Commentary: A wish list for the most crucial year since 2015

December 26, 2015

By Peter Dykstra
Environmental Health News

Phew. Back in 2015, both a President and a Pope stepped up to call for action on climate change, and the world sort of responded with an agreement. For the first time, a Vulgarian-American led his party’s field in a run for the Presidency. And once again, we experienced the hottest year on record.

I can’t help but think that the world is facing a return to those turbulent times, so I’ve prepared a wish list of things I hope happen – or stop happening – for 2016.

How do you surrender in a war that doesn’t really exist?

Dennis Dimick/flickr

The only thing worse than losing a war is losing a war that doesn’t actually exist. I’m afraid that’s what West Virginia is doing with the War on Coal.

Big Coal has been hemorrhaging jobs since the the Reagan Administration. Market conditions, mechanization, and mountaintop removal mining caused the job loss, but it’s more convenient to blame Obama and the EPA and pretend that coal has a future.

I’d love to see coal states in Appalachia and elsewhere get a grip and begin to rebuild their doomed economies.

Part of Obama’s “war” against coal included pouring $1.6 billion into a resurrection of FutureGen, a Bush-era research project to develop “clean” coal. FutureGen 2 failed, and the industry’s clean coal lobby group underwent dramatic downsizing. The $1.6b wasted here is more than three times what was wasted on Solyndra.

Clean coal is dead, folks. And if coal could solve “energy poverty,” Appalachia wouldn’t be America’s Haiti.

Political press and pundits: Four words, three of them printable:

Wake the f**k up.

Climate change may be the issue of our lifetimes, but it’s apparently still not a thing in Presidential debates.

One might have expected a mention of energy, the environment or climate change in the two primary debates that happened within a week of the historic Paris climate summit. But no.

In both the GOP debate on the Las Vegas Strip, and the Democrats’ showdown in New Hampshire, the respective moderators from CNN and ABC couldn’t bring themselves to utter the C-Word.

Maybe the general election will be different. For the sake of argument, let’s just say it’s going to be Hillary Clinton versus some guy who would rather listen to Ted Nugent talk about climate than a climate scientist. We all know that the news media loves conflict, right? Won’t that be a conflict?

Pay attention to a truly existential issue. It’s how political reporters will be judged, long after the world has forgotten how many Kardashians sat at your table at the Gridiron Club dinner.

GOP: Nobody’s ever won a War on Science

If you don’t accept that screeds against climate science and other environmental issues and political attacks on scientists are just wrong on the facts, perhaps you can accept that they’re a really, really bad long term political strategy.

As President Obama pointed out, no other significant political party in the world rejects the notion of acting on climate change. And no parliament or legislature is as hostile to science as the one that’s controlled by the 21st Century Republican Party.

I’m hoping that in 2016 at least one national political figure who’s latched on to climate denial will grow a backbone, respect the science, and look out for national and global issues instead of kowtowing to far-right funders, a rabid minority of voters, and a broken political system. Just one.

It may have taken him 400 years, but even Galileo beat the Vatican when they declared war on science.

Fomenting fear, manufacturing doubt

In the 1940’s, we imprisoned Japanese-Americans for being Japanese. In the 1950’s, there was a Communist under every bed. In the Sixties, Vietnam War opponents and civil rights advocates were traitors. In the Seventies following the OPEC embargoes and the Iranian hostage crisis, we began to develop a hatred of Islam.

Gage Skidmore/flickr

In the Eighties, we had a Cold War revival and backed terrorists in Central America, all while feminists, gay people and environmentalists bootstrapped their way up the Hate Parade. In the Nineties, we impeached a President for lying about oral sex.

In the 2000’s, hatred of Islam returned with a vengeance, and with a costly war under false pretenses.

So there are two takeaways here: America’s dumb streak is nothing new, and that learning-from-the-mistakes-of-history thing is not all it’s cracked up to be.

Just the same, in 2016 I’m hoping that we get a little bit better about recognizing and addressing the real threats and not freaking out over more remote ones.

There’s no doubt that ISIS is evil, and a real threat. But last week, Bloomberg ran a stunningly inane opinion piece from the Manhattan Institute saying America should ditch renewable energy because “ISIS is not putting up windmills or solar panels.”

The piece didn’t even attempt to explain why this might make sense.

And the Town Council of Woodland, North Carolina, rejected a zoning variance to permit construction of a solar farm after hearing testimony from residents that the solar panels would cause cancer, suck up all the sun’s rays, and halt plant photosynthesis.

The solar farm owners promised that their project would not turn tiny Woodland into a dark, barren hospice, but wouldn’t you expect them to say that?

Manufacturing fear and doubt costs money, sometimes lives, and maybe our future. We all need to be better at recognizing it, responding, and understanding that it’s been hurting us for years.

And a few more words for my media colleagues

Or maybe a few less. This is smaller stuff, but indulge me in a few pet peeves.

 

There are more than a few odious, un-original clichés that routinely work their way into news stories. I’m calling for a global agreement to limit the emission of toxic phrases:

Never again lead into a story about a whale by saying it’s “a whale of a story.” Or declaring that anything involving slow-moving pandas is “panda-monium.” Write this and I’ll find a way to bus you back to your college newspaper. Or write teases for small-market TV.

For our anti-science friends, let’s set an 18-year pause on the “climate change/hot air” joke. First, it’s not much of a joke.

Second, after the redoubtable Charles Krauthammer deployed this in a December column on the Paris summit, I Googled “climate change” and “hot air” to learn that the Pulitzer-winning Mr. Krauthammer was preceded by 861,000 other people in using the unwise-crack.

(Note: If you insist on using this line, may I suggest that “global warming” and “hot air” is more original? Only 750,000 hits on Google.)

I also hope that the otherwise-stellar journalists at the Associated Press can get over their denial of the use of the term “denier.” Sigmund and Anna Freud, who popularized the concept of denial a century ago, would surely recognize that a group of people who minimize a problem, selectively reject relevant information, or scapegoat the problem on another cause (sunspots!!) are practicing classic denial.

Activists: Don’t say 2016 is our last chance. There will most definitely be a 2017.

Publicists: For God’s sake, don’t ever say “Every Day is Earth Day” ever again. Especially if you work for an industry where No Day Is Earth Day.


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For questions or feedback about this piece, contact Brian Bienkowski at bbienkowski@ehn.org.

 

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