The Climate in Emergency

A weekly blog on science, news, and ideas related to climate change


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BOO!

This morning, I saw an article posted on Facebook in which a woman recounted having seen two oddly-behaving men while she was out shopping with her children and mother. The two men followed them and did not appear to be shopping. The women, quite understandably, grew concerned, suspecting that the men were trying to kidnap one or more of the kids. The family managed to evade the men and report them, and there the story ended. The kids are safe, but if anything more was ever learned about the men, it wasn’t mentioned.

Perhaps understandably, the author of the piece assumes that her assessment of the situation was correct; her children had been targeted by child traffickers, but had managed to escape. She provides four “warning signs,” so that other parents would be better able to evade would-be kidnappers also. She pleads with parents to watch their kids closely at all times.

The two women acted correctly; while they didn’t have enough information to be certain the men were planning an abduction, the situation was clearly freaky enough to justify getting the kids out of there. And I have to admit that, were I in her shoes, I, like the author, would likely also assume the danger was certain. That there is no proof would feel like a trivial technicality.

But it’s not trivial.

When someone cries “danger!” it matters very much whether the danger they’re warning of is plausible. If you hear a hurricane warning for your area from the National Hurricane Center, you get very busy battening down the hatches. If your friendly neighborhood three-year-old tells you the dragons are coming, you play along for twenty seconds and then go back to whatever it is you were doing. So, when a woman says “there are creepy men lurking in department stores looking to snatch kids,” it really matters whether there actually are.

And this woman can’t tell us. Her understandable assumptions aside, she really doesn’t know.

Irrational fears can actually hurt people. In his book, The Science of Fear, Dan Gardner points out that, following the 9/11 attacks, many Americans chose to drive rather than fly, presumably out of fear of hijacked airplanes. But because cars are much more dangerous than airplanes, thousands of people died in car crashes who would have been fine had they flown.

Mr. Gardner’s contention is that people are very bad at estimating risk (for reasons he explains lucidly) and that we often put ourselves at greater risk as a result. He specifically addresses the issue of “stranger danger,” pointing out that while children are occasionally abducted by strangers, it is an extremely rare tragedy. Most kidnappers are family members, for one thing. And yet, the widespread conviction otherwise has a very strong bearing on how people of my generation raise their kids.

The flip side of the danger of irrational fear is the irrational lack of fear. Not fearing car accidents, even though they are a greater danger than terrorism. Not fearing depression and type 2 diabetes, even though I’m guessing a lot of kids kept “safely” indoors develop these life-threatening problems. Not fearing all the various things that really could mess up the lives of our kids and present much more certain risk than creepy guys lurking around furniture do.

Look, I get it. I’m not a parent, but I am an aunt. There is a four-year-old hand that sometimes holds my index finger. It is just about the sweetest thing, ever. I understand that the merest hint of a child-snatcher is insanely terrifying. I also understand what loving adults are prepared to do when their kids are in danger. And I can’t help but notice that’s not being done about climate change. Not on a massive scale. According to polls last year, 68% of Americans now believe that human activity is causing climate change, and yet we have been electing consistently climate-denying governments anyway.

Today, President Trump signed an executive order intended to undo President Obama’s climate legacy. Although the undoing will be difficult and probably incomplete, and there are things that can be done to fight back, this is not good news. It is, in fact, clear and present danger for children.

I have written before of what climate change could look like over the lifetime of children born this decade. I have also explored climate change as a cause of death. There are hurricanes. There are fires and floods, wars and famines. Already, more people die from heat waves than from all other natural disasters combined.

Unaddressed climate change over the next century means more kids dying.

If climate change falls under the heading of irrational absence of fear, if it lacks the necessary emotional oomph to inspire emergency action, let me offer a more compelling visual. If climate science doesn’t do it for you, imagine that every climate-denier politician and business leader is a child-snatcher lurking around the corner of the next place your family has to be.

Meet me in Washington for the climate march and the march for science next month. And start organizing for pro-climate legislatures, both state and federal, NOW.


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The Taj Mahal Lie: Why Donald Trump Isn’t Our Problem

If you ask a random person on the street “who built the Taj Mahal,” I suspect you’ll get either of two interestingly wrong answers.

  1. Donald Trump
  2. Some prince in India

Different buildings, of course. The one in India is my concern at the moment, though we’ll get back to Mr. Trump later. Whenever I’ve heard the original Taj Mahal brought up in casual contexts (as seems to happen about once a decade, for whatever reason), the description has been something like “the Taj Mahal is a beautiful building complex built by an Indian prince for his beloved.”

Really? He built the whole thing himself?

