William Perry Pendley, Trump’s nominee to lead the Bureau of Land Management, has ties to anti-environment and anti-government forces
‘Although Pendley has been acting director of the Bureau of Land Management since last July, his official nomination will give him troubling new authority and political clout.’ Photograph: georgesanker.com/Alamy Stock PhotoPublished onMon 6 Jul 2020 04.30 EDT
On 26 June, Donald Trump announced that he plans to nominate William Perry Pendley to lead the Bureau of Land Management. That may not sound like big news, but it is. First of all, the office manages one-tenth of the United States’ land mass and, therefore, massive amounts of fossil fuels. Second, Pendley is linked to two little-known but very dangerous political movements: the so-called Wise Use movement and the anti-government extremists sometimes called constitutionalists or sovereign citizens.
The appointment should not come as a total surprise. Wise Use advocates, who are fiercely opposed to almost any environmental protection laws, have long had exceptional access to the Trump administration. In 2017, Lars Larson, a “journalist” from the alternative rightwing media sphere, crystallized the attitude of the Wise Use movement with a comment he made to then press secretary Sean Spicer:
The federal government is the biggest landlord in America. It owns two-thirds of a billion acres of America. I don’t think the Founders ever envisioned it that way. Does President Trump want to start returning the people’s land to the people? And in the meantime … can he tell the forest service to start logging our forests aggressively again to provide jobs for Americans, wealth for the treasury, and not spend $3.5bn a year fighting forest fires?
Larson was expressing a key demand of the Wise Use movement. The movement wants to privatize basically all public land, so that it can be used “wisely” by big business – especially the agricultural, fossil fuel and logging industries, which are also the movement’s biggest donors. The movement has been responsible for significant harassment and threats of political violence, particularly against environmentalists and employees of government agencies in the Pacific north-west. Between 2013 and 2018 alone, federal employees overseeing public lands were assaulted or threatened at least 360 times. In roughly the same period, the FBI initiated under 100 related domestic terrorism investigations, most concerning individuals motivated by anti-government ideologies.
The anti-environmentalists overlap with sections of the broader US far right, notably so-called constitutionalists and sovereign citizens, who hold a variety of different beliefs, all essentially denying the legitimacy of the federal government. This very loosely organized subculture has been responsible for some of the most notorious anti-government actions, including the 2014 Bundy Standoff in Nevada and the 2016 Oregon Standoff. The Oregon standoff, in which members of rightwing militia groups occupied the Malheur national wildlife refuge for 41 days to protest the sentencing of two ranchers for burning federal lands, became a cause celebre for many far-right activists.
Trump has long been sympathetic to these movements. In 2018 he pardoned Dwight Hammond Jr and his son, Steven Hammond, the two farmers whose case sparked the Oregon Standoff. But so far Trump’s support has been mainly symbolic and verbal. Like Jair Bolsonaro in Brazil, Trump has questioned federal ownership of public land on many occasions. In November 2018, as California was battling massive forest fires, he tweeted:
There is no reason for these massive, deadly and costly forest fires in California except that forest management is so poor. Billions of dollars are given each year, with so many lives lost, all because of gross mismanagement of the forests. Remedy now, or no more Fed payments!
Note the similarity to Larson’s demand a year earlier.
Although Pendley has been acting director of the Bureau of Land Management since last July, his official nomination will give him troubling new authority and political clout. In addition to undermining his own agency, he will also probably push to privatize more public land and provide even more access to exploitation by agricultural, fossil fuel and logging companies. Just last week, the Bureau of Land Management proposed opening millions of acres in rural Alaska for oil and gas leasing.
Just as troubling: Pendley’s new role will probably further embolden far-right anti-environment and anti-government forces, some of which already consider themselves above the law. In an op-ed last year in the Las Vegas Review-Journal, Pendley defended the role of Bureau of Land Management law enforcement officers, but did so in rhetoric carefully calculated to appease the anti-government far right, which believes local authorities are more legitimate than the federal government: “[Bureau of Land Management] rangers,” he wrote, “partner with local law enforcement, while recognizing that counties are a governmental-arm of sovereign states. Maintaining that deference is essential to making BLM a truly productive and valued partner to western communities.”
In articles for the conservative magazine National Review, Pendley has argued that the federal government should “sell its western lands” because “westerners are tired of having Uncle Sam for a landlord”, and expressed thinly-veiled support for anti-government extremists involved in armed stand-offs with federal agents.
The Pendley case is an important reminder that the ultimate far-right threat to American democracy does not come from the Klansmen or neo-Nazis shouting “Jews won’t replace us” in the streets of Charlottesville. It comes from broad but loosely organized anti-federal government subcultures, aided by men in suits fronting for multi-billion industries.
It is this coalition of disaffected, illiberal and self-interested forces that holds Trump and the Republican leadership together and which is slowly but steadily dismantling the federal government from within. It will not stop until every acre of public land is exploited by big business and federal oversight only exists on paper. It operates in broad daylight, aided by federal, state and local Republicans and ignored or underestimated by most Democrats.
Cas Mudde is the Stanley Wade Shelton UGAF professor of international affairs at the University of Georgia, the author of The Far Right Today (2019), and host of the new podcast Radikaal
In his order on Monday, U.S. District Judge James Boasberg wrote that the closure must take place in the next 30 days.
