only hope at the moment, and preserving hope is our only chance to inspire change.

Every single issue that matters to me — education, social justice, women’s rights, affordable health care, criminal justice reform, gun control, immigration policy etc. — won’t mean a single thing if the planet becomes uninhabitable. The same is true for my brothers and sisters across the political aisle: If they care about the right to life, as they say they do, if they care about the economy, about freedom, about national security, as they say they do, then they have no choice in this election but to vote for candidates who are committed to halting the rate at which the planet is heating up.

For now and for the foreseeable future, there is only one issue, and in this election there is only one choice. Because there is only one planet we can call home.”  -30-

By Calling Climate Change ‘Controversial,’ Barrett Created Controversy – By John Schwartz and Hiroko Tabuchi – The New York Times

David Lindsay: I’m afraid that the apple doesn’t usually fall far from the tree.

“During two grueling days of questioning over her Supreme Court confirmation, Judge Amy Coney Barrett did her best to avoid controversy. But her efforts to play it safe on the subject of climate change have created perhaps the most tangible backlash of her hearings.

In her responses, the nominee to take the place of Ruth Bader Ginsburg, an environmental stalwart, used language that alarmed some environmentalists and suggested rough going for initiatives to fight climate change, if as expected she wins confirmation and cements a 6-3 conservative majority on the court.

On Thursday, the last of four days of confirmation hearings, Republicans on the Senate Judiciary Committee set a committee vote on Judge Barrett’s nomination for Oct. 22 hoping to speed a final vote to as soon as Oct. 26 — one week and a day before Election Day.

As she did on judicial matters, such as her views on Roe v. Wade, Judge Barrett declined to state her thoughts on climate change in exchange after exchange this week, equating her evasions to the well-established precedent of refusing to comment on issues that could come before the court.

But with Senator Kamala Harris of California, the Democratic candidate for vice president, Judge Barrett, the daughter of an oil executive, went further. She described the settled science of climate change as still in dispute, compared to Ms. Harris’s other examples, including whether smoking causes cancer and the coronavirus is infectious.

“Do you believe that climate change is happening and threatening the air we breathe and the water that we drink?” Ms. Harris asked.

Judge Barrett responded, “You asked me uncontroversial questions, like Covid-19 being infectious or if smoking causes cancer” to solicit “an opinion from me on a very contentious matter of public debate,” climate change.

“I will not do that,” Judge Barrett concluded. “I will not express a view on a matter of public policy, especially one that is politically controversial.”

Republicans showed no sign of discomfort with that answer. But her performance raised alarm bells around the world. Greta Thunberg, the young Swedish climate activist, took to Twitter to quip, “To be fair, I don’t have any ‘views on climate change’ either. Just like I don’t have any ‘views’ on gravity, the fact that the earth is round, photosynthesis nor evolution.”

“. . . .  A Justice Barrett could have real effects on efforts to address climate change.

The prior jurisprudence is clear. In the 2007 case Massachusetts v. the Environmental Protection Agency, the Supreme Court declared that greenhouse gases are covered under the Clean Air Act and that the agency can act to counter climate change. In 2009, the E.P.A. issued what is known as the “endangerment finding,” which said that greenhouse gases endanger public health and welfare. That finding was challenged in the courts and survived: the Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit upheld the finding in 2012, and the Supreme Court declined to review the lower court’s decision, allowing it to stand.

If President Trump were to win a second term, Professor Revesz said, the government could withdraw the endangerment finding, and the inevitable court challenge could bring the fundamental question of climate change back before the Supreme Court.

There is also the question of how Judge Barrett would approach regulatory matters. Professor Carlson suggested that Judge Barrett would seek to interpret the E.P.A.’s powers narrowly. Other conservative members of the Supreme Court have indicated a willingness to revive a legal doctrine that holds that Congress should not give regulatory agencies much leeway in executing policies. With six votes, the conservative bloc could tie the hands of regulators.

“The future of the administrative state, in many respects, is on the line — and her refusal to answer basic questions about things like climate science makes me worry that we could see a whole dismantling of agencies that we have come to rely on for environmental protection,” she said.

Limits on administrative power would leave Congress with the task of being much more specific in drafting environmental legislation, Professor Gerrard said. “A very specific, well crafted law by Congress would be very hard for the courts to get around,” he said. Yet narrowly crafted laws don’t always adapt well to changing circumstances, as the years pass.

Leaving statutes vague, however, has been a way for Congress to finesse fights. A demand for specificity would make passage of environmental legislation even harder than it is now.

Judge Barrett’s family has strong ties to the fossil fuel industry.

