The White House Goes Green
November 18, 2020
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“I have a dream that the people in power, as well as the media, start treating this crisis like the existential emergency it is.” — Greta Thunberg
“The Earth is what we all have in common.” — Wendell Berry
The White House Goes Green
(Astrid Riecken via Getty Images)
Current US President Donald Trump has used his time in office to roll back every major climate change rule, disable the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), and propel climate-damaging fossil fuel production. Incoming President-elect Joe Biden hopes to turn that around as quickly as possible. Biden is already hard at work crafting his “climate administration” agenda, including drafting orders to reduce planet-warming pollution. Transition team members have been instructed to identify policies that can improve pollution levels in Black and Latino communities.
One of the president-elect’s earliest executive orders is expected to require that every federal agency, department, and program prepare to address climate change. He wants individuals with climate-solution cred to head up agencies from the EPA to Defense, Treasury, and Transportation. “Is this person climate-ambitious?” is reportedly the catchphrase among Biden’s inner circle when considering candidates for top positions. As a former energy secretary and adviser to Biden’s campaign puts it: “We have to establish American leadership globally on climate change, and re-establishing global leadership is going to require getting our house in order domestically.”
Top candidates for senior cabinet posts include Michele Flournoy for defense secretary and Lael Brainard for Treasury — both are long-time supporters of aggressive policies to curb climate change. New Mexico Senator Tom Udall, on the list to head up the Interior Department, said: “It’s not going to be in just one or two agencies. It’s going to be a whole government approach.”
Under consideration is either the creation of a separate new White House office devoted to climate change, or a coordinating council modeled after the national security and economic councils. A former climate adviser in the Obama White House, Ali Zaidi, could be appointed to a top position advising the president and coordinating work among agencies.
The EPA will still be Biden’s most powerful weapon as he works to reinstate and strengthen climate change regulations. The top candidate to lead the agency is said to be Mary Nichols, California’s climate and clean air regulator. Nichols is the architect of her state’s cap-and-trade climate change law and its tough regulations on climate-warming auto emissions. The Obama administration used California’s laws as a model for its federal climate policies, which were reduced under Trump. “It’s going to be important to quickly reverse and stop a very large number of actions that were done by the Trump administration, and then to restore the agency’s scientific basis for its work,” Nichols said.
Spokespeople for the incoming administration say they are acutely aware of the challenges ahead. And should Georgia’s January 5th run-off elections favor Republicans for the remaining two Senate seats, the challenge will be that much harder.
The Public Cost Of Private Jets
- According to a study published in Global Environmental Change, frequent-flying “‘super emitters” who represent just 1 percent of the world’s population caused half of aviation’s carbon emissions in 2018. Researchers estimated that airlines produced a billion tons of CO2 and benefited from a $100 billion subsidy by not paying for the climate damage they caused. Only 11 percent of the world’s population took a flight in 2018 and 4 percent flew abroad.
- The authors of the study said the 50 percent drop in passenger numbers in 2020 during the COVID-19 pandemic should serve as an opportunity to make the aviation industry fairer and more sustainable. One way to do this would be to put green conditions on the huge bailouts governments give the airline industry.
- Global aviation’s contribution to the climate crisis was growing fast before the COVID-19 pandemic, with emissions jumping by 32 percent from 2013-18. Flight numbers in 2020 have fallen by half, but the industry expects to return to previous levels by 2024. “If you want to resolve climate change and we need to redesign [aviation], then we should start at the top, where a few ‘super emitters’ contribute massively to global warming,” said Stefan Gössling at Linnaeus University in Sweden, who led the new study. (Legal Flight Deck, Guardian)
Russia’s Hidden COVID Crisis
- Last August, CNN correspondents were granted rare access to a 1,300 bed, state-of-the-art, temporary COVID-19 hospital in Moscow, set up in a giant ice-skating stadium called the “Ice Palace.” “This is standard care,” the chief doctor said, painting a rosy picture of a country in full control of the pandemic, with a network of spacious medical facilities.
- But last month, CNN received cell phone videos from a prominent opposition-linked Russian doctors’ union, “Doctors’ Alliance.” The footage was recorded in mid-October by a hospital staff member in Ulyanovsk, a city about 500 miles east of Moscow. It showed halls filled with COVID-19 patients fighting for their lives, while a few feet away the limbs of a lifeless body hung from a stretcher. Other footage showed morgues with naked bodies piled on top of one another on grimy floors.
- The Russian government admitted last month a growing strain on its medical facilities, with hospital beds in five of the worst affected regions at more than 95 percent capacity. Officially, the COVID-19 death count as of November 16th was more than 33,000. Critics dispute that figure, saying the Kremlin is deliberately underreporting the numbers. A former government statistician believes the real number is closer to 130,000. (CNN)
Additional World News
- Leaving our longest war: US troops in Afghanistan: Republicans alarmed by withdrawal plans (BBC)
- Rockets strike Baghdad’s Green Zone after U.S. announces Iraq troop drawdown (WaPo, $)
- Israel and Palestinians Resume Security Agreement (NYT, $)
- India Prime Minister Narendra Modi Seeks Funding to Build Smarter Cities (Bloomberg). Modi goes metro.
- Hong Kong’s new rules have created confusion in the classroom. Some parents are pulling their children out (CNN)
- Inside China’s Online Fentanyl Chemical Networks Helping Fuel The Opioid Crisis (NPR)
- Kim Jong Underground: The Underground Movement Trying to Topple the North Korean Regime (New Yorker, $)
- Exclusive: Secret Documents Reveal How Britain Funded Possible War Crimes in Sri Lanka (Vice)
- France mulls ban on police images, alarming rights defenders (AP)
- Pardoning El Padrino: U.S. to Drop Case Against Mexican Ex-Official to Allow Inquiry in Mexico (NYT, $)
- Why Moderna And Pfizer Vaccines Have Different Cold Storage Requirements (NPR)
- Why every other state should have one, in 4 charts (Vox)
- The Vaccines Will Probably Work. Making Them Fast Will Be the Hard Part. (NYT)
- Rapid Testing Is Less Accurate Than the Government Wants to Admit (ProPublica)
The Writings On The Wall, But It’s Still Being Built
(Mandel Ngan via Getty Images)
- One of President Trump’s projects that won’t stop until there’s a new sheriff in town is the work being done for his border wall. Crews are dynamiting mountains and bulldozing access roads in the badlands of southeastern Arizona, while government lawyers have acquired a beloved birding preserve along the Rio Grande in South Texas.
- “Every single day, the Department of Homeland Security continues to dynamite, to blow up these rugged mountains in order to clear a path for a wall that, in all likelihood, will never be built,” said a spokesperson with the Center for Biological Diversity in Tucson, Arizona. “So now it’s just destruction for destruction’s sake.”
- Trump’s wall builders are hurrying to get as many miles completed as they can before the next president can cancel their contracts. It’s happening from Texas’ Rio Grande Valley to Arizona’s stunning Coronado National Memorial and Guadalupe Canyon, a wildlife corridor for Mexican gray wolves and endangered jaguars. The Arizona sections are the most expensive projects of the entire border wall — $41 million a mile. Currently, 11 different contractors are at work on 27 separate construction contracts, including the demolition in Arizona. And the pace is quickening.
- After the election, government lawyers filed a “motion for immediate possession” against an elderly landowner in Mission, Texas, to quickly seize a strip of his family’s ancestral land to raise the border wall. Another case in point is the Salineño Wildlife Preserve on the banks of the international river in the Rio Grande Valley. “The Salineño preserve in Starr County — which is 2 1/2 acres of some of the best bird habitat, brings in birders from all over the country and the world — has been acquired by the Army Corps of Engineers and is set to be destroyed for the border wall,” said a longtime conservation activist in the region.