A demonstrator in front of the White House during a protest organized by the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe and Indigenous grassroots leaders against the Dakota Access pipeline in March 2017.Andrew Harrer / Bloomberg via Getty Images fileJuly 6, 2020, 8:27 AM PDT / Updated July 6, 2020, 9:32 AM PDTBy Elizabeth Chuck
A federal judge on Monday ordered the Dakota Access pipeline to shut down pending further environmental review, a victory for the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe.
U.S. District Judge James Boasberg wrote that the pipeline must close in the next 30 days.
Protesters have argued that the oil pipeline project poses both a cultural and an environmental threat to the land it runs through. Proponents say it is a financial boon, creating jobs and bringing money into local economies.
“It took four long years, but today justice has been served at Standing Rock,” attorney Jan Hasselman, who represents the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe, said in a press release. “If the events of 2020 have taught us anything, it’s that health and justice must be prioritized early on in any decision-making process if we want to avoid a crisis later on. ”
Mike Faith, chairman of the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe, called it a historic day.
“This pipeline should have never been built here. We told them that from the beginning,” he said in the same press release.
Energy Transfer, the Texas-based company behind the pipeline, did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
But the oil company has insisted in the past that the pipeline, which runs underneath the Missouri River where the Standing Rock tribe draws its water from, is safe.
During its construction along the border of North Dakota and South Dakota, where the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation is, protesters around the country gathered in support of the tribe. The protests led to numerous arrests and were at times violent.
Monday’s court decision comes after an order on March 25 from the same judge, which said that the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers should conduct a full environmental review of the pipeline. At the time, it was not clear whether the order would shut down the pipeline, which has carried oil for three years.
“The Court does not reach its decision with blithe disregard for the lives it will affect. It readily acknowledges that, even with the currently low demand for oil, shutting down the pipeline will cause significant disruption to DAPL, the North Dakota oil industry, and potentially other states,” Boasberg wrote in his order on Monday.
Permits for the $3.8 billion, 1,172-mile underground pipeline had initially been rejected by the Obama administration. The permits for it were granted in February 2017 under President Donald Trump, when the Army Corps of Engineers stated it had found no significant environmental threats posed by the project.
Sen. Kevin Cramer of North Dakota, a Republican, slammed the court order shortly after it was released.
“Shutting down the Dakota Access pipeline would have devastating consequences to North Dakota and to America’s energy security,” Cramer said in a statement. “This terrible ruling should be promptly appealed.”
Just in the past three years, the Trump administration has attempted to roll back at least 95 environmental rules and regulations to the detriment of the environment and Americans’ public health. Moreover, the administration refuses to act to mitigate the effects of climate change—instead loosening requirements for polluters emitting the greenhouse gases that fuel the climate crisis. This dangerous agenda is affecting the lives of Americans across all 50 states.
Between 2017 and 2019, New Mexico experienced one drought and two severe storms. The damages of each event led to losses of at least $1 billion.
Impacts of climate change
New Mexico faces one of the greatest threats from growing, widespread summer droughts as a result of climate change in the United States.
New Mexico currently averages 20 days per year when heat exceeds dangerous levels, but projections indicate that number will double to 40 such days per year by 2050. This endangers the lives of the more than 80,000 people in New Mexico who are especially vulnerable to extreme heat.
Impacts of the Trump administration’s anti-environmental policies
In March 2020, the Trump administration announced its final rule to overturn Obama-era fuel efficiency standards for cars. These weakened fuel standards will lead to higher greenhouse gas and particulate matter emissions and will cost New Mexico residents $215 million
The Trump administration is attempting to gut climate considerations from major infrastructure projects by eliminating the “cumulative impact” requirement of the National Environmental Policy Act. This is concerning because New Mexico’s economy relies heavily on its agriculture, tourism, and outdoor recreation industries—all of which are highly dependent on climate and weather conditions.
Agriculture: Agriculture and food processing accounted for more than $10 billion of New Mexico’s gross state product and supported more than 50,000 jobs in 2012.
Tourism: In 2018, tourism in New Mexico generated nearly $10 billion in economic impact and supported more than 94,000 jobs.
Outdoor recreation: The outdoor recreation industry in New Mexico generates 99,000 direct jobs and nearly $10 billion in consumer spending.
Mercury emissions in New Mexico decreased by nearly 84 percent from 2011 to 2017, yet the Trump administration just undermined limits on the amount of mercury and other toxic emissions that are allowed from power plants.
Dr. Richard Kock was on duty at London’s Royal Veterinary College in January 2017 when he received an urgent message from international health officials. He was needed for an emergency response mission in the Mongolian countryside, where a deadly viral outbreak was underway.
He packed his things, caught a flight to the capital city of Ulaanbaatar and drove for two days into the arid steppe. He found a disturbing scene: frozen corpses scattered on hillsides, burn pits stacked with bodies and residents addled with anxiety.
But this pandemic was not targeting humans. It was goat plague, a lethal and highly infectious virus that has killed goats, sheep and other small ruminants in huge numbers since it was first detected last century. There is a vaccine, but its application in Mongolia had been botched. The virus had spilled from domestic livestock into local populations of critically endangered saiga antelope, and it wiped out about 85% of the infected, Kock said.
“Nearly everything died across a huge landscape,” said Kock, who has worked for decades to stem infectious diseases around the world. There are only a few thousand saiga antelope left in Mongolia today, largely due to the goat plague.
The only comforting element of this tale is that the disease is not transmissible to humans. At least, not yet.
