Friday, March 31, 2017


From Healthcare to Earthcare

Many voices from various parts of the political spectrum joined to defeat the ill-considered replacement of the Affordable Care Act in the House this past week. This unity of moderate Republicans with the Freedom Caucus and House Democrats was the result of a vigorous outpouring from constituents during the recent congressional recess. Once the contents of the bill were actually mooted, and people understood that it was not just “other folks” - including the forgotten poor – who would lose their healthcare, but a significant number of those in the middle class as well as the working poor,, then the bill was dead.

The President, impatient with congressional politics, decided to move on. Having already severely weakened the EPA earlier on, he followed this major defeat a few days later with a barrage of executive orders, combined with a draconian [proposed budget designed to cripple environmental protections of all sort. This “sledgehammer” has unified the environmental community for a terrific fight. Such a fight, however, will not be won by an outcry from Greens, but by forging a new national consensus, much as progressives feel that the Trumpcare bill's defeat opens the door for a single-payer system like the rest of the developed world.

Healthcare is important, but we desperately need to care for the health of the earth, what the faith community calls Earthcare. Only with a minimally healthy Earth system can we have not only personal and community health, but all the advantages, comforts, opportunities, and approachable challenges that together make up civilization. Organized society itself depends upon Earth health, as the increasing number of failed states due to climate change (especially water shortages, and, increasingly, regional famine) starkly illustrates.

Slowly, definitely not fast enough, our country has been approaching a consensus on this. As I pointed out here, both parties acknowledged climate change in their 2012 platforms. Despite the denialism that has been a hallmark of the GOP and the corporate disinformation campaign they have abetted,behind the political smokescreens and cartoons, folks are finally starting to get it . The last national poll on global warming found almost 60% of Republican voters accepting its fact. The united front of Republican denialism was starting to crumble before this election, and even after that cataclysm, the number of Republicans in the House climate caucus has grown (they actually lost one in the Senate, due to NH Senator Kelly Ayotte's defeat).

Yet now we have the ongoing Trump disaster. Only it's not just one terrible bill, but a whole host of things, much of it pivoting upon the choice of Scott Pruitt as head of the EPA. This past week has seen a series of executive orders attempting to cancel much of Obama's environmental legacy – the Keystone Pipeline now has a green light, CAFE standards are being dropped, and the Clean Power Plan gutted. All this accompanied by a presidential 2018 budget proposal that eviscerates environmental protections and climate change regulations. A budget is a moral document, and this one lays it on the line: this President does not value the Earth or the well-being of its inhabitants, human or otherwise.

To take one prime example of the folly of all this, relaxing CAFE standards, which have been a bi-partisan effort through multiple administrations, will actually weaken the US auto industry. Dropping these carefully ratcheted increases in efficiency, combined with Trump's proposed cross-border tariffs, will signal global customers that the future is elsewhere. That future includes electronic vehicles, whose sales are booming worldwide. Rather than helping the auto industry reduce costs, it will collapse demand for its products, which will be retrograde. Not only does this proposal damage the atmosphere, it will undercut the very business it purports to help. This is not a matter for a real estate moghul, abetted by ideologically-charged pseudo-economists to recklessly wade into.

Similarly, Obama's Clean Power Plan works in favor of several regional economies and of some big states, including Red Texas. A trio of western governors, from Oregon, Washington, and California, have come out with a joint statement stoutly defending it, and committing their states to meeting those standards. I expect this will be true of the New England consortium of states, and Gov. Cuomo of New York came out with a joint statement this week with Jerry Brown affirming the plan as well. This aspect of Trump's defiance may help some states economically in the short run, but it will not revive coal, which has been left stranded by economic forces stronger than any faux-populist America-first language. And both of these attempted rollbacks must pass several bureaucratic hurdles before implementation. It will be a long fight.

As for the Paris Accord, the prevailing position within the administration is that we should nominally stay in the UN protocol network, but drop our commitment towards emissions reductions. This would give us political leverage, while cynically washing our hands of the moral commitment. Our leadership in this crucial global effort will be dead, and our biggest competitor, China, will assume that compromised mantle. It is clear that, under Trump's broad assault, the world's tiny sliver of a chance to keep warming below 2C is doomed.

Sadly, our efforts as a nation, and the concerted effort of the UNFCCC over decades, were already insufficient to halt climate disruption. Unless Trump's broad assault is reversed, the next chance for global cooperation on climate will be desperate geo-engineering projects. It is time to put this immoral, incompetent regime under total siege. The Earth's health depends upon it, as do our communities, civic order, and any remaining possibility for sustainable life for future generations.

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