- Some hopeful news: after a public outcry over the voluntary sale, the Valley Land Fund, which owns the preserve, announced Friday it had decided to cancel the whole deal and fight the government to keep out the bulldozers. (NPR)
Striking Differences In The Oval Office
- There’s no telling what President Trump might try to do in these last weeks of his presidency. Since Trump fired Defense Secretary Mark Esper and other top Pentagon aides last week, national security officials have expressed worries that the president might initiate operations, overt or covert, against Iran or other adversaries.
- Sure enough, one day after international inspectors reported a significant increase in Iran’s stockpile of nuclear material, Trump convened his senior advisers in the Oval Office on Thursday to discuss possible options for taking military action against Iran’s main nuclear site. Fortunately for us, a range of senior advisers — from the vice president, secretary of state, acting defense secretary, and chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff — were able to talk Trump down from moving ahead, warning that such a strike could easily escalate into a broader conflict. Officials said Trump might still be looking at ways to target Iranian assets and allies, including militias in Iraq. (NYT)
Additional USA News
- Trump fires head of US cybersecurity agency that refuted voter fraud claims (Guardian). For context, this is the man who promised the American people that the 2020 election was the “most secure in American history.”
- US election 2020: Does this compare to 2000 Florida recount? (BBC)
- This is just the tip of the iceberg: Trump Plan to Sell Arctic Oil Leases Will Face Challenges (NYT, $)
- Senate Blocks President Trump’s Controversial Nominee To The Federal Reserve Board (NPR)
- Biden begins to fill top White House positions (Politico)
- Joe Biden’s transition team has to decide who to hire from Big Tech (Vox). Will Silicon Valley have a seat at the table?
- Twitter and Facebook CEOs to testify on alleged anti-conservative bias (Guardian)
- A cop shoots a Black man and a city resumes battle with police union (Reuters)
- You miss 100% of the shots you don’t take: Americans Are More Willing to Take a Coronavirus Vaccine, Poll Suggests & Trump should tell people to vaccinate — and take the credit (NYT, Vox)
- States Need Federal Money to Do the Right Thing (Atlantic, $)
- Congress’s stimulus impasse must end — even if it means Democrats accepting a smaller deal (WaPo, $)
Taking A Plunge Before Taking The Fall
- A 44-year-old California man smart enough to dream up a Ponzi scheme that bilked investors out of $35 million was inventive enough to devise a truly novel way to evade capture by the FBI — for a time at least. When agents went to arrest Matthew Piercey at his home recently, Piercey jumped in his pickup truck and sped to Shasta Lake, a huge reservoir in Shasta County off the I-5, about 10 miles north of Redding.
- There he stopped, pulled something out of his truck bed, and swam into the frigid lake. He remained out of sight for about a half-hour; all agents could see were bubbles. Eventually, a very cold Piercey resurfaced and was handcuffed.
- Turns out he had a sea scooter, the Yamaha 350Li submersible device, that pulls users underwater at speeds of about 4 miles per hour. Piercey and his 67-year-old business partner are now facing a variety of fraud charges; if convicted, they could get 20 years in prison and thousands of dollars in fines. Unfortunately, unlike Piercey’s escape plan, few if any ‘liquid’ assets remain to repay investors. (CBS News)
- What Happened to the Deepfake Threat to the Election? (Wired). Are deepfakes a fake threat?
- How To Talk About Politics With Your Relatives Over The Holidays Without Fighting (Bustle)
- The Biggest Thanksgiving Mistakes Everyone Makes at Least Once—and How to Fix Them (EatingWell)
- Waffle House Is Releasing A Bacon-Infused Beer (Delish). Nothing like bacon with a side of kegs.
- Russia discovers ‘road of bones’ on frozen highway in Siberia (Guardian)
- Redefining the red planet: Mars Horizon’s space exploration is more than “seeking new life and blowing it to bits” (The Verge)
- This AI-powered parking garage rewards you for not driving (Fast Company)
- Amazon launches Amazon Pharmacy, a delivery service for prescription medications (TechCrunch)
- How An Apparel Worker Became The De Facto Patient Zero of Sri Lanka’s Second Covid-19 Wave (Vice)
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