But Kock worries. Goat plague is a paramyxovirus, a virus in the same family as measles. Its case fatality rate can be as high as 90%, and some animals that contract it can infect eight to 12 others.
“They are nasty viruses,” Kock said, adding that they’re formidable in their spread and aggressiveness. It wouldn’t take a big tweak in the goat plague’s genome ― “just two amino acids, essentially” ― for it to become infectious to humans, he said. “In theory, it is very possible.”
As the COVID-19 pandemic rages on, killing thousands and crushing the global economy, the potential threat of zoonotic spillover — when novel viruses and bacteria jump from animals to people — is becoming increasingly clear. The coronavirus that causes COVID-19 almost certainly originated in bats and is believed to have spilled into humans at a live animal market in Wuhan, China. Readily transmissible and far deadlier than the seasonal flu, COVID-19 is now one of the worst pandemics of animal origin that humans have faced in a century. But it won’t be the last.
There are millions of viruses and bacteria out there that reside in wild animals and can potentially infect humans, and these emerging diseases are on the rise everywhere as humans disrupt ecosystems and exploit animal habitat across the globe. We are living in an age of pandemics, and the next one — let’s call it “Disease X,” as scientists often do — could be even more devastating than COVID-19.
“On a scale of 1 to 100, we could place [the current outbreak] probably somewhere a little below midway,” said Dennis Carroll, the chair of the Global Virome Project and former director of the emerging threats division at the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID).
Some known viruses circulating today have much higher mortality rates than the novel coronavirus but don’t spread easily among humans. If one of them mutated and became highly infectious in humans, Carroll said, Disease X could make this pandemic “look like a warmup.”
A Plague Rooted In Environmental Destruction
Political leaders are taking unprecedented measures to contain a virus that has infected at least 2.31 million people, killed at least 157,000 and forced national economies to their knees. Yet those unprecedented measures address only the symptoms of this crisis, an entirely reactionary response that has so far avoided addressing the root causes of novel disease emergence.
“COVID-19 is just the latest zoonotic disease to emerge that has its roots in the rampant habitat loss occurring around the world and the burgeoning wildlife trade,” a group of more than 100 conservation organizations wrote in a letter to the U.S. Congress last month, urging it to include in its stimulus bill new funding to combat the conditions that give rise to outbreaks like COVID-19. “Global pandemics will likely continue and even escalate if action isn’t taken.”
So far, though, Congress has failed to act on that threat, and the Trump administration is exacerbating the problem with its relentless campaign to roll back wildlife protections and cut environmental programs at home and abroad. All the while, the threat of zoonotic disease continues to intensify.
The virus that causes COVID-19 is just the latest infectious agent to jump from animals into people. HIV, Ebola, Marburg virus, SARS, MERS, Zika ― those, too, originated in animals and are part of the same perilous trend of novel diseases that have surfaced with increasing frequency as population growth, industrial agriculture, deforestation, wildlife exploitation, urban sprawl and other human activities bring our species into continuous contact with animal-borne pathogens.
“Emerging infectious diseases, the majority of which are zoonotic and have their origin in wildlife, have been increasing significantly — both numbers of outbreaks and diversity of diseases — over the past 50 years,” said Dr. Christian Walzer, chief global veterinarian at the New York City-based Wildlife Conservation Society.
The majority of emerging infectious diseases originate in animals, a 2017 study in the journal Nature Communications concluded, and “their emergence often involves dynamic interactions among populations of wildlife, livestock, and people within rapidly changing environments.” A 2015 study found that land use changes, such as urban expansion and deforestation, is the single most significant driver of many of the zoonotic outbreaks that have occurred since 1940.
“In the broadest sense, humans are the main drivers of zoonotic disease outbreaks,” said Catherine Machalaba, a policy adviser and research scientist at the EcoHealth Alliance.
The COVID-19 pandemic has brought global attention to live wild animal markets, which are common throughout Southeast Asia and Africa and which scientists say provide ideal conditions for new pandemics to spawn. The markets, which are often located in dense, urban areas, bring a wide variety of domestic and wild species, living and dead, into contact with humans. They are potential petri dishes for novel pathogens to evolve and spread.
It is at one such “wet market” in Wuhan, a city of 11 million, that the novel coronavirus, labeled SARS-CoV-2, is believed to have first spilled from its original host (thought to be a bat) into an intermediary host species or directly into humans. The crowded market featured dozens of live and dead animals for sale that rarely, if ever, come in contact in the wild, from fish and rats to monkeys and foxes. These markets are poorly regulated, and endangered species are known to end up in them.
This coronavirus crossed over to humans in China, but the spillover of such diseases is occurring all over the world, including in the United States. Walzer points, for instance, to the rise of Lyme disease in North America, where our suburban developments and shopping malls wiped out wild forests, killed native predators, amplified rodent and deer populations, and fueled outbreaks of the tick-borne illness.
“It’s the classic example of how biodiversity loss has increased the risk for spillover,” Walzer said.
Consider also Nipah, a paramyxovirus, like the goat plague, that first appeared in Malaysia in 1998. That virus — an inspiration for the 2011 film “Contagion” —has its origins in fruit bats, but it spilled over to pigs on a farm where livestock pens abutted mango trees that bats used as a food source.
“Bats were coming in in large numbers, feeding on mangos and, in the process of chewing on the mango, they would drop mangos laden with mucus and other body fluids into the pig pens,” said Jonathan Epstein, vice president for science and outreach at the EcoHealth Alliance, which works to study and prevent zoonotic disease spillover. “That is how it started.”
Nipah does not harm bats. But it sickened pigs and soon infected humans, too. First, it spread to workers on the farm. Then, as pigs were traded around the country, it infected other humans. By the end of the outbreak in 1999, 265 people had contracted the virus and more than 100 had died. Malaysian authorities, meanwhile, had slaughtered millions of pigs to stanch the infection’s spread.
But the story doesn’t end there. Nipah, scientists soon discovered, was also in Bangladesh. Since the early 2000s, the country has suffered from a series of recurrent outbreaks that have claimed scores of lives. In these cases, however, there were no pigs involved. The virus spread here happened via sap from date palm plants, which some in Bangladesh harvest and drink raw in the winter months. Fruit bats have learned to exploit this food source, too, and their saliva, urine and droppings sometimes fall into the pots that people use to collect the palm sap. In this way, scientists say, Nipah has spread from bats to Bangladeshis.
“Nipah is a scary virus because it is super deadly,” said Epstein, who has studied the virus’s spread and notes that it has a case fatality rate in Bangladesh of about 75%.
But there’s another reason Nipah keeps disease experts up at night: Humans can spread the virus directly to each other, with no animal intermediary necessary.
“Nipah has shown human-to-human transmission consistently in Bangladesh, and that is why it is among the top listed infectious disease threats,” Epstein said. “It is only a matter of time before a version of Nipah virus gets into people, one that is both deadly and highly transmissible.”
In other words, there’s no need to speculate about the spillover of a scary disease like goat plague when Nipah is already on the scene.
Live animal markets and COVID-19. Degraded forests and Lyme disease. Agricultural production, disrupted bat habitat and a petrifying new paramyxovirus. These examples all tell the same story: Humanity’s effect on the natural world, and on wildlife especially, is causing novel pathogens to infect, harm and kill us. When we mine, drill, bulldoze and overdevelop, when we traffic in wild animals and invade intact habitat, when we make intimate contact with birds, bats, primates, rodents and more, we run an intensifying risk of contracting one of the estimated 1.6 million unknown viruses that reside in the bodies of other species.
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Far From An ‘Unforeseen Problem’
Throughout his presidency, Donald Trump has consistently undermined science as part of his pro-development, anti-environment agenda. And the administration’s response to COVID-19 has, unsurprisingly, been defined by similar denial.
Trump spent weeks downplaying the threat, only to suddenly change his tune and insist that no one could have possibly predicted or prepared for such a devastating pandemic. He described the outbreak as an “unforeseen problem,” “something that nobody expected.”
But a crisis of this magnitude was not only possible, it was all but inevitable. Many people, from business leaders to intelligence officials to infectious diseases experts, have been saying so for years.
“If anything kills over 10 million people in the next few decades, it’s most likely to be a highly infectious virus rather than a war,” billionaire Microsoft founder Bill Gates said in a 2015 Ted Talk, stressing that the U.S. and the world at large are wildly unprepared to respond.
Even Trump’s own appointees in the intelligence community had issued warnings.
“We assess that the United States and the world will remain vulnerable to the next flu pandemic or large scale outbreak of a contagious disease that could lead to massive rates of death and disability, severely affect the world economy, strain international resources, and increase calls on the United States for support,” says the 42-page Worldwide Threat Assessment that then-Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats presented to the Senate Intelligence Committee in January 2019.
The report highlights stalled progress in combating infectious diseases such as malaria and the measles, as well as the link between emerging pathogens and human encroachment.
“The growing proximity of humans and animals has increased the risk of disease transmission,” it says. “The number of outbreaks has increased in part because pathogens originally found in animals have spread to human populations.”
And yet the Trump administration was caught unprepared, confused and unable to craft a coherent strategy to tackle the threat. Indeed, even in mid-March, the president was still comparing COVID-19 to the seasonal flu.
Beyond their hapless response, Trump and his Cabinet have also promoted a slew of policies that actively exacerbate the potential for zoonotic spillover.
Since taking power in 2017, the Trump administration has been on an anti-environment bonanza, rolling back wildlife and land protections while also working to cut funding for key international conservation programs that help prevent the sort of activities that give rise to infectious disease emergence. In its proposed budget for fiscal year 2021, for instance, the administration seeks to cut more than $300 million from critical USAID and State Department programs that combat wildlife trafficking, conserve large landscapes and otherwise promote biodiversity and wildlife protection abroad.
“USAID is one of the largest global donors for biodiversity conservation,” said Kelly Keenan Aylward, director of the Wildlife Conservation Society’s Washington, D.C., office.
She pointed, for instance, to the agency’s Central Africa Regional Program for the Environment, a landscape-scale effort that focuses on combating wildlife trafficking and deforestation, two key drivers of biodiversity loss. USAID, Aylward said, also funds essential biodiversity programs in the Amazon and Southeast Asia, among other places.
Trump and his small army of industry-linked political appointees are also going after the country’s key domestic wildlife agency, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, which is responsible for enforcing the Endangered Species Act and fighting the illegal wildlife trade. In fiscal year 2021, they aim to slash the agency’s budget by roughly $80 million, including significant cuts to its law enforcement programs. They also want to whittle away at the agency’s Multinational Species Conservation Fund, which finances conservation programs for imperiled species abroad.
