Trading the Eagle for a $ Sign

If you climb a short flight of stairs at the LBJ Presidential Library and turn, you’re dwarfed by an immense presidential seal. It takes your breath away, the scale and power of that symbol.

The first thing you notice is the American bald eagle at the core of the seal.

Bald eagles, like other eagles worldwide, had been seen by many as symbols of strength, courage, freedom and immortality for generations. And, unlike other eagles, the bald eagle was indigenous only to North America.

United States Veterans Administration

Unfortunately, the eagle has fallen out of favor. The Environmental Protection Agency has decided to measure its protection on the open market.

Follow the money

The eagle’s survival is now determined by how the EPA calculates its value against commercial interests. As of Aug. 12, a mathematical model weighs the price of an eagle against any revenue lost by, say, preserving the trees where the bird nests and breeds its young. If the projected logging revenue is more than the eagle’s value, well…

Think about this. Who determines the numbers plugged into the EPA’s model? In an agency plagued by ethical charges, who gets the money? Rest assured it won’t be the public.

Protecting the environment?

The eagle is one small but As I write this, the temperature outside tops 103 degrees. Maps show the American West and Midwest the color of dried blood from drought. The EPA has been busy:

  • Aug. 18, 2019 – The EPA refuses to ban the widely-used pesticide chlorpyrifos, which its own experts warn hurts children.
  • Aug. 14, Aug. 16 2019 – The EPA moves to authorize the use of cyanide bombs to kill thousands of coyotes and wolves.
  • July 11, 2019 – The EPA overturns a ban on the pesticide sulfoxaflor that’s proven to kill bees and wildlife based on the results of private chemical industry studies.
  • July 12, 2019 – The EPA makes it harder for communities to fight pollution from factories and power plants
  • May 20, 2019 – The EPA decides to measusure air pollution in a new way that makes sure fewer deaths will be traced to bad air.
  • May 8, 2019 – EPA officials refuse to ban asbestos and paint strippers; it weakens standards for cleaning up groundwater contamination.
  • May 2, 2019 – A massive underwater oil leak from a Taylor Energy rig has been releasing some 4,500 gallons of oil/day since 2014. The Interior Department reduces off-shore drilling regulations introduced after the 2011 Deepwater Horizon disaster.

At war against ourselves

Stacks displaying LBJ’s presidential papers occupy one vast wall of the LBJ Presidential Library. Photo: New York Times

As you’re standing on the mezzanine of the LBJ Presidential Library facing the eagle, turn. Now you face the reckoning between the man and the office of president — stacks of Johnson’s presidential papers, bound in red. What will future reckonings show?

It’s time for each of us to examine our values and how we measure ourselves against protecting them. Lyndon Johnson lost a military war against what he perceived as a foreign threat. What are we losing with this war against ourselves?

Policy Weirding: Climate Change and National Security

Will the military drive our national climate change agenda?  Dr. Joshua Busby dropped by a session of the World Spins for an update. Just last week, the Environmental Protection Agency announced that new regulations on toxic chemicals and soot are to be based on data and science generally available to the public (otherwise known as “pop science”). In the past six months, the EPA deleted climate change from its strategic initiatives. President Trump announced the United States’ intention to withdraw from the Paris Climate Accords, making it the only nation on earth unwilling to voluntarily reduce its carbon emissions, identified as the major contributor to global warming.

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A military weather-tracking station. Photo courtesy of the United Nations Climate Change report.

Whiplash contradiction over how to address changing weather patterns 

Over roughly the same time period, the National Defense Authorization Act identified climate change as a national security issue. The Center for Climate Change and Security published a chronology of over 12 separate concerns raised by senior Dept. of Defense officials, including:

I agree that the effects of a changing climate — such as increased maritime access to the Arctic, rising sea levels, desