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Republican lawmakers’ familiar blame game hangs COVID’s spread on young people

Taking no responsibility for coronavirus infections raging to new records amid the rash reopenings of businesses, beaches and bars, the White House and governors are now playing the role of Aristotle: They blame the young for bringing us down.

Leading this ancient lament on excessive juvenile gratification is Vice President Mike Pence. Over the last week, as infections rose in 38 states and Puerto Rico, according to tracking by the New York Times, Pence admonished Americans under 35, saying they bear “particular responsibility” to not infect their elders. He urged them to wear masks to blunt the spread of the virus. On CBS’s Face the Nation, he wagged his finger at partying younger adults, saying they may “have disregarded the guidance that we gave.”

It is impossible to regard Pence as the nation’s nanny when he and President Trump have actually offered little guidance during the worst pandemic in modern medical history. Despite 126,000 Americans being dead, Trump rarely wears a mask. Rather, he has speculated on efficacy of ingesting disinfectant, promoted off-label use of the anti-malaria drug hydroxychloroquine — which the National Institutes of Health says confers no benefit — and went the last half of May without speaking with his infectious disease expert Anthony Fauci. The president’s March prediction of 50,000 deaths will likely be tripled in a month and may soar beyond 175,000 fatalities by October.

Both Pence and Trump are back at rallies and appearances where supporters and choirs shout and sing unencumbered by masks. There was no scolding by the administration of 20-somethings at Trump’s recent young conservative voter rally in Phoenix where masks were roughly as evident as Black Lives Matter t-shirts.

Following suit in viral hypocrisy are Trump-supporting governors who have overseen some of the nation’s most disastrous reopenings. Take Florida, which according to public health experts, has had a more than 200 percent spike in cases in its rolling 14-day average. The state saw 9,585 new coronavirus cases on June 27, seven-and-a-half times more than the previous high during April and May. Governor Ron DeSantis blamed younger adults for creating cramped conditions in bars – that, mind you, he reopened — where “caution was thrown to the wind.”

In Texas, Governor Greg Abbott blames 20-somethings for that state’s nearly 140 percent rise in its rolling 14-day average of cases. That includes a new record of high of 6,584 infections on June 24, more than triple the single-day record during April and May. Abbott complained that young adults are “not wearing face masks, they’re not sanitizing their hands, they’re not maintaining the safe distancing practices.” (This is quite the umbrage from a governor who banned municipalities from issuing mandatory mask orders with penalties, and only just now is looking the other way as localities are implementing them anyway in a desperate bid to fight the virus.)

To be clear, the frolicking of the young is being noticed in Democratic strongholds where the virus is ablaze, but they are not being assigned complete blame. In California, Governor Gavin Newsom is also blaming playdates, birthday parties, and adult family gatherings. Such events invariably are organized by parents and older adults.

As for the White House, DeSantis, and Abbott, even Aristotle might shake his head over a septuagenarian president who is burying science wherever he can, a sexagenarian vice president who was slow to address HIV/AIDS as governor of Indiana, and a host of lapdog governors past the age of 40 telling us to behave as they reopened unsafely, without a sustained decline in cases and without robust testing and contact tracing in place. National Public Radio and Harvard’s Global Health Institute reported Tuesday that only four states are doing enough testing to suppress the virus. DeSantis, Abbott, and Georgia Governor Brian Kemp are among the COVID hotspot governors who have been accused of cherry-picking, manipulating, or ignoring data to justify reopening.

Their own poor behavior on COVID-19 is a logical outcome of their general disregard for science, public health, and the environment. DeSantis this winter received a D from the Florida chapter of the Sierra Club for his performance on environmental protection. Abbott runs a state where environmental spending was cut 35 percent between 2008 and 2018. The governor’s blaming of the young is the latest volley in a generational battle, where baby boomers and older Gen Xers create a hot mess and then place an undue burden on younger people to save humanity.

That is literal with climate change and the planet frying up. Witness the sharp rise in youth climate activism over the past several years, where 20-somethings and teens — like Greta Thunberg and the members of the Sunrise Movement — have pointed their fingers at the older generation for dragging its feet on climate change. Instead of being moved by the pleas of the young, Trump and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin have belittled them, specifically Thunberg. Our supposed leaders, instead of mandating or modeling the behaviors needed to stem a crisis, are passing the buck to younger people even as their cowardice robs our youth of weddings, proms, and graduations.