The administration also finalized regulations that significantlyweaken both the Endangered Species Act and the Migratory Bird Treaty Act, two bedrock conservation laws. It engineered the largest rollback of public lands protection in U.S. history and has presided over a steep decline in the number of new species listed under the ESA. It has withdrawn U.S. membership in UNESCO, a United Nations program that protects hundreds of natural sites around the world, and earlier this month Trump threatened to halt U.S. funding for the World Health Organization over its pandemic response, a clear effort to shift blame away from his administration. All this while advocating drastic cuts to U.S.-sponsored global health programs that fight infectious diseases.
Wildlife and land protection programs, advocates say, should be getting more support, not less — especially in light of a raging pandemic that has its origins in environmental destruction and disruption.
“Conservation and wildlife protection efforts must be prioritized in order to protect not only our precious resources,” said Kate Wall, the senior legislative manager at the International Fund for Animal Welfare, “but the stability of our global economy and, indeed, our very existence.”
‘It Should Be A Defining Movement’
Carroll, the former USAID official, said fighting emerging disease requires social engineering that invests not only in the capability to disrupt future spillover but also measures to manage outbreaks when they occur.
Carroll designed and directed Predict, a USAID disease surveillance program that identified more than 1,000 previously unknown wildlife viruses, including strains of Ebola and dozens of coronaviruses, over the last decade. The project proved that our existing technologies could pinpoint future viral threats. But operating on that scale, it would take centuries to catalog the estimated 1.6 million viruses out there ― what Carroll calls “unknown viral dark matter.”
In September, after $200 million and a decade of virus hunting, Trump’s USAID announced it would not renew the Predict program for another five-year cycle. Carroll left USAID around that time. And on March 31, as the coronavirus pandemic ravaged the U.S., the administration officially shuttered the program. USAID subsequently granted the program a six-month extension on April 1 to “provide emergency support” to other countries in their response to COVID-19, but the effective cancellation of Predict had already caused real damage — its field work came to a halt months earlier, and some of the organizations that worked on the program were forced to lay off staffers, according to an April report in the Los Angeles Times.
USAID is now in the process of developing a new project, called STOP Spillover, which is expected to be launched this fall and cost $50 million to $100 million over five years. An agency spokesperson told CNN the program will “build on the lessons learned and data gathered” during Predict and “focus on strengthening national capacity to develop, test and implement interventions to reduce the risk of the spillover.”
Carroll now leads the Global Virome Project, a nonprofit that is working to create what he describes as a “global atlas” of animal viruses that would help prepare for, and ideally prevent, pandemics. Mapping viruses by species and location would allow governments to target hot spots for increased surveillance and ecosystem protections.
Carroll also hopes it will make it possible for scientists to develop vaccines that protect humans from not just one virus but perhaps even whole viral families.
“The demise of Predict,” Carroll said, “will only be a tragedy if we don’t continue to invest in viral discovery.”
Disease research and preparing for pandemics isn’t cheap. The Global Virome Project estimates it would cost $1.5 billion over a decade to identify 75% of the unknown viruses in mammals and birds. On the heels of the Ebola crisis in 2016, a commission of global health experts called for an annual global investment of $4.5 billion to help prevent and fight future pandemics, including $3.4 billion to upgrade public health systems across the globe and $1 million for the development of vaccines, diagnostics and therapeutics.
But those figures pale in comparison to the costs of a global pandemic, as highlighted by the untold trillions of dollars that COVID-19 is now costing the world economy.
Perhaps the frequency of deadly disease outbreaks ― SARS in 2003, swine flu in 2009, MERS in 2012, Ebola in 2014 and now COVID-19 ― will convince the world it is time for a different approach, Carroll hopes. But he fears that, as with previous outbreaks, resources will dry up once the coronavirus threat dissipates and “collective amnesia” sets in.
“We should not accept the idea that spillover from wildlife into people is inevitable,” he said. “It’s not. Viruses don’t move from animals to people. We facilitate that.”
But we can change our ways.
More than 240 environmental and animal advocacy groups signed an April 6 letter urging the World Health Organization to recommend that governments institute permanent bans on wildlife markets and the use of wildlife in traditional medicines.
To truly solve the underlying conditions that fuel zoonotic pandemics, experts and wildlife conservationists are also calling fora new paradigm that recognizes the interconnection of people, animals and ecosystems, which they call the “One Health” approach.
“It should be a defining movement,” Dr. Christine Kreuder Johnson, project director of the USAID’s Predict program and associate director of the One Health Institute at the University of California, Davis, said of One Health, which seeks to prevent infectious disease outbreaks by safeguarding wild animals and their habitat.
Other experts told HuffPost that the U.S. should establish a high-level One Health task force that brings together agencies like the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the Fish and Wildlife Service, USAID and the U.S. Department of Agriculture to chart a course forward for protecting wildlife habitat, strengthening disease surveillance and preventing pandemics.
Still others, like Dr. Richard Kock, say humans must drastically scale back livestock production, which brought the goat plague to Mongolia and fueled the Nipah virus outbreak in Malaysia.
“Pathogens can move incredibly quickly despite attempts to stop them and despite our technology and our medicines,” Kock said. “It is a wake-up call for humanity.”
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Knowingly creating a false impression of the world: this is a serious matter. It is more serious still when the BBC does it, and yet worse when the presenter is “the most trusted man in Britain”. But, as his latest interview with the Observer reveals, David Attenborough sticks to his line that fully representing environmental issues is a “turn-off”.