Her father, Michael E. Coney, worked as a prominent attorney at Shell Oil in New Orleans and Houston for 29 years, from 1978 to 2007, focusing on deep sea exploration and drilling in the Outer Continental Shelf. As part of his work, he represented the oil and gas giant before the federal government, frequently dealing with the Department of Interior on royalties, regulations and compliance issues.

Mr. Coney was also an active member of the powerful oil and gas trade organization, the American Petroleum Institute, twice serving as chairman of its Subcommittee on Exploration and Production Law. On top of being the industry’s main lobby group, A.P.I. has played a critical role in casting doubt on climate science and opposing policies to address climate change.”

Opinion |  – By Paul Krugman – The New York Times

By 

Opinion Columnist

Credit…Shannon Stapleton/Reuters

“After 2016, nobody will or should take anything for granted, but at this point Joe Biden is strongly favored to beat Donald Trump, quite possibly by a landslide. However, Trump’s party may still be in a position to inflict enormous damage on America and the world over the next few years.

For one thing, while Democrats are also favored to take control of the Senate, the odds aren’t nearly as high as they are in the presidential race. Why? Because the Senate, which gives the average voter in Wyoming 70 times as much weight as the average voter in California, is a deeply unrepresentative body.

And it looks as if a president who is probably about to become a lame duck — and who lost the popular vote even in 2016 — together with a Senate that represents a minority of the American people are about to install a right-wing supermajority on the Supreme Court.

If you want a preview of how badly this can go, look at what’s happening in Wisconsin.

In 2018, Wisconsin voters elected a Democratic governor. A strong majority — 53 percent — also voted for Democratic legislators. But given the way the state’s districts are drawn, Democrats ended up with only 36 out of 99 seats in the State Assembly. And Wisconsin’s elected judiciary is also dominated by Republicans.”

“. . .  But I’d argue that the biggest threat this court will pose is to environmental policy.

Put it this way: Charles Koch is reportedly investing millions trying to get Barrett confirmed. That’s not because he’s passionately opposed to abortion rights, or, probably, even because he wants the A.C.A. overturned. What he’s looking for, surely, is a court that will block government regulation of business — and above all a court that will hamstring a Biden administration’s efforts to take action against climate change.

Sure enough, during her hearing, Barrett, asked about climate change, uttered the dreaded words, “I’m certainly not a scientist.” At this point everyone knows what that means. It’s not an expression of humility; it’s a signal that the speaker intends to ignore the science and to oppose any attempt to avert the biggest threat facing humanity.

It’s hard to overstate just how dangerous it will be if the power of the Supreme Court ends up being used to undermine environmental protection. Biden has made it clear that climate action will be at the core of his economic agenda. And this action would come not a moment too soon. We’re already starting to see the effects of global warming in the form of fires and floods, and if we waste the next few years it will probably be too late to avoid catastrophe.

In other words, if a G.O.P.-stacked Supreme Court blocks effective climate policy, it won’t just be an outrage, it will be a disaster, for America and the world. So that can’t be allowed to happen. Never mind all the talk about norms (which only seem to apply to Democrats, anyway.) What’s at stake here could be the future of civilization.”

A Guide to Climate Change in the 2020 Presidential Election – By Brad Plumer – The New York Times

Oct. 14, 2020

“The presidential election is just weeks away, and climate change has broken through as a defining issue for Americans this year, even amid a historic pandemic and deep economic uncertainty weighing upon the nation.

Two-thirds of Americans say the government isn’t doing enough to reduce the effects of global warming, according to a June survey from the Pew Research Center, and the two presidential candidates’ approaches couldn’t be further apart. President Trump has often dismissed global warming as a hoax; his rival, Joseph R. Biden Jr., calls climate change an “emergency” that requires rapidly overhauling the nation’s energy system.

Their differences raise profound questions about the government’s role in shaping the United States economy and America’s place on the world stage. Here’s a guide to major climate questions in the election.

Opinion | Joe Biden for President: The New York Times Editorial Board Endorsement – The New York Times

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The editorial board is a group of opinion journalists whose views are informed by expertise, research, debate and certain longstanding values. It is separate from the newsroom.

“Joe Biden has vowed to be a president for all Americans, even those who do not support him. In previous elections, such a promise might have sounded trite or treacly. Today, the idea that the president should have the entire nation’s interests at heart feels almost revolutionary.

Mr. Biden has also vowed to “restore the soul of America.” It is a painful reminder that the country is weaker, angrier, less hopeful and more divided than it was four years ago. With this promise, Mr. Biden is assuring the public that he recognizes the magnitude of what the next president is being called upon to do. Thankfully, he is well suited to the challenge — perhaps particularly so.

[Kathleen Kingsbury, acting editorial page editor, wrote about the choice to endorse Joe Biden for president in a special edition of our Opinion Today newsletter. You can read it here.]

In the midst of unrelenting chaos, Mr. Biden is offering an anxious, exhausted nation something beyond policy or ideology. His campaign is rooted in steadiness, experience, compassion and decency.

A President Biden would embrace the rule of law and restore public confidence in democratic institutions. He would return a respect for science and expertise to the government. He would stock his administration with competent, qualified, principled individuals. He would stand with America’s allies and against adversaries that seek to undermine our democracy. He would work to address systemic injustices. He would not court foreign autocrats or give comfort to white supremacists. His focus would be on healing divisions and rallying the nation around shared values. He would understand that his first duty, always, is to the American people.

But Mr. Biden is more than simply a steady hand on the wheel. His message of unity and pragmatism resonated with Democratic voters, who turned out in large numbers to elevate him above a sprawling primary field.

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His team has put together a bold agenda aimed at tackling some of America’s most pressing problems. The former vice president is committed to working toward universal health care through measures such as adding a public option to the Affordable Care Act — which he played a significant role in passing — lowering the age for Medicare eligibility to 60 years old and cutting the cost of prescription drugs. He recognizes the fateful threat of climate change and has put forward an ambitious, $2 trillion plan to slash carbon emissions, invest in a green economy and combat environmental racism.

Mr. Biden will not be morphing into an ideological maximalist any time soon, but he has acknowledged that the current trifecta of crises — a lethal pandemic, an economic meltdown and racial unrest — calls for an expanded governing vision. His campaign has been reaching out to a wide range of thinkers, including former rivals, to help craft more dynamic solutions. In midsummer, he rolled out an economic recovery plan, dubbed “Build Back Better,” with proposals to bolster American manufacturing, spur innovation, build a “clean-energy economy,” advance racial equity and support caregivers and educators. His plan for fighting the coronavirus includes the creation of a public health jobs corps. Progressives who want even more from him should not be afraid to push. Experience is not the same as stagnation.

Learn more about the journalists who make up The Times’s Editorial Board.

Mr. Biden has a long and distinguished record of accomplishment, including, as a senator, sponsoring the landmark Violence Against Women Act of 1994 and, as vice president, overseeing the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009, passed in response to the Great Recession. In a 2012 interview on “Meet the Press,” his remarks in support of gay marriage — which blindsided the Obama White House and caused a public kerfuffle — proved a watershed moment for the cause of equality. In 1996, Mr. Biden had voted as a senator in favor of the Defense of Marriage Act, which prohibited federal recognition of same-sex marriages, making his evolution on the issue particularly resonant.

He has an unusually rich grasp of and experience in foreign policy, which, as traditionally understood, has not played a central role in the presidential race — though the pandemic, the climate crisis, a more assertive China and disinformation wars against the American public argue strongly that it should. The next president will face the task of repairing the enormous damage inflicted on America’s global reputation.

Mr. Biden has the necessary chops, having spent much of his career focused on global concerns. He not only took on thorny diplomatic missions as vice president, he also served more than three decades on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. Aware that an “America First” approach in reality amounts to “America alone,” he would work to revive and refurbish damaged alliances. He has the respect and trust of America’s allies and would not be played for a fool by its adversaries.

Certainly, not all of Mr. Biden’s foreign policy decisions through the decades look sage in hindsight, but he has shown foresight in key moments. He fought a rear-guard action in the Obama White House to limit the futile surge in Afghanistan. He was against the 2011 intervention in Libya and skeptical of committing American troops to Syria. He opposed renewing the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act in 2007 and 2008 because it gave the government too much power to spy on Americans. He’s supported closing the prison at Guantánamo Bay. Little wonder that he has the backing of a who’s who of the foreign policy community and national security officials from both parties.

Mr. Biden is not an ideological purist or a bomb-thrower. Some will see this as a shortcoming or hopelessly naïve. Certainly, it’s unlikely that if Republicans retain control of the Senate, their leader, Mitch McConnell, will abandon his policy of fanatical obstructionism of any Democratic president.

That said, as the emissary often dispatched by President Barack Obama to deal with Republican lawmakers during tough legislative fights, Mr. Biden has intimate experience with the partisan gridlock crippling Congress. He knows how the levers of power work on both ends of Pennsylvania Avenue, and he has longstanding relationships with members from both parties. More than any of this cycle’s other presidential hopefuls, he offered weary voters a chance to see whether even a modicum of bipartisanship is possible.

He is also offering a glimpse of the Democratic Party’s future in his choice of running mate, Senator Kamala Harris of California. Ms. Harris would become a number of firsts — a woman, a Black person and an Asian-American — as vice president, adding history-making excitement to the ticket. A former prosecutor, she is tough, smart and can dismantle a faulty argument or political opponent. She is progressive, but not radical. In her own presidential campaign, she presented herself as a unifying leader with center-left policy proposals in a mold similar to Mr. Biden, albeit a generation younger. Mr. Biden is aware that he no longer qualifies as a fresh face and has said that he considers himself a bridge to the party’s next generation of leaders. Ms. Harris is a promising step in that direction.

If he wins election, Mr. Biden will need to take his governing agenda to the people — all of the people, not just his party’s loudest or most online voices. This will require persuading Americans that he understands their concerns and can translate that understanding into sound policy.

Mr. Biden has a rare gift for forging such connections. In his younger days, he, like so many senators, could be in love with the sound of his own voice. Time and loss have softened his edges. He speaks the language of suffering and compassion with a raw intimacy. People respond to that, across lines of race and class — ever more so in this time of uncertainty. The father of the police-shooting victim Jacob Blake described his phone conversation with Mr. Biden as full of “love, admiration, caring,” in one of many recent examples of the former vice president’s hard-earned empathy.

Mr. Biden knows that there are no easy answers. He has the experience, temperament and character to guide the nation through this valley into a brighter, more hopeful future. He has our endorsement for the presidency.

When they go to the polls this year, voters aren’t just choosing a leader. They’re deciding what America will be. They’re deciding whether they favor the rule of law, how the government will help them weather the greatest economic calamity in generations, whether they want government to enable everyone to have access to health care, whether they consider global warming a serious threat, whether they believe that racism should be treated as a public policy problem.

Mr. Biden isn’t a perfect candidate and he wouldn’t be a perfect president. But politics is not about perfection. It is about the art of the possible and about encouraging America to embrace its better angels.”

A Desperate Bid for Survival as Fire Closed In on an Oregon Mountain Town – The New York Times

“SALEM, Ore. — They were trapped. As walls of fire and smoke encircled their town and blocked the roads, the last people in Detroit, Ore., trickled onto a boat launch beside a half-drained reservoir — residents and vacationers, barefoot children in pajamas, exhausted firefighters. There were two people on bikes. One man rode up on a powerboat.

Seven miles to the west, one path to safety out of the mountains along Highway 22 was blocked by flaming trees and boulders as the largest of 30 wildfires consuming Oregon raced through the canyons. Thirteen miles to the east, the other way out of town was covered with the wreckage of another seething blaze.

So as a black dawn broke one morning last week, the 80 people trapped in the lakeside vacation town on the evergreen slopes of the Cascades huddled together in a blizzard of ash, waiting for a rescue by air.”

 – By Nadja Popovich and Brad Plumer – The New York Times

“President Trump has made dismantling federal climate policies a centerpiece of his administration. A new analysis from the Rhodium Group finds those rollbacks add up to a lot more planet-warming emissions.”

Opinion | Human Weakness Is Responsible for This Poisonous Air – By Farhad Manjoo – The New York Times

By 

Opinion Columnist

Credit…Max Whittaker for The New York Times

“Among the few remaining advantages that Americans can claim over other countries is the relative cleanliness of our air. Air pollution is a leading risk factor for early death; it is linked to an estimated four million premature fatalities around the world annually. But over the last 50 years, since Congress passed environmental legislation in 1970, air quality in the United States has steadily improved. Today, America’s air is significantly cleaner than in much of the rest of the world, including in many of our wealthy, industrialized peers.

Well, not literally today, considering I needed an N95 mask to walk to the mailbox this morning. Over the last few years, for weeks and sometimes months in late summer and fall, my home state, California, and other parts of the American West erupt in hellish blaze, and plumes of smoke turn the heavens visibly toxic.

In some of the country’s most populous cities in the last few weeks, the concentration of dangerous particulates in the air shot up to levels worse than the averages in the most polluted cities in China, India and Pakistan. Ash generated by some of the largest wildfires in California’s and Oregon’s history fell across the region like snow. The sky burned Martian orange — a hue so alien that smartphones struggled to faithfully photograph it.

I have been searching for some glint of optimism during an otherwise bleak time. While choking through a walk this past weekend (I had to leave the house), I came up with this: Maybe such disasters will finally force us to recognize the steep costs of incompetent, neglectful, uncaring government.”

NYT: The Real Cost of Coal

“This failure by the government to collect fair value for taxpayer coal is made more troubling by the climate-change implications of burning this fossil fuel. Taxpayers are already incurring major costs in responding to the effects of global warming. Coastal infrastructure is being battered by sea rise and storm surges; forests are being devastated by climate-aided pest infestations; and studies are suggesting that temperature rises have increased the likelihood of devastating droughts in California.

Moreover, as the Council of Economic Advisers documented in a report last July because of the long-lived nature of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere, these costs will continue to rise.”

The cost of government coal should reflect the climate-change impact of burning it to generate electricity.
nytimes.com|By David J. Hayes and James H. Stock