Worse, it appears that game of relying on the young has infected more than the older fogies who told us to get back to work, get back in the barber’s chair, roll one down the bowling alley, and eat, drink and be merry. Administration officials who still have some credibility at coronavirus task force briefings or congressional hearings are joining the chorus.

Fauci and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Director Robert Redfield recently singled out people under 40 as having a societal responsibility not to spread the virus. After saying last week that the coronavirus has “brought this nation to its knees,” Redfield on Tuesday told a Senate hearing: “It is critical that we all take the personal responsibility to slow the transmission of Covid-19 and embrace the universal use of face coverings. Specifically, I’m addressing the younger members of our society, the Millennials and the Generation Zs — I ask those that are listening to spread the word.”

As necessary as it is for all of us to take personal responsibility on COVID-19, it is scary to see Fauci and Redfield creep down the same road as Pence and the red-state governors. Surely they know in their hearts who told America that the water was fine and firewater could flow again. If health officials are going to tell us that the young are silent time bombs for the virus, they also have to tell us who lit the fuse. It was not the 20-somethings.

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Republican lawmakers’ familiar blame game hangs COVID’s spread on young people

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A bill in Congress could get to the bottom of how coronavirus links air pollution and racism

It’s becoming clear that black and Latino communities in the U.S. suffer disproportionately from the novel coronavirus. The COVID-19 mortality rate for black New York City residents, for example, is twice that of white residents, and a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report has suggested that black Americans in general are hospitalized for COVID-19 at much higher rates. Research is also emerging showing that exposure to air pollution likely makes COVID-19 deadlier. In other words, when it comes to COVID-19 outcomes, it’s clear that race matters and that pollution matters. What is not yet clear is how, exactly, these two troubling trends are related.

In hopes of finding concrete connections between air pollution in communities of color and COVID-19 outcomes, last month Democrats in Congress introduced the Environmental Justice COVID-19 Act, which would allocate an additional $50 million to existing Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) grant programs and prioritize that funding for projects that “investigate or address the disproportionate impacts of the COVID–19 pandemic in environmental justice communities.”

The measure was included in the HEROES Act, the $3 trillion pandemic relief legislation that passed the House of Representatives last month with mostly Democratic support. The legislation’s future in a Republican-controlled Senate is shaky, but at a House Committee on Energy and Commerce hearing on Tuesday, lawmakers and advocates continued to push for the bill funding the study of the relationship between pollution and racial disparities in COVID-19 outcomes.

“COVID-19 has exacerbated what we have known all along,” said California Representative Raul Ruiz, one of the bill’s cosponsors, during the hearing. “[At-risk communities are] disproportionately breathing polluted air and drinking dirty water due to neglect or decisions by others.”

Jacqueline Patterson, director of the NAACP’s Environmental and Climate Justice Program, discussed how black and Latino communities in the U.S. face more extensive exposure to pollutants, making them more susceptible to lower respiratory illnesses like COVID-19. More than 70 percent of black Americans “are living in counties in violation of federal air pollution standards,” she told the panel of lawmakers.

Patterson also criticized the Trump administration’s approach to environmental policy.

“Instead of strengthening regulations to reinforce protections for communities made vulnerable by poor air quality, we have an administration that has rolled back over 100 regulations in the context of COVID-19,” she said, referring to the Trump administration’s broad relaxation of environmental enforcement during the pandemic.

Patterson said that the funding provided by the Environmental Justice COVID-19 Act would help existing organizations, like local chapters of the NAACP, study the way environmental factors affect public health for communities of color. However, she isn’t sure that the $50 million allocated is enough to accomplish the bill’s aims.

“[The bill] is going to make a difference, but I think ‘enough’ is gonna be a hard bar to reach at this point because the needs are so great,” she told Grist. “Air pollution standards aren’t even stringent enough in the first place.”

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A bill in Congress could get to the bottom of how coronavirus links air pollution and racism

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These air pollution standards kept people out of the hospital. Trump just rolled them back.

The Trump administration isn’t letting the COVID-19 pandemic get in the way of its deregulatory agenda. Last week, the Environmental Protection Agency announced it would not tighten air quality standards for fine particle pollution, despite warnings from scientists, including former agency staffers, that the current rules were not strict enough and could result in tens of thousands of premature deaths. The agency then finalized a decision on the Mercury and Air Toxics Standards, determining that it is not “appropriate and necessary” to regulate mercury and other pollutants from power plants despite the fact that utilities have already spent millions of dollars to comply with the standards.

The announcements arrived the same week as a new study that links these two regulations to tangible public health improvements. When these rules, in addition to other air quality regulations, were strengthened under the Obama administration, Louisville Gas and Electric (LG&E), a utility in Kentucky, was forced to retire three coal plants and spent almost a billion dollars upgrading another plant to comply with the rules.

The study, published in the journal Nature Energy last week, analyzed public health data in Louisville to see how rates of asthma-related hospitalizations, ER visits, and symptom flare-ups changed in relation to improvements in air quality. Using zip code–level data from the city’s Department of Public Health and Wellness, the researchers found that after one of LG&E’s power plants in Louisville was retired in 2015, and pollution controls were installed on three other coal plants in the area, there were approximately three fewer asthma-related hospitalizations and ER visits per zip code per quarter over the following year across the county’s 35 zip codes. That adds up to nearly 400 avoided doctor visits.

The researchers also analyzed data from a program that tracked inhaler use among 207 residents with the help of digital inhalers, and found that after new pollution controls were added to one of the coal plants in 2016, average inhaler use went down by 17 percent. Among participants who had the highest inhaler usage before the controls were added, average use went down by 32 percent.

In Louisville, as in the rest of the country, the health impacts of air pollution aren’t distributed equally. The study shows a clear concentration of asthma-related hospitalizations and ER visits in the West End of Louisville, a predominantly African American neighborhood, even after the controls were installed. The coal plants are only one part of the picture there — the neighborhood is also home to a cluster of chemical and manufacturing plants dubbed “Rubbertown.”

The city implemented a toxic air reduction program in the early 2000s that was largely successful in reducing emissions from the Rubbertown plants, but the West End still suffers disproportionately from the impact of ongoing pollution. According to a health report published by the city in 2017, inpatient admissions for asthma in west Louisville are more than 10 times that of more affluent neighborhoods to the northeast. Higher cancer death rates and lower life expectancy are also clustered in the western half of the city.

The COVID-19 pandemic thrust the reality of these health disparities into the headlines recently, when a preliminary study showed that people who lived near major sources of pollution are more likely to die of the virus, and new data revealed that it is killing black Americans at higher rates than any other demographic. “Communities of color, they’ve always been the sacrifice zones,” said Mustafa Ali, the vice president of environmental justice, climate, and community revitalization for the National Wildlife Federation, in a recent Twitter video. “They’ve been the places where we’ve pushed things that nobody else wants.”

Dr. Anthony Fauci, the leading public health expert on President Trump’s coronavirus task force, acknowledged the structural inequality underlying the numbers during a White House press briefing earlier this month. “When all this is over — it will end, we will get over the coronavirus — but there will still be health disparities which we really do need to address in the African-American community,” he said. The research from Louisville shows that upholding — and strengthening — our air quality standards is one place to start.

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These air pollution standards kept people out of the hospital. Trump just rolled them back.

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Is waging ‘war’ the only way to take on the coronavirus?

What do climate change, drugs, and Christmas have in common? The United States has supposedly been at “war” with all of them.

When facing any sort of crisis, big or small, Americans often frame the situation through the lens of a battle. So when coronavirus brought daily life in the United States to a halt last month, it seemed nearly inevitable that President Donald Trump would declare himself a “wartime president.”

“The world is at war with a hidden enemy,” he tweeted. “WE WILL WIN!”

Similar language has been invoked by leaders around the world. France’s President Emmanuel Macron deployed the phrase “we are at war” no less than six times in one speech last month. And in a rare special address to the United Kingdom last week, Queen Elizabeth II invoked the “Blitz spirit” of World War II, a time of shared sacrifice.

Wartime rhetoric serves as an aggressive moral appeal, drumming up emotion and calling people to action. But here’s the thing about the war on coronavirus: We’ve already lost it.

“I think war metaphors are best used as a mobilizing effort,” said Stephen Flusberg, an associate professor of psychology at Purchase College in New York. “And it’s too late in the United States. We’ve failed.”

If coronavirus were truly a “war,” the United States would be the best prepared in the world, with a so-called “defense” budget at $700 billion a year and climbing — more than what the next seven largest countries spend added together. What the country was unprepared for was a pandemic, something infectious disease experts had warned was eventually coming.