His new series, Dynasties, will mention the pressures affecting wildlife, but Attenborough makes it clear that it will play them down. To do otherwise, he suggests, would be “proselytising” and “alarmist”. His series will be “a great relief from the political landscape which otherwise dominates our thoughts”. In light of the astonishing rate of collapse of the animal populations he features, alongside most of the rest of the world’s living systems – and when broadcasting as a whole has disgracefully failed to represent such truths – I don’t think such escapism is appropriate or justifiable.
For many years, wildlife film-making has presented a pristine living world. It has created an impression of security and abundance, even in places afflicted by cascading ecological collapse. The cameras reassure us that there are vast tracts of wilderness in which wildlife continues to thrive. They cultivate complacency, not action.
You cannot do such a thing passively. Wildlife film-makers I know tell me that the effort to portray what looks like an untouched ecosystem becomes harder every year. They have to choose their camera angles ever more carefully to exclude the evidence of destruction, travel further to find the Edens they depict. They know – and many feel deeply uncomfortable about it – that they are telling a false story, creating a fairytale world that persuades us all is well, in the midst of an existential crisis. While many people, thanks in large part to David Attenborough, are now quite well informed about wildlife, we remain astonishingly ignorant about what is happening to it.
What makes Attenborough’s comments particularly odd is that they come just a year after the final episode of his Blue Planet II series triggered a massive effort to reduce plastic pollution. Though the programme made a complete dog’s breakfast of the issue, the response demonstrated a vast public appetite for information about the environmental crisis, and an urgent desire to act on it.
Since 1985, when I worked in the department that has made most of his programmes, I have pressed the BBC to reveal environmental realities, often with dismal results. In 1995 I spent several months with a producer, developing a novel and imaginative proposal for an environmental series. The producer returned from his meeting with the channel controller in a state of shock. “He just looked at the title and asked ‘Is this environment?’ I said yes. He said, ‘I’ve spent two years trying to get environment off this fucking channel. Why the fuck are you bringing me environment?’”
I later discovered that this response was typical. The controllers weren’t indifferent. They were actively hostile. If you ask me whether the BBC or ExxonMobil has done more to frustrate environmental action in this country, I would say the BBC.
We all knew that only one person had the power to break this dam. For decades David Attenborough, a former channel controller widely seen as the living embodiment of the BBC, has been able to make any programme he wants. So where, we kept asking, was he? At last, in 2000, he presented an environmental series: State of the Planet.
It was an interesting and watchable series, but it left us with nowhere to go and nothing to do. Only in the last few seconds of the final episode was there a hint that structural forces might be at play: “Real success can only come if there’s a change in our societies, in our economics and in our politics.” But what change? What economics? What politics? He had given us no clues.
To make matters worse, it was sandwiched between further programmes of his about the wonders of nature, which created a strong impression of robust planetary health. He might have been describing two different worlds. Six years later he made another environmental series, The Truth About Climate Change. And this, in my view, was a total disaster.
It told us nothing about the driving forces behind climate breakdown. The only mention of fossil fuel companies was as part of the solution: “The people who extract fossil fuels like oil and gas have now come up with a way to put carbon dioxide back underground.” Apart from the general “we”, the only distinct force identified as responsible was the “1.3 billion Chinese”. That a large proportion of Chinese emissions are caused by manufacturing goods the west buys was not mentioned. The series immediately triggered a new form of climate denial: I was bombarded with people telling me there was no point in taking action in Britain because the Chinese were killing the planet.
If Attenborough’s environmentalism has a coherent theme, it is shifting the blame from powerful forces on to either society in general or the poor and weak. Sometimes it becomes pretty dark. In 2013 he told the Telegraph“What are all these famines in Ethiopia? What are they about? They’re about too many people for too little land … We say, get the United Nations to send them bags of flour. That’s barmy.”
There had not been a famine in Ethiopia for 28 years, and the last one was caused not by an absolute food shortage but by civil war and government policies. His suggestion that food relief is counter-productive suggests he has read nothing on the subject since Thomas Malthus’s essay in 1798. But, cruel and ignorant as these comments were, they were more or less cost-free. By contrast, you do not remain a national treasure by upsetting powerful vested interests: look at the flak the outspoken wildlife and environmental presenter Chris Packham attracts for standing up to the hunting lobby.
I have always been entranced by Attenborough’s wildlife programmes, but astonished by his consistent failure to mount a coherent, truthful and effective defence of the living world he loves. His revelation of the wonders of nature has been a great public service. But withholding the knowledge we need to defend it is, I believe, a grave disservice.
• George Monbiot is a Guardian columnist
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Climate change is real, and it will start damaging the planet in irreversible ways very, very soon. An October 2018 report from the United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change showed that we have 12 years to keep the globe’s average temperature at 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels; even half a degree higher would greatly increase the risks for drought, poverty, and extreme weather.
A major new climate report slams the door on wishful thinking
The IPCC says that even the most optimistic scenario for climate change is dire.
Basically, stopping warming at 1.5C would involve an immediate, coordinated crash program of re-industrialization, involving every major country in the world. It would be like the US mobilizing for WWII, only across the globe, sustained for the rest of the century.
If you’ve heard about the report, chances are it caused you to do one of two things: 1. Internally freak out about our impending doom and become so overwhelmed that you decided to not think about it and leave the unprecedented changes up to those in laboratories and the White House. 2. Internally freak out about our impending doom and then wonder what you can do to help.