The standard description is more or less accurate. According the the website of The History Channel, in 1632, the Muhgul emperor, Shah Jahan, ordered the design and construction of a mausoleum to honor his favorite wife, Arjumand Banu Begum, who had died in childbirth (on her 14th child). She was known as Mumtaz Mahal, or “The Chosen One of the Palace,” so her tomb complex was named the Taj Mahal. The remains of both her and Shah Jahan rest at the site, although he had intended to have a separate, equally magnificent complex built for himself. He was deposed by one of their sons before he could have it built.

Of course, everybody knows that the Shah did not literally build the Taj Mahal himself (the labor required over 2000 humans and roughly 1000 elephants and took 20 years). It is an easy guess he didn’t design it himself, either. Sometimes you do hear more accurate verbs in the story, like “commissioned,” or “had built.” It’s not like the truth is being hidden in any way, here. But the convention of speaking as if people who give orders accomplish things all by themselves–as if everyone else involved were simply an extension of the Great One’s body–is so ingrained that we seldom notice we’re doing it.

Who, for example, built the first mass-produced car? Henry Ford did.

Who defeated the army of Robert E Lee? Ulysses S Grant did.

Who burnt Atlanta during the Civil War? William Tecumseh Sherman did.

These answers are such common knowledge that I’m not bothering to cite any of them with links–you know they’re all true. Who were the other people involved in any of these endeavors and what were their contributions? I have no idea. And I doubt you have any idea, either. We don’t know because we don’t care–it is the action of the real person, the one who gave the orders, that matters.

All this is not simply semantic play. Proper attribution of who does what matters. Consider the statement “Hitler killed six million Jews.” It’s true as far as it goes, I’m not trying to say that people who give orders are less responsible, though focusing on the Fuhrer does tend to let thousands of co-conspirators and trigger-men off the hook in the popular imagination. But the phrasing consistently inspires people to fantasize about killing Hitler, as if doing so would avert all those other murders. And the fact of matter is, since Hitler didn’t kill those people alone, it is very possible that, without him, those others would have gone on to have the Holocaust anyway.

And this is where President Trump comes back in the story, not because he’s being compared to Hitler (he has been, but so has virtually every other public figure with at least one naysayer), but because he’s being compared to Richard Nixon.

Mr. Nixon was, of course the one US president who was most unequivocally a crook. He was crude, paranoid, and corrupt. But he also created the EPA and signed more landmark environmental legislation than almost anybody else.

Unlike our other stand-out environmentalist presidents, Teddy Roosevelt and Barack Obama, President Nixon was not an environmentalist personally. Aside from some largely empty rhetoric, he provided no real leadership on the subject, and in some cases he actively threw up roadblocks. He thought tree-huggers were stupid at best.

But the anti-environment campaign had not yet begun, so signing those laws carried no political cost. A lot of the young people who were angry about the Vietnam War also cared about trees and whales, and so forth. The President threw them a couple of bones so he could get back to matters that really mattered. And those “bones” have formed the backbone of environmental protection for the past 50 years.

So much of the Anti-Trump sentiment I hear sounds a bit like the kill-Hitler fantasies in that they rest on the assumption that Mr Trump personally is the problem. As though, were he removed (impeachment, resignation, tragic accident), all the problems and threats associated with his presidency would be removed. And they wouldn’t be. Because we already know what a crude, paranoid, and crooked man does when installed in the presidency and confronted with a functional environmental movement–he creates the Environmental Protection Agency, he doesn’t muzzle it. He enables environmental regulations, he doesn’t undermine it. Richard Nixon didn’t care any more about the planet than Donald Trump does, but he acted like he did because the public made him do it.

I’m not saying that the individuality of leaders is irrelevant. There are occasions when the course of history turns on a single person, for good or for ill. Arguably, Adolph Hitler was such a person. So was Abraham Lincoln. So might Donald Trump be, though it’s too early to tell.

But leaders do what they do because others help him, or because others force them, or because others let them. They never act, nor fail to act, alone.

Donald Trump is part of a movement, both of popular sentiment and of political machinations. I don’t mean he’s popular, I mean that he isn’t alone. He is being helped, forced, or at least allowed to do as he is doing. And that help, force, or permission will continue even if he’s removed. It will continue until it meets a countervailing force.

Why do we keep hearing that Americans, when polled, support environmental protections, including climate action, by a solid majority, yet we keep watching ant-environmentalists and climate deniers taking office? If we forced Mr. Nixon to do the right thing on these issues, why can’t we force anyone else?

Why does the opposition continue to virtually ignore environmental issues and why has it been so ineffective on the topics that it does care about?

Donald Trump could not have become a bother to anyone other than his immediate circle without a lot of help–and an absence of true, effective opposition. Whether the Trump presidency lasts eight years or one year, that is the problem we have to solve.


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Meanwhile, in Congress

For a while, now, I’ve been seeing vague references to the idea that there is a bill in Congress that would end the EPA. Honestly, I was too overwhelmed and depressed over the issue to do anything about it for a few days, which is why I decided to write this week’s post on the issue–make myself accountable for at least finding out what’s going on.

Fortunately, I quickly learned that this bill, by itself is not the problem. Not that we don’t have problems.

H.R. 861 is quite real. You can look up its current legislative status here. But it is essentially a stunt. Not that there aren’t legislators who want the Environmental Protection Administration to go away, but this bill cannot accomplish it. The issue is that several other laws (such as the Clean Air Act) require the Federal Government to do the things that the EPA does. If Congress terminates the EPA without also either repealing all of those other laws or creating some other mechanism to comply with them, the Federal Government will immediately be in violation of a lot of laws. Without the EPA in place, it will also get paradoxically easier to sue polluting companies, so actually removing the EPA probably doesn’t have much corporate support.

H.R. 861 contains no such provisions for dealing with the other laws.

That doesn’t mean we shouldn’t all raise an immediate hue and cry to protect the EPA. Stunt legislation could well function as a test, a way to gauge public interest in an issue. Call your Congressmembers, and especially call the members of the House Subcommittee on the Environment, and the House Committees on Energy and Commerce, on Agriculture, on Transportation and Infrastructure, and Science, Space, and Technology (that’s four separate committees) as these are the people currently considering the bill. Tell them NO, protect the EPA.

But there are a couple of other problems. Basically, there are other, less dramatic and attention-getting, ways to put the EPA out of commission. It’s budget can be cut to the point that it can’t function, for example, or many of its rules and guidelines can be replaced with much less stringent ones. Or, Congress can pass laws that hamper the EPA in various ways without actually removing it. Here is a good article on what some of those possibilities are. Here is an article on at least one of the measures that has already been proposed. And of course, there was the “muzzling” of the EPA that occurred by Presidential fiat shortly after the inauguration. Unfortunately, I haven’t been able to find any current information on that. The measures were, supposedly, temporary, but I can’t get confirmation that they are still in force–nor can I find anything suggesting they aren’t. It’s like the issue just fell off the news cycle and hasn’t been back. The Twitter accounts, RogueEPA and AltEPA both still function, and I have sent a Tweet to the former asking for information, but, so far, no word.

Read both articles I just linked to, keep abreast of these issues, and be prepared to raise a big stink as often as necessary. Because I’m willing to bet that the strategy here is going to be to do as much damage to environmental regulation as possible while nobody is looking. Remember that Donald Trump’s backers do not benefit directly from changes to immigration policy or healthcare–all of that is smoke screen and political posturing. The name of the game is to undo environmental regulation.

But I have an even deeper concern.

Many people are comparing President Trump to President Nixon, based on suspicions that the former may be equally a paranoid crook. The comparison between the two men may or may not be apt, as far as it goes. But remember, Richard Nixon created the EPA and signed into law most of the powerful environmental legislation we have. Now, I’ve never heard Richard Nixon himself described as an environmentalist, but he signed those bills because at the time the environmental movement was strong enough that it was the expedient thing to do. Somehow, we’ve lost that.

I keep hearing about how much the American people, including many conservatives, support environmental regulation, including greenhouse gas emission reductions–ok, well, why then can’t we elect climate-sane public officials? Donald Trump ran on an explicitly climate-denier platform and he won. He has since been able to install the most environmentally egregious cabinet picks, mostly without any real opposition.

Something we’re doing isn’t working. We need to regroup and try something else.

 

 


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Step by Step

So, a few people took a walk together on Saturday. Perhaps you were among them?

First, I’ve just got to say it, THAT WAS A VERY BIG DEMONSTRATION!!! Millions of people across the world stood up and shouted and waved signs for women’s rights and other, related issues. YAY!!!

And yet I’m not feeling optimistic right now.

Too many wrong and dangerous things are happening, and there’s not a whole lot we can do about it right now. We can jump up and down and wave signs, but the sad fact of the matter is that our elected officials have no reason whatever to believe that our enthusiasm is going to translate into political cover at the ballot box–because we just had an election, and right wing climate deniers swept both houses of Congress and the White House.

And to be clear, those electoral losses weren’t entirely our fault. While the many people who simply chose not to vote at all surely bear some responsibility for our current fix, there is also gerrymandering. There is voter suppression. There is the vast influx of money that has been busily building up and entrenching what became Donald Trump’s base for at least the past eight years. The opposition is currently larger than the recent election results imply. But if the system is indeed rigged now, it will not likely be less so by the time the next election comes around. Even if our leaders believe we want to have their backs, why should they believe we can deliver?