Warlike language has been part of our speech for so long, it usually goes unnoticed. When the Spanish Flu hit England in the summer of 1918, newspapers warned their readers to prepare “defenses” against the disease. Soon enough, they described the flu as a “new foe,” and people freaked out, panic-buying quinine. It sounds all too familiar to anyone who’s been following the news of coronavirus, which the New York Times first painted as a “mystery” illness in January, something to “combat” in February, and an “all-out war” in March.

Fighting words have their time and place, language experts say, but public discourse seems to get stuck fighting everything. Studies show that this framing can paralyze people with fear and limit our collective imagination about what can be done to fix complex problems. In times of pandemic, calling the virus an “invisible enemy” can evoke xenophobia and racism. The framing primes people to view problems like climate change as a battlefield — this side vs. that side — widening partisan divides while obscuring any common ground.

“When a metaphor is used again and again and again, it really makes people experience something in those terms,” said Veronika Koller, a linguist at Lancaster University in England. In other words, people start to feel like they’re living in wartime. This can help governments gain public support for short-term actions that would normally be unpopular, like closing borders or exercising emergency powers. But for a prolonged crisis, it results in fatigue, Koller said. From climate change to cancer to coronavirus, the struggle is not a matter of weeks, but months, years, and decades.

Researchers say that it’s clear we need a new way to discuss big problems, a broader repertoire of metaphors to choose from. “There’s a paucity of the imagination around insurmountable challenges,” said Brent Ryan Bellamy, an instructor at Trent University in Canada.

Last week, Trump tweeted, “The Invisible Enemy will soon be in full retreat!” Though he didn’t mention the virus, no one seemed confused by what he was referring to — a sign that the war narrative has firmly taken hold. But others are already describing the pandemic in creative terms, comparing the government’s response to a storyline in a Harry Potter book, or practicing social distancing to a string section playing quietly (it only works, after all, if everyone does it). A group of linguists are attempting to #ReframeCovid, tracking international efforts to put new words to the crisis.

Flipping the usual script can lead to fresh critiques, new alliances, and eventually, if the new metaphors take hold, different ways to cope.

Coming next week: A look at efforts to use a new vocabulary to take on social problems.


Is waging ‘war’ the only way to take on the coronavirus?

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Here are the top ways the world could take on climate change in 2020

The climate think tank Project Drawdown first took on the question “what’s really the best way to stop climate change” in 2017 — and came up with a hundred answers, from cutting food waste to implementing alternative refrigerants. Now, Project Drawdown has updated its original list to incorporate the latest findings.

The name references the day when humanity switches from emitting carbon dioxide to storing it and begins drawing down the carbon we’ve dumped into the atmosphere. The team compiled its recommendations, which were first published as a bestselling coffee table book, based on rigorous scientific analysis of the costs and carbon savings of every solution available at scale today.

Jonathan Foley, an environmental scientist and the executive director of Project Drawdown, chatted with us about the changes — and explained why we don’t need technological breakthroughs or political miracles to bring the world to net-zero carbon emissions. Our interview has been condensed and edited for clarity.

Q. To start off, can you tell me a little bit about what stayed the same? 

A. The top-line message remains the same essentially, which is that with solutions that exist now — not ones that are in the lab, not ones that are just science fiction or wishful thinking — but with solutions that actually exist today, we can stabilize our climate at 1.5 degrees or 2 degrees C. It wouldn’t be easy. It requires a lot of political will, a lot of leadership, and a lot of mobilization. But it’s all stuff that exists right now. That’s pretty amazing.

The other thing that stayed the same was the message that we have to do a lot of different things to get there. There are no silver bullets when it comes to climate change. We may have silver buckshot, but that’s about it.

Q. And what have been the most substantial changes to the recommendations from the original Project Drawdown?

A. The numbers are actually pretty different, especially on the cost. Things got cheaper and with better returns on investments compared to the original analysis. And a lot of that is because things have gotten cheaper in renewables in the last few years. So I think we’re seeing a stronger economic case for climate solutions every year.

A lot of people remember the rankings of solutions from the first book, and we did provide new rankings in this one. We presented two sets of rankings — one for a scenario that gets us 2 degrees C and one for a scenario that could get us to 1.5 degrees C.

I think the message is that we still have to do all of these solutions. It doesn’t matter to me much that a solution was ranked No. 3 and that it’s now No. 6. The same kinds of things still appear near the top: The food system, like food waste and diets, is up there are pretty high, and things like refrigerants, which people kind of forget about — these potent greenhouse gases called hydrofluorocarbons. And of course, sprinkled throughout all the rankings are items that address the fossil fuel problem from many different angles. Whether it’s energy efficiency or renewable electricity or different ways of transportation, fossil fuels are found everywhere on that list from top to bottom.

Q. Even though the Project Drawdown guide is backed by a lot of rigorous science, it isn’t meant for scientists or policymakers — it’s for regular people. How do you accurately and succinctly explain issues that often have a lot of complex science behind them to the general public?

A. Usually when somebody does a study, the first thing they do is write it up for a scientific journal or a white paper, where it’s written basically in almost incomprehensible language, for maybe a hundred people in the world who could read it. Then later they’ll say, “OK, now we’re going to make the more public version of this.”

We’re flipping the model. People find it inspiring that there are solutions to climate change, and that when you do the math, they seem to work. So we systematically go through all the different solutions, and use the same technique to look at them — we’re comparing an apple to an apple to an apple when we compare our forestry solutions to a nuclear energy solution to a different type of car, and that’s what had never been done before. I think universities are very good at what they do, and we need the real in-depth experts on every single one of those solutions. But we’re not a university. None of us are working on getting tenure.

Q. It seems extremely likely that in November, we’re either going to have either a President Trump, a President Biden, or a President Sanders for the next four years. Which of the Drawdown solutions are you the most hopeful about regardless of the election outcome, and which ones do you think require more political willpower to make happen?

A. We have to remember that this is a 30-year effort we’re talking about. One four-year term can make a big difference, but it’s not game over, regardless of who wins in November. The world will not be fried if Trump gets reelected. It just won’t help much. And the world will not be saved if Bernie wins with the Green New Deal. So I don’t really think it’s wise to clip all our hopes on one election outcome — or all our fears.

There are so many levers of power to pull: at the local level, states, banks, Wall Street, businesses, our own behavior and communities. This is an international problem, from our neighborhoods to the international markets.

What we need now is time. Saying, “That’s who’s going to save us: the U.S. House of Representatives, or the U.S. federal government, or the United Nations,” is how we managed to waste the last three decades. I think we need to start leading elsewhere and hope that Washington and the U.N. will follow.

Q. Coronavirus is something that’s changing a lot of personal behaviors right now. Do you think there’s a potential for a ripple effect after the pandemic crisis is resolved that might shift around things on the list for dealing with the climate crisis?

A. Recessions suck for everybody. No one in the environmental community should be celebrating this virus — this is a tragedy and there’s no other way to say it. But it does, at least in the short run, mean a drop in emissions. And hopefully, there’ll be some lasting lessons from this. Hey, there are other ways to do things besides flying all the time and driving all the time. Working from home and telecommuting might be really viable options now, so let’s learn how to do those really well. That might help reduce some of the emissions long term after this crisis if people stick to those habits a bit more.

People also learn how to be more resilient as a society to these kinds of shocks. Whether it’s a virus next time, or a big storm, or a hurricane, or fires, people are going to be a little bit better on the resiliency side of the equation. If there is any silver lining about this incredibly dark cloud, that might be it.

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Here are the top ways the world could take on climate change in 2020

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Trump’s environmental rollbacks are deeply unpopular with swing voters

It may be hard to tell, but in between jabs at climate science, federal science agencies, and stalwart environmental regulations, President Trump has been trying to position himself as an environmentalist. The president’s efforts to green his image go back as far as 2017, when he told business leaders, and I quote, “I’m a very big person when it comes to the environment.” Do voters agree? New research shows they most certainly do not.

Swing voters in four key states — Florida, Pennsylvania, Iowa, and Michigan — are squarely opposed to Trump’s environmental rollbacks. That’s the takeaway from a set of focus groups of dozens of swing voters — defined as those who switched their presidential vote from Democratic to Republican, or vice versa, between 2012 and 2016 — run by a non-partisan research groups Engagious and Focus Pointe Global.