Is Having Kids Bad for the Environment?
For many women, that goes beyond recycling, switching to an electric car, or avoiding fast fashion. It also extends to the choices we make about family. According to a 2017 study, the number one thing people in industrialized countries can do to limit climate change is have fewer children; not having a baby could save as much carbon per year as 73 people going vegetarian. However, Kimberly Nicholas, who co-authored the report, told ELLE that the report wasn’t meant to make people feel guilty for having children. “If I had a burning hole in my heart to have a child and I knew that it would also be the biggest contribution to climate change that I would make, I think that I would do it anyway,” she said. Nicholas also said she believes lowering your own energy consumption is more important than deciding not to have children: “It’s not so much about whether you choose to have a child. It’s about what kind of lifestyle you choose to raise that child in.”
But still, other women are choosing not to have biological children for the sake of the planet. Below, five women sound off on their reasoning.
“If my hypothetical children were to ask me one day, ‘Why did you bring me onto the planet knowing what a dire situation it was in?’ there’s no reasonable answer I could give to justify my actions. There’s not much I can do as an individual to stop climate change, but I can do my part to not leave a future generation to suffer through global catastrophe.
I’ve never really wanted kids, but the recent announcement from scientists that we (humanity) have 12 years to stem the tide of catastrophic climate change validates and solidifies my decision.
It sounds defeatist, but when we have a White House administrations that’s unwilling to admit climate change is a problem, and the U.S., along with China, India, and Russia, producing astronomical amounts of greenhouse emissions, individual effort is a drop in the bucket without policy change.”
“Up until I was in my mid-twenties I had always viewed having kids not so much as something I really wanted, but something that was inevitable. It seemed like a natural path everyone around me took, and I assumed that at some point it would appeal to me. I’ve been with my partner for six years, and my biological clock never kicked in. Ultimately, we both agree that the environmental stakes are too high for something we feel ambivalent about at best.
ULTIMATELY, WE BOTH AGREE THAT THE ENVIRONMENTAL STAKES ARE TOO HIGH FOR SOMETHING WE FEEL AMBIVALENT ABOUT AT BEST.
Besides being vegetarian, I also try to make energy conscious choices when I can, like riding my bike to work instead of driving. My job at the Center for Biological Diversity is to help people make the connection between unsustainable population growth and its effects on endangered species and their habitat. As our population grows, we’re increasingly beating out wildlife for resources and space and none of the eco-conscious choices we make will matter if our population keeps growing at the current rate.
Population needs to become a bigger part of the environmental conversation, and we use our Endangered Species Condoms as a way to start that conversation and educate people about how safe sex can save the planet.
Many people don’t know that having one less child saves nearly 60 tons of carbon dioxide emissions per year. This is more than the emission savings from more commonly advertised ‘green’ actions like recycling, eating a plant-based diet, and living car-free combined. Educating people about this could help them rethink their family planning choices and what kind of world they want to leave their kids if they decide to have them.”
“I grew up in Toronto, and Canada was always quite progressive in discussing pollution [and] environmental issues like animal extinction.
When I was younger I thought I might want kids, but now that it seems like climate change is coming stronger and faster than previously assumed. I just don’t feel like it’s right to bring people who could have a much more difficult life onto this already very stressed-out planet.“
Stop Pretending to be Neutral About Climate Change
“My fourth grade teacher was and is a climate change activist and she drilled the importance of respecting the earth into us pretty early. So I always had that sense of environmental responsibility, but I’d say the real thrust of it hit me over the last few years.
I’ve always waffled about whether or not to have kids. I’ll go through phases where I’m convinced I want them and then phases when I’m convinced I don’t. I never really considered adopting until I started thinking seriously about climate change, but now whenI think about having kids it makes more sense to me to adopt, because it’s like a win-win: Better for the environment by not contributing to overpopulation, and it helps a kid in need.
I do the usual [to combat climate change]: I’m a vegetarian, and I recycle and attend protests, etc. But honestly I’m doing what most of us with very little power to change things beyond an individual level are doing: the bare minimum.”
“I think I started to understand climate change after I graduated from college. I stopped eating meat for a while and even when I started eating meat again, I drastically cut back my consumption. I recycled everything that was recyclable and stopped drinking bottled water.
Growing up, I had always envisioned a family and having children, but as I have gotten older my views have changed. I believe that climate change is going to have a strong negative impact on future generations, and they are inheriting a bad situation.
Climate change is also going to have a huge impact on food production and the world is already becoming over-populated—another reason why I do not want to have children.
If [the effects of climate change] were really a priority, we would see change being made like no more coal and more solar power and renewable resources.”
Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau with President Trump. Official White House Photo by Shealah Craighead
President Donald Trump headed for the Group of Seven (G7) summit in Canada on Friday but will be leaving before Saturday’s meeting on climate change, clean energy and oceans. The White House said an aide will take Trump’s place, CNN reported.
The announcement of his early departure comes amid a brewing war on tariffs. French President Emmanuel Macron and Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said at a joint press conference on Thursday they intended to challenge Trump’s tariffs on steel and aluminum imports at the G7 summit, according to the Associated Press.
Trump will depart for Singapore on Saturday for his meeting with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un.
“I am heading for Canada and the G-7 for talks that will mostly center on the long time unfair trade practiced against the United States,” the president tweeted today. “From there I go to Singapore and talks with North Korea on Denuclearization. Won’t be talking about the Russian Witch Hunt Hoax for a while!”