I don’t want to vent too much of my personal negativity–I don’t want my bad mood to become contagious. Our focus must be on solving the problems we have, not bemoaning them. But at the same time, I am feeling so personally overwhelmed that there isn’t very much I can do. Honestly, I spent most of yesterday in the grip of an utterly debilitating anxiety attack.

It would be nice if there were simply a to-do list to check off. That way, we could take this whole process step by step, without confusion, digression, or overload. I wrote one up shortly after the election, posted it, and did some of the things on it, but that was a one-off. I need a regularly updated list. I also need that is, within its parameters, reasonably close to exhaustive. A random smattering of things to call my senators about, for example, isn’t good enough–because even if I signed every suggested petition and made every suggested call, there would still be that one bill or that one political appointment that passed, like a thief in the night, utterly without my knowledge until after the fact. And I don’t know about you, but that sort of thing makes me want to weep and rend my garments and star blankly off into space when I should in fact be doing something useful.

I have been unable to find such a list, so far. I am thinking of making one.

Several guiding principles are apparent, right now:

  • The political resistance needs an environmental focus. As I have written before, the central objective of the Trump Administration appears to be the undermining of climate action. While many other aspects of Donald Trump’s plans seem very troubling, as far as I can tell, he and his major investors have little to nothing to gain from either misogyny or racism directly. They stand to gain enormously by forestalling climate action, however. Dog-whistling up deplorables is almost certainly a means to an end for them, therefor, and it is at that end–at the head of the beast–where the battle must be joined.
  • The political resistance must be intersectional, inclusive, and reciprocal. There is a meme going around Facebook right now in which a brown-skinned hand holds a sign, reading “So, all of you nice white ladies are going to show up at the next Black Lives Matter rally, right?” That meme has a point, and it is a point that could be launched at environmentalists just as easily as towards white feminists. There are those among us who are fighting for their survival–the anti-pipeline fights by Native American nations, various economic and political refugees, and trans and gender-nonconforming folk all spring to mind as other examples. For those of us not at immediate risk, supporting those fights is not only the right thing to do, it is also the only way we can, in good conscience, ask the others to sign on board with environmentalist fights. Climate action is part of justice, and we all need it, but we can’t reasonably expect anyone to fight for future generations if they’re busy fighting just to live to see tomorrow.
  • This blog can address a broad spectrum of political issues and yet remain strictly non-partizan. This blog is not Democrat. It is not Republican. It is not Green Party. It is not Libertarian. It is not Democratic-Socialist. I draw a strict distinction between taking a politically controversial position (e.g., transwomen ought to be able to use the same toilets that ciswomen do) and identifying with a specific political party. In general, the focus will remain on climate change, even though I may provide information on engaging with other issues (such as the time and location of the next Back Lives Matter rally, if I can find that information).

What I want to do is to create a couple of pages associated with this site that will list, in a comprehensive way, various actions that readers might want to take. And I’ll update those lists regularly. Perhaps one page for things to write or call elected officials about, one for links to petitions, and one for upcoming marches, direct actions, and related events. I’ve long wanted a page for links to scientific resources and one for other blogs as well, so I’ll do those, too.

And then I can get back to using the blog itself largely to talk about science and current events.

But I can’t do any of this alone. It’s just too much work to do on the limited number of hours per week I can spare for paid work.

I need donations. I need sponsorship. $50-$100 per week would take care of it. Split several different ways, it’s not all that much. Please.

 

 


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The Anxious, Jealous Guardians of Our Democracy

Some weeks ago, I explained the process by which an incoming president’s political appointees are vetted and confirmed by the Senate. Given my deep concern over President-Elect Trump’s nomination for head of the EPA (I had thought he might choose Myron Ebell, but he actually chose a different climate-denier, Scott Pruitt), I advised readers to first contact the members of the committee that would vet the nominee, and then to contact their senators.

I expected that the nomination process for the Trump administration would not begin until after the inauguration because that process is begun by the president. Since Donald Trump is not president yet, I had thought he would have to wait.

I was surprised.

(I do not mean to suggest any anomaly on his part. I may well have misunderstood.)

Full Senate confirmation hearings appear to have begun, meaning that the committee process has already been completed for some of the nominees. Unfortunately, I have not been able to track that one down, yet—I don’t know which committees have finished their work and I don’t know how to find out.

Clearly, the thing to do is to hurry up and call as many people as possible. If you don’t know whether a Senate committee has met yet, call them anyway. Senate staffers are nice people, and they do not make fun of constituents who call up sounding disorganized. Unfortunately, I’m kind of afraid of telephones. Honestly, calling people makes me anxious. I call my mother and, if I’m traveling, my husband, and that’s about it. For the sake of my country and my planet I will rise above my fear and make the calls, but it takes a lot more time and emotional energy than it should.

