We've started a new year and in a few days, we'll have a new president. Political cartoonists usually symbolize each new year as a plump diapered baby and the past year as tired Father Time, draped in tattered robes and carrying an hourglass, his season over. The innocent baby has no clue how hard new change will be; the old man knows all too well.
After the dust settles and a new administration sizes up the damages and needed repairs to agencies and programs, we will begin to grasp the real cost of the past four years. Body blows to our environment have not been limited to just this administration, although this period has truly brought us to the brink, perhaps to our knees.
"Environment " isn't just a word. It is the air we breathe and the water we swallow. It is the food we eat and the materials with which we build our homes. It provides our livelihoods and, for better or worse, it is our health or sickness. It is the energy that runs our machines and makes our products. It is the wind, the sun, the ocean, the land, the storms, the ice, the animals, the plants, the heat, the rain.
Environment determines if we live or die. It should not be politically manipulated, nor expected to regenerate in four-year election cycles like a Phoenix bird rising off scorched earth. We should have figured out by now, with our big brains, that the physical environment can do without us, but we cannot exist without it. We, along with our leaders, are slow learners.
Only one major environmental issue has finally made the honorable mention list in political campaigns. Brought to the forefront not because of human suffering, climate change awareness has blossomed due to the financial impact of flooded coastlines and on industries' decisions about future products, resource extraction costs and energy use. Even the military is studying how climate affects national security.
The question, of course, should be, "Are we doing too little too late?" because climate is just the tip of the melting iceberg. Chemical saturation of land, water, air and us, as well as mountains of waste, plastic-coated oceans, consumed forests, dirty energy, radiation exposure, species extinction, oil spills, etc., are huge environmental challenges. And they are all man-made consequences from ignoring protection of the earth.
An example: On Jan. 20, 2017, the New York Times reported, "Within moments of the inauguration of President Trump, the official White House website ... deleted nearly all mentions of climate change." The article pointed out deep concern by scientists and universities that U.S. government climate data, "considered among the most authoritative in the world," might be deleted. They volunteered to save and store website data of the EPA, NASA, NOAA and the U.S. Geological Survey. Not terribly different from those escaping and hiding from insurrectionists last week, these scientists saw pending destruction four years ago and scrambled to save what they could.
The loss of science and scientists' careers began then and has not stopped. EPA's workforce, for instance, has shrunk by 600 people.
The Columbia Law School's Sabin Center for Climate Change Law (https://climate.law.columbia.edu/table_listing2) has compiled a listing of environmental regulation changes, actions and executive orders stretching from last week back to that first telling day in 2017. Also, their "Silencing Science Tracker" publication "tracks government attempts to restrict or prohibit scientific research, education or discussion, or the publication or use of scientific information, since the November 2016 election."
The Biden transition team is finding "more systematic elimination of climate programs and research than they realized," according to a Jan. 6 Scientific American article. It continued, "For instance ... EPA's research laboratories have been hollowed out, and its science advisory boards have been depopulated. At the operational level, each of Trump's rollbacks has shuffled the staff and funding that had been in place to carry out regulations."
Ransacking and cognitive dissonance seem to have been the guiding policies in environmental governance along with similar upheavals in multiple, maybe all, governmental agencies.
To say Mr. Biden's administration has its work cut out for it is so much an understatement, it's painful to imagine. But, like cleaning up anything, one must first begin. For the sake of our kids and our country we have to keep trying because the greatest loss in any battle is the loss of hope. Soon we'll see how much hope is left.
Fran Alexander is a Fayetteville resident with a longstanding interest in the environment and an opinion on almost anything else. Email her at [email protected]