Frankly, it’s not surprising that Trump wants to skip the climate meeting with the leaders of Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan and the UK. The president doesn’t believe in climate science, he wants to dramatically expand offshore oil drilling along the nation’s coasts, and his intention to withdraw the U.S. from the Paris agreement has created a significant rift between the U.S. and its G7 allies.
In fact, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency chief Scott Pruitt also ducked out of a G7 meeting of environment ministers in Italy last June.
Just look at how incongruous the aims of the G7 meeting are compared to Trump’s pro-fossil fuel agenda:
How can the G7 accelerate the transition to low carbon, climate resilient economies? What issues, areas, or initiatives should the G7 prioritize?
How can the G7 create a cleaner environment for future generations, while also creating jobs and growth that benefits everyone?
What are the most important issues facing our oceans and coastal communities today? How should the G7 work together to address these issues, including as it relates to expanding conservation, eliminating pollution, and promoting the sustainable use of maritime resources?
How can the G7 advance gender equality and women’s empowerment through its actions related to climate change, oceans and clean growth?
As Earther noted, “One can hope Trump’s absence will reduce distractions.” Perhaps, as the website suggested, the meeting can instead focus on the Trudeau government’s recent $4.5 billion purchase of the controversial Trans Mountain tar sands pipeline.
Better yet, the G7 leaders can talk about a new report from Britain’s Overseas Development Institute. The report revealed that their governments continue to subsidize at least $100 billion a year in subsidies for the production and use of coal, oil and gas, despite repeated pledges to phase out fossil fuels by 2025.
Pope Francis on Saturday issued a dire warning to top oil executives, saying that climate change could “destroy civilization.”
At a two-day conference at the Vatican, the pope called climate change a challenge of “epochal proportions,” according to Reuters.
He also said that the world must move toward using clean energy and a reduction in the use of fossil fuels.
“Civilization requires energy but energy use must not destroy civilization,” Francis said.
The conference, organized by the University of Notre Dame in the United States, brought together executives from asset manager BlackRock, BP and Norwegian oil and energy company Equinor, among others.
The event was prompted by Francis’s 2015 papal encyclical blaming humans for climate change and criticizing world leaders for not acting swiftly enough to address it.
The conference comes a little less than a year after President Trumppulled the U.S. out of the Paris climate accord. Trump has referred to global warming as a “hoax” and drawn criticism from the scientific community for stacking his administration with officials who deny the human role in climate change. During a meeting with Trump, the pope gave him a copy of the encyclical.
The pope told the group Saturday that global issues like poverty are “interconnected” to concerns about global warming and access to electricity.
“We know that the challenges facing us are interconnected,” he said, according to Reuters. “If we are to eliminate poverty and hunger … the more than one billion people without electricity today need to gain access to it.”
“But that energy should also be clean, by a reduction in the systematic use of fossil fuels,” he added. “Our desire to ensure energy for all must not lead to the undesired effect of a spiral of extreme climate changes due to a catastrophic rise in global temperatures, harsher environments and increased levels of poverty.”
Auditor General of : Demand cleanup of abandoned telegraph wire that is killing wildlife in Pacific Northwest
‘You could see that this truly epic battle between the wire and the moose had gone on,’ says Ken Knutson
CBC NewsPosted: Sep 15, 2015 6:30 AM CT Last Updated: Sep 15, 2015 6:30 AM CT
This moose was found caught in telegraph wire adjacent to the White Pass and Yukon Route railway on Friday. Ken Knutson, Yukon conservation officer, says it likely had been trapped for a day or two. (Claudiane Samson/CBC)
Something needs to be done about old telegraph wire left in the bush, says a Yukon conservation officer who had to kill a badly-entangled bull moose on Friday.
“Clearly it’s got to be cleaned up,” says Ken Knutson.
“It’s been known for a while that it’s a hazard. Something like this really brings it home where you’ve got an animal alive in front of you … and you’ve got to euthanize it.”
A dog musher called conservation officers after spotting the distressed bull moose caught in telegraph wire adjacent to the White Pass and Yukon Route railway, about three kilometres from the South Klondike Highway.
“You could see that this truly epic battle between the wire and the moose had gone on,” Knutson said.
“It was wrapped numerous times around pine trees that were five, six inches. It had mowed some of them down. On both sides of the track it was all churned up. So he’d put up quite a struggle.”
Knutson says there was no way the moose would have freed itself from the wire on its own.
“There were multiple wraps around its antlers,” he said. “It was around his neck, around its body and its hind legs — there was a big snarl.”
‘I could have literally gone up and touched him’
‘He was in the height of his glory. The kind you want out there breeding,’ says Ken Knutson, Yukon conservation officer, about the nearly 500-kilogram moose he had to euthanize last week. (Claudiane Samson/CBC)
Knutson says the animal had likely been trapped for a day or two.
“He was worn out,” he says. “I could have literally gone up and touched him and he wouldn’t have done anything, which is clearly not normal behaviour.”
Had the situation been different, he says he might have been able to save the moose. But due to the weak physical condition of the animal and the lack of extra resources available to Knutson at midnight on Friday, he made the decision to shoot it.
Knuston says although the meat will be donated, it’s a waste of a healthy 500-kilogram bull.
“He was in the height of his glory; the kind you want out there breeding.”
Knuston says he thinks White Pass and Yukon Railway may own the old telegraph line. The railway company did not immediately return calls on Monday.