Seriously, don’t be like me. Make the calls. These people aren’t scary. I called Senator Cardin’s office today. I tried to call his Salisbury office, which is closest to my house (and therefore more likely to be responsive to me), but kept getting sent to voicemail, so I called the DC office and got through. I stumbled through my words a bit, apologized, then said:

“I want to ask the Senator to please do whatever he can to block the more extreme of Trump’s appointments, especially Scott Pruitt. There is no way a climate denier should be EPA head.”

The staffer said she would add that to the tally and make sure to tell Senator Cardin. I thanked her and we wished each other good day. That was it.

If you don’t know how to contact your senators, just look it up online. It’s easy. Phone calls are more important than emails or petitions (do that, too, though), because even though all contacts from constituents are tallied, if you speak to a staffer yourself, he or she is more likely to make sure the Senator hears of your call. All senators have DC phone numbers. Many also have other offices and those numbers should be listed on the individual senator’s website, if he or she has one. Go to.

I’ve been seeing lots of exhortations to call in about other nominees as well, though I’m not going to talk about that in this blog. I did find a schedule of the confirmation hearings, here.

I am pleased to see these signs of political involvement. I am not pleased that virtually none of these exhortations are aimed at protecting the environment—and the environment, remember, is about public health, social justice, economic vibrancy, and national security. All that depends on Planet Earth, and all that is being ignored, by and large, by the nation’s nascent political resistance.

Which is especially problematic, given that a strong argument can be made that preventing climate action is exactly why Donald Trump ran and exactly what he intends to focus on while in office.

Virtually everyone he is surrounding himself with has ties to the fossil fuels industry. He has the support of the Heartland Institute, an anti-climate group which is largely funded by the Koch Brothers. He has the support of the Russian government, which is entirely dependent on fossil fuels for its wealth and power.

The social issues—women’s rights, LGBT rights, racial justice, immigrant and refugee rights—may have been the flashpoints of the campaign, but they are clearly peripheral to Mr. Trump and his advisers. He makes a lot of noise that way and pisses people off very effectively, but he has made no progress whatever towards any policy proposals that would actually help any of the groups supposedly aggrieved by women, gay people, trans* people, black and brown people, or newcomers of any stripe. It’s not like an impossibly expensive wall is actually going to have anything to do with protecting jobs or lowering the crime rate, even if it is ever built. In other words, while Donald Trump can certainly hurt the less-than-fully-enfranchised, and probably will, no one is going to directly benefit from his doing so–and if nobody (no supporters, no donors, no political allies) benefit, then what is the political point? Why bother?

But Mr. Trump has made a very specific, and very doable promise to undo President Obama’s climate policies, something that will have direct and immediate benefit to the fossil fuel industry and everybody who is significantly invested in it.

Remember that Donald Trump was a leader of the Birther Movement, a major plank in the Tea Party, which was in turn largely bankrolled by the Koch Brothers—who are deeply tied to the fossil fuel industry and have a history of supporting climate doubt.

Why would a movement organized around cultural and economic complaints be bankrolled by oil barons?

Could it be that dog-whistling up the racist animosity of the nation was an effective means of mobilizing an electorate capable of getting a climate-denier into office? Is it entirely coincidental that when a black man becomes the first US President to really take climate change seriously, oil barons begin immediately funding and organizing racists who espouse a deep distrust of the Federal government? A black man attacks climate change and attempts to hand the baton to a woman (who does have an excellent record with the League of Conservation Voters, remember) and the actual next president is a misogynist, racist climate denier–does this sound like a coincidence, or is it somebody’s idea of a plan?

Racism and its associated deplorabilities was the bait offered for one aim and one aim alone: to stack the White House, Congress, and eventually the Supreme Court with corporate-friendly climate deniers.

For any of you who dislike Donald Trump for reasons other than his climate hostility, climate hostility is now precisely the reason for all your other worries. That is why they won.

And it worked. We lost this round because too many people took their eye off the ball. We minimized and marginalized the importance of climate change, something the people who seek to prevent climate action have never done. They took the issue seriously and presented a consistent, organized, and strategically intelligent front. That’s how they won.

We can win in turn by being equally serious and savvy, by not taking our eyes off the ball, either. By making those phone calls, by attending those protests, by running for office ourselves.

I’m watching President Obama’s farewell address right now. The title of this post is a phrase from his speech. You may like him or dislike him, that’s not my concern, but our chance right now lies in taking on the challenge he has issued—to believe that yes, we can change the world.