Unlike polls, the focus groups don’t reflect the opinions of a representative sample of likely voters. Instead, they give us a glimpse into the minds of voters whose preferences could determine who will sit in the Oval Office come January. The participants were asked to rate their support for Trump’s environmental rollbacks on a scale of 1 to 10 twice: before seeing a list of 17 policies he’s gutted and after. (Those 17 policies were pulled from a comprehensive list of rollbacks compiled by the New York Times.) The groups’ ratings averaged 4.5 before seeing the rollbacks and 3.2 after.

In Florida, a state that’s particularly aware of the consequences of rising temperatures and seas, the average dropped to 2.6 after seeing the rollbacks enumerated. “Before seeing that list of rollbacks, my hand would have been up 100 percent for Trump,” one Florida focus group participant and 2016 Trump supporter said. “After seeing it, my hand was not up. I’m not 100 percent sold on him.” Another participant asked why she supported Trump less after seeing the list of rollbacks, said she didn’t know about half of those rollbacks before seeing them. “To me, it made a difference to actually see them and process it,” she said. Another participant said she didn’t expect or want Trump to roll back those regulations, despite voting for him in 2016. “He’s supposed to be protecting our country and our world,” she said. “He’s supposed to be a world leader.”

Trump’s environmental rollbacks might not be enough to prompt these swing-state voters to choose a Democrat in the voting booth — that first Florida participant who said he’s not 100 percent sold on Trump said he’s still “80 percent sold on Trump just because of a lot of the other things he stands for.” But the focus group results do show that Trump’s rollbacks are supremely unpopular with the people whose presidential votes count the most.

Other research supports the idea that climate change is an important consideration for bipartisan voters. In South Carolina, a state that votes for the Democratic nominee this Saturday, addressing climate change is a top issue. A January poll conducted by Conservation Voters of South Carolina and Audubon Action Fund found that 64 percent of all South Carolinians think climate change is a serious problem. Only 13 percent of folks surveyed for that poll self-identified as liberal, and only 31 percent said they were Democrats. It’s clear that rising temperatures aren’t just an issue for diehard Democrats anymore — other slices of the political spectrum are starting to get in on the climate action.

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Trump’s environmental rollbacks are deeply unpopular with swing voters

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Trump blasts wind turbine emissions, says zilch about fossil fuels

It’s no secret that President Trump hates wind turbines. He’s had it out for them since at least 2012, when he tweeted that they’re an “environmental & aesthetic disaster,” and blamed them for murdering bald eagles. The enmity reportedly stems from an offshore wind farm that Trump feared would mar views from one of his golf courses in Scotland.

At a rally in Colorado Springs, Colorado, on Thursday, Trump made his displeasure known again, saying that the wind turbines he saw recently on a trip to Palm Springs were “closed” and “rotting.” “They look like hell,” he said.

He didn’t stop there. “When they’re making them, more stuff goes up into the air and up into the ozone, the atmosphere,” Trump said. “And they don’t say this, but after a period of time, they get tired, they get old, they get rusty and a lot of guys say hey, their useful life is gone, let’s get the hell out of here.”

The president isn’t entirely wrong about that last bit. As a recent report from Bloomberg Green points out, tens of thousands of aging wind turbine blades — which can stretch longer than the wing of a Boeing 747 — are ending up in landfills. Over the next four years, 32,000 blades will go to the landfill in the United States alone. Recycling the blades, which are built to outlast hurricanes and tornadoes, is nigh impossible.

But the environmental impact of wind turbines is nothing compared to that of oil, gas, and coal — industries that Trump has tried to prop up with every executive lever available to him. If Trump actually cared about the stuff that “goes up into the air,” he’d rail against fossil fuels, not renewables. The carbon footprint of coal is nearly 90 times greater than that of wind energy, according to the Department of Energy’s National Renewable Energy Laboratory, an agency in the executive branch that Trump is the head of. The footprint of natural gas is more than 40 times greater.

Trump’s 2012 claim that wind turbines kill birds is also a half-truth: the Audubon Society estimates that wind turbines kill somewhere between 140,000 and 328,000 birds every year in North America. But the oil and gas industry kills as many as one million birds a year, says the Bureau of Land Management. And coal, the industry Trump has vowed to save, kills nearly 8 million per year.

Come to think of it, “a lot of guys say hey, their useful life is gone, let’s get the hell out of here” would be a much better motto for fossil fuels than for wind turbines.