The world is changing regardless. It’s up to us now to shape those changes.


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6 Steps to Save the World from President Trump

This post includes a lot of material that actually showed up in the last two posts, but as my list has evolved and gotten more useful, I thought I’d share the updated version. It’s less a discussion and more of a simple to-do list. These items are listed in rough order of priority, since some have deadlines coming up soon. Please pass this around. Thank you.

1. Maybe Keep Mr. Trump Out of Office

No, getting Trump impeached is a bad idea. For one thing, that would give us President Pence, and that would be worse. But there are other options–all long shots, but still viable.

  1. Demand a recount. Jill Stein is organizing recounts in several key states. The Clinton campaign has joined the effort. Neither Dr. Stein nor Ms. Clinton expect to change the outcome of the election this way (and Dr. Stein does not care whether Mr. Trump or Ms. Clinton is president), the objective is only to stand up for fair play. But there is a chance. Check Dr. Stein’s website to see if she needs money or other assistance.
  2. Ask Republican electors to vote for Hillary Clinton instead. So-called “faithless electors” must pay a fine or other penalty in some states, but their votes are still valid, and this flexibility is exactly why the Electoral College exists. There is no official process for contacting the electors, but many are public figures and do have offices. Since the electors don’t have a responsibility to listen to “constituents” anyway, I don’t think it matters whether you live in their state or not. Just call as many as you can. Be polite and friendly, and focus on talking points likely to appeal to Republican party leaders, since that’s what most electors pledged to Mr. Trump are. Remember, a lot of Republican leaders don’t like Mr. Trump, anyway. It’s a long shot, but if we can get just 40 of them to switch, Mr. Clinton will be president. Here is a partial list of current Electoral College members.

2. Block the More Extreme of  Mr. Trump’s Appointees

I discussed how and why to block political appointees last week.  The short version is to sign whatever petitions you want to, but the real power lies in calling your senators and also those senators on the relevant committee. Start with Myron Ebell, the climate denier Mr. Trump wants to head the EPA. If your focus is on human rights, remember that it is always the disenfranchised who bear the brunt of pollution and climate change, and that of all the mistakes our government could make, allowing environmental disaster would be far the hardest to un-do.

Here’s the process, in brief:

  1. Look up Mr. Trump’s appointees. Here is a list that looks like it’s being regularly updated. Focus on those appointments that require Senate confirmation.
  2. Identify appointees you want to protest.
  3. Look up which Senate committee (or committees) has jurisdiction over that person’s prospective job. Use this link.
  4. Do an internet search for that committee’s web page. It will list the committee’s current membership with links to each member’s page—which will list the phone numbers for his or her office. Remember to CALL, not email. Remember that each Senate committee has its counterpart in the House. Don’t get the House committee by mistake. The US Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources has jurisdiction over the EPA. Here is a link to its page.
  5. Make a call list with all the members of the committee and your two Senators on it. Remember to remove any Senators who are leaving office in January and remember to call their successors when they come in. Fortunately, none of the members of the Energy and Natural Resources committee are leaving, so you can call all of them now.
  6. Make your phone calls.

3. Call the House Oversight Committee and Ask for a Bipartisan Review of Mr. Trump’s Financials and Conflicts of Interest

Honestly, I’m not sure if this will do anything useful, but since we are fairly sure Trump is slimy, knowing the exact depth of his slime probably can’t hurt. The number is (202) 225-5074

4. Attend Protest Marches, Especially Large Ones

There is a big demonstration planned on women’s rights in DC for just after inauguration. So far, the organizers seem to be communicating largely through Facebook, and the details are not set yet. Stay tuned. The objective here is to demonstrate that women and their allies DO matter politically and DO have power—both to put Trump and his cronies on notice and to let women who are afraid right now know they aren’t alone. Men and genderqueer folk are apparently welcome. I’m going.

I do hope to see a similar large demonstration on environmental issues soon, especially since Trump has signaled he’s open to having his mind changed on that one.

5. Donate Money

Mr. Trump has more or less promised to use his power to try to do horrible things to the environment, to Latinx and Muslim immigrants, and to anyone who needs affordable healthcare. Women, LGBT folk, and people of color are justifiably worried as well. And, since the election, bigots of all stripes seem to have felt emboldened, making everything many of us do that much harder already. Fortunately, there are groups already established that know how to fight this sort of thing and they are gearing up to respond. They need cash.

If you want suggestions and handy links, here are a few:

  1. The Environmental Defense Fund is currently matching donations two-to-one AND is focusing particularly on protecting President Obama’s climate legacy against Mr. Trump.
  2. The Sierra Club Foundation  funnels donations into a variety of conservation and environmental education-related projects and has an excellent rating from various charity-watchdog groups.
  3. The Natural Resources Defense Council  supports various conservation projects with a particular focus on pursuing polluters through legal challenges.
  4. Earthjustice works through the courts to push for environmental progress.
  5. The League of Conservation Voters supports the election of pro-environment candidates at every level.
  6. The Union of Concerned Scientists supports independent conservation science and stands up for climate scientists currently facing harassment.
  7. The ACLU defends the civil rights of individuals in court.
  8. Planned Parenthood is famous for its contraceptive services and controversial for its abortion services, but it provides much more, from basic gynecological care to cancer screenings and anonymous HIV testing to periodic men’s sexual health clinics, whether or not the patient can pay. The tragedy about attempts by Congress to de-fund Planned Parenthood for its abortion services is that the law already bars Federal money from going to abortion; “de-fundin Planned Parenthood” has no impact on abortion, but will deny low-income people life-saving healthcare.
  9. The Southern Poverty Law Center fights hate and extremism in court, supporting LGBT and immigrant rights, among many others, and works for criminal justice reform.
  10. The Delaware Alliance for Community Action. Yes, this organization is pretty local, but local organizations do important work. If you don’t live in Delaware and want to find something closer to home, go ahead.
  11. The Newspaper. Seriously, high-quality journalism is under threat right now, largely for economic reasons. Buy a subscription to a high-quality paper that still does true investigative journalism. A free press is not free and needs our collective support.

6. Be Kind and Be Brave

This is a BIGGIE. As I said there are a lot of newly emboldened deplorables out there now who think it’s ok to treat other people badly. We have to show them otherwise. If you see someone being treated badly, say something. If you are treated badly, fight back. If you see someone who is hurting or afraid, ask how you can help. Find the people in your community you don’t normally talk to and ask them what’s going on. There’s a lot of information online about how to do this. Seriously.

 


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What to Do Next, Part II

It’s easy enough to say, as I did last week, that we should ask the Senate to block President-Elect Donald Trump’s EPA pick, on the grounds that Myron Ebell is a raging climate denier. But how, exactly, does one actually do it?

If you’re like me, you may have a vague idea of how these things work, but still have an overwhelming number of questions that sap your confidence when you try to get on the phone with elected officials. In the interests of giving us both courage, I’ve done some research that should clear up a few points.

There has been a lot in the news lately about Mr. Trump picking, or considering picking, a lot of people recently, and some of those picks are being contested. Some of these–cabinet positions and others–require Senate confirmation (these are called “presidential appointees with Senate confirmation,” or PAS), but others don’t. The transition team members do not require approval, nor do staffer positions like senior adviser, the position to which Steve Bannon has been appointed.

Now, Steve Bannon is a well-known racist and anti-Semite and his appointment has raised vociferous objections both within Congress and elsewhere, but there is little anyone can do because this is just Mr. Trump’s call to make. There are ways to apply political pressure to get Mr. Trump to change his mind. Besides petitions addressed to the President-elect himself, the Senate can hold one or more of Mr. Trump’s cabinet appointments hostage until Mr. Bannon is fired and replaced by someone better. You have the option of asking your senators to do just that, although personally I think that may be a waste of political capital. Your call.

But the head of the EPA is a PAS, as are several other key spots, and your senators are responsible to you for whom they approve and how and why. The electorate has a lot of leverage, here.

You can sign petitions, like this one, and this one, against Myron Ebell, but don’t rely on petitions alone. For one thing, petitions aren’t always delivered. There was a petition on the White House site against Mr. Ebell that had collected a lot of signatures but which the White House has simply taken down–that site is designed as a way to communicate with the current President, not the next one, and the current President cannot appear to resist the peaceful transfer of power in any way. Besides, petitions do not have half the impact of phone calls. You just need to know whom to call about what.

(There are actually well over a thousand PAS positions, most of which doubtless either get rubber stamped or left unfilled. Our energy needs to focus on the most important).

The Process in the Senate

The Senate confirmation process begins for each PAS with an investigation and vetting process within the executive branch. After that process chooses a nominee, the president sends written notification to the Senate, where the nomination is read on the Senate floor, assigned a number, and passed into a committee for discussion.

Which committee handles the nomination depends on the position. For example, anything within the US Department of Defense goes through the Senate Armed Services Committee. Some positions must go through more than one committee. You can find a list of which committees have jurisdiction over what, here.

Committees may conduct their own investigation of the nominee if they need additional information and, following discussion, can report to the Senate on the nominee favorably, unfavorably, or without recommendation. The committee also has the option to take no action at all. Committees do not have the authority to actually halt the nomination process, but the full Senate rarely acts against the recommendation of the committee.