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Trump blasts wind turbine emissions, says zilch about fossil fuels

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Elizabeth Warren’s new plan would jail lying fossil fuel executives

Lying under oath is a crime known as perjury, but corporations lie all the time. (Remember when tobacco companies told us cigarettes were healthy?) On Tuesday, Senator Elizabeth Warren unveiled a plan to fight what she calls “corporate perjury.”

Her proposal, which is part and parcel of her larger anti-corruption push, zeroes in on fossil fuel companies. Specifically, ExxonMobil — a company that is currently mired in lawsuits that allege it knew climate change was real in the 1980s and misled investors and the public about it.

Several candidates have sworn to hold the fossil fuel industry accountable for fraud and corruption. But Warren is the first to release a proposal specifically aimed at stopping corporations from misleading the public and regulators in the future.

The plan is three-pronged. First, Warren aims to create a “corporate perjury” law that will take executives to court for knowingly lying to federal agencies. You might assume such a law already exists, but you’d be wrong. People can be taken to court for lying in court, before Congress, or to their own shareholders, but the information they provide to federal agencies currently constitutes a weird gray area.

Warren’s plan says that “where companies engage in egregious and intentional efforts to mislead agencies in an effort to prevent our government from understanding and acting on facts, they will face criminal liability.” Executives who engage in this type of behavior could have to pay $250,000 in fines or face jail time.

In the second plank of her plan, Warren gets nerdy. Research that is not peer-reviewed — not evaluated by other experts in the same or a similar field — will not be eligible to be considered by federal agencies or courts. The same goes for industry-funded research. That is, it won’t be eligible unless whoever submitted it can prove that it’s free of conflicts of interest. “If any conflicts of interest exist, that research will be excluded from the rulemaking process and will be inadmissible in any subsequent court challenges,” the senator writes.

That would mark a significant departure from the way President Trump operates. On Monday, the New York Times reported that the Trump administration plans to curtail the kind of research the government can use to craft public health regulations, which could have drastic implications both for future rules and regulations that already exist.

The last piece of Warren’s plan hopes to reacquaint the public with the federal rule-making process. She would create a national Office of the Public Advocate to guide people through the process of weighing in on new regulations. By involving the public in this process more explicitly, Warren says, federal agencies will “make informed decisions about the human consequences of their proposals, rather than largely relying on industry talking points.”

Warren’s new corporate perjury plan is in keeping with her broader goal of holding Big Oil accountable for the consequences of their actions. At the first-ever Presidential Forum on Environmental Justice last week, she explained how she feels about corporate executives who pollute. (Editor’s note: Grist was one of the forum’s media sponsors.) “If they do harm to people, they need to be held responsible,” she said. “You shouldn’t be able to walk away from the injuries you create.” That apparently goes for the lies fossil fuel companies tell, as well.

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Elizabeth Warren’s new plan would jail lying fossil fuel executives

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Congress is losing a major Republican climate hawk. What now?

Representative Francis Rooney of Florida announced he’s retiring on Saturday, citing frustration over increasing partisanship in Congress and a sense that he’d completed what he set out to do as reasons for his abrupt departure. The surprise decision came just a day after the congressman said he was open to considering articles of impeachment against President Trump (the first House Republican to do so).

“I thought the idea was you came and did your public service and left, you accomplish what you want to accomplish and you left,” Rooney told Fox News. “And that’s what I want to be an example to do. And I’m also tired of the intense partisanship that stops us from solving the big questions that America needs solved.”

While Rooney was in office, he championed a carbon pricing measure and advocated for an offshore drilling ban on Florida’s coast. His departure leaves a climate-shaped hole in the GOP, a party that has developed a pretty severe allergy to established science over the past several years. Rooney is the current co-chair of the Climate Solutions Caucus, a bipartisan group in the House of Representatives whose main objectives are to educate members of Congress about climate change and to push for climate legislation. The group, which formed in early 2016, operates on the premise that bipartisanship on climate and environmental issues is still possible, perhaps once a less science-averse president is in office.

But that caucus took a major hit to its Republican flank during the 2018 midterms, when 21 members lost their seats, including the caucus’ Republican co-chair at the time, Representative Carlos Curbelo, also from Florida. Now, less than a year into his tenure as the new co-chair, Rooney is on his way out.