The nomination for head of the EPA is handled by the US Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources. I am unclear on whether the US Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works might have jurisdiction also–it looks like it might.

After the nomination passes out of committee, the Senate must unanimously agree to the date and time for the confirmation hearing. A single senator can stall the process by refusing to agree–I don’t know whether that is ever actually done deliberately. Once the hearing begins, debate can continue until the Senate votes to stop. That vote requires a super majority (two-thirds), but the actual confirmation vote is by simple majority (half plus one). The Senate may confirm, reject, or take no action on the nomination. Confirmations are sent to the President for signature. Any nominations left pending when the Senate goes on a recess of over 30 days automatically expire. The President may resubmit the nomination later.

So, to block a nomination, there are a couple of options: the relevant committee can report unfavorably on the nominee; the Senate as a whole can reject the nomination; or the entire process can be delayed until the next long recess by means of various obstructionist methods (filibuster, excessive investigation, arguing over scheduling, and possibly others).

The Senators

All senators have a voice in the process, so call your senators and voice your opinion. However, it’s worth also calling the senators on the relevant committee–they might not listen to you if you’re not a constituent, but a large number of calls should still mean something. The membership of each committee is easy to look up online.

Now, the confirmation process won’t start until after the inauguration, but you can start calling senators now–except remember some current senate members will lose their seats come January. Strike them from your call list and call their successors once they take office. Remember, also that committee appointments do not automatically get passed down with the senate seat, so the person who beat a committee member in the election will not necessarily take that spot on the committee. You’ll just have to look it up when the time comes.

If all this sounds like a lot to look up, don’t worry–I’ve done some of the grunt-work for you. Notice that the names of both the committees I mentioned earlier are hyperlinks. Those links go to the websites of those committees, which list current committee membership–and each name on that site is in turn linked to that Senator’s website, which includes contact information. “Contact me” links on the site likely lead to email forms. You want phone numbers, so look up the senator’s office locations instead. If you are a constituent, call the office closest to where you are registered to vote–your call will have a bigger impact that way.

And I can tell you that nobody on the Committee on Energy and Natural Resources is leaving office this time. You can call all of them now. On the Committee on the Environment and Public Works (which may or may not have jurisdiction, remember), two are retiring, Republican David Vitter, and Democrat, Barbara Boxer. You can call everybody else now.

The Nominees

Since the nomination process hasn’t officially started yet, technically, there are no nominees. Myron Ebell is simply the likely nominee.  Other names being discussed for the position are Robert E. Grady and Jeffrey Holmstead. I have not yet looked either of them up, but since Mr. Trump has been rather vocal about wanting to gut the EPA, it’s a safe bet that whomever he wants for the job should not have it.

There are other nominations also worth taking a look at, for both environmental reasons and otherwise. The Secretaries of the Interior (whose responsibilities include the National Park Service), of Agriculture, and of Commerce (whose responsibilities include the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, or NOAA, which carries out a lot of climate research), plus the US Trade Representative and the UN Ambassador all bear special attention and should not go to climate deniers.

You can find a list of appointees and potential nominees here. It is current as of this writing, though I don’t know how frequently it will be updated. Note that the list includes both PAS and non-PAS positions.

A Few Closing Words

First, if you hate using the telephone, you have my sympathy, but we really need to just do it this time. If the idea of calling a senator specifically worries you (and it does me!), take heart. You won’t talk to the senator personally–a staffer will write down what you are calling about and whether you are for or against, and if you got tongue-tied or awkward, that friendly staffer will never mention it to anyone. Seriously, staffers are, as a rule, helpful, friendly people who will do whatever they can to help you get your message through as long as you are friendly with them. And that’s true even when you’re calling to disagree with the senator in question. Seriously, staffers are cool people.

Second, since the push to block Myron Ebell and others is most likely going to be led by Democrats, some people may cry foul, saying that the Democrats didn’t like it when Republicans blocked President Obama’s nominations. I want to be very clear that I am not advocating that sort of blockage. The Republican leadership has repeatedly attempted to block Mr. Obama’s actions simply because they were Mr. Obama’s. This included promising to block certain appointments before even finding out who the nominee was. We shouldn’t do that.

I am not advocating blocking Mr. Ebell because Mr. Trump may nominate him but because Mr. Ebell is a climate denier and thus unfit for the job. Barring action from the Electoral College, Mr. Trump will be President, and thus will have to appoint someone to head the EPA. The EPA needs a head. We gain nothing whatever from preventing the president–any president–from doing his or her job. But it is our job to make sure the president’s duties are executed in a sane, legal way, and that includes retaining a functional EPA capable of doing something about climate change.