What does that mean for the future of climate change legislation in the United States? It’s true that with President Trump in office, it’s nigh impossible for climate bills to become law, even if they somehow managed to survive the Senate. Historically, however, major environmental legislation has been successful when both sides of the political aisle fight for it. That’s partly why things like public lands bills and the occasional offshore drilling ban stay put no matter which party controls the White House. But recent political polarization around climate change has wrested the title “conservationist” away from the Republican party and bequeathed it to the Democrats.

Members of the Citizens Climate Lobby, a grassroots environmental group that lobbied for the creation of the caucus, are optimistic that Rooney’s departure does not doom bipartisan climate action, though his sudden retirement did catch the group by surprise. “It’s definitely not something we saw coming,” Andres Jimenez, senior director of congressional affairs for Citizens Climate Lobby, told Grist. “[Rooney] was one of our biggest champions on carbon pricing.”

But Jimenez is confident Republicans will step up to the plate in Rooney’s absence.

He cited recent polling that shows growing support for carbon taxes and a Green New Deal among young Republicans. And he said that Republicans from districts that have been touched by extreme weather and other climate-tinged events are wising up to the fact that voters support climate action.

Not to mention recent news that the Senate is starting up its own bipartisan climate group. That initiative builds off of the work done by the House, Jimenez said. “It’s had a huge impact, not only in the House but now in the higher chamber,” he said, adding: “We believe that there will be champions stepping up to take Representative Rooney’s spot.” He did not, however, name any names.

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Congress is losing a major Republican climate hawk. What now?

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NOAA picked Trump over science. Here’s why that’s a big deal.

Hurricane Dorian has come and gone, but the irrevocable upheaval it brought on the Bahamas continues. In Washington, a different kind of debacle is brewing in Dorian’s aftermath.

On Friday, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) issued an unsigned statement that defended President Trump’s baseless assertion that Hurricane Dorian would hit Alabama “(much) harder than anticipated.” Trump originally made the claim in a tweet on Sunday, September 1, and has continued to try to justify it on Twitter and with a doctored hurricane map in the week since. NOAA’s statement also rebuked the National Weather Service’s Birmingham division for contradicting the president in a tweet that clarified, “Alabama will NOT see any impacts from #Dorian.”

“From Wednesday, August 28, through Monday, September 2, the information provided by NOAA and the National Hurricane Center to President Trump and the wider public demonstrated that tropical-storm-force winds from Hurricane Dorian could impact Alabama,” read NOAA’s statement. “The Birmingham National Weather Service’s Sunday morning tweet spoke in absolute terms that were inconsistent with probabilities from the best forecast products available at the time.” The New York Times is reporting that political officials at NOAA put out the statement after Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross threatened to fire them.

The unsigned statement — along with an earlier internal directive telling NOAA staffers not to “provide any opinion” on Trump’s tweet — seems to have set off a firestorm within the agency. NOAA’s acting chief scientist, Craig McLean, is investigating whether the agency’s response to Trump’s claims about Hurricane Dorian constituted a violation of policies and ethics, according to the Washington Post. And the head of the National Weather Service, which is part of NOAA, publicly defended the Birmingham forecasters at a meeting of the National Weather Association.

For NOAA scientists, and meteorologists outside the federal agency, the organization’s apparent willingness to bend the truth for political reasons undermines their integrity.

“This is the first time I’ve felt pressure from above to not say what truly is the forecast. It’s hard for me to wrap my head around,” said a meteorologist the Post spoke with on the condition of anonymity. “One of the things we train on is to dispel inaccurate rumors and ultimately that is what was occurring — ultimately what the Alabama office did is provide a forecast with their tweet, that is what they get paid to do.”

Elbert Friday, the former director of the National Weather Service, went even further, calling the unsigned statement “deplorable” in a public statement on Facebook: “This rewriting history to satisfy an ego diminishes NOAA.”

For some meteorologists, NOAA’s independence is a matter not only of scientific integrity but of life and death. The agency’s statement is “concerning as it compromises the ability of NOAA to convey life-saving information necessary to avoid substantial and specific danger to public health and safety,” McLean wrote in an email to NOAA employees obtained by the Post. If people stop trusting NOAA to provide unbiased forecasts during severe weather events, the thinking goes, the confusion could put them at physical risk.

After all, as Brian McNoldy, senior research associate at the University of Miami’s Rosenstiel School, told to BuzzFeed News: “There’s enough uncertainty in a hurricane forecast as it is. We don’t need to introduce a whole lot more.”

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NOAA picked Trump over science. Here’s why that’s a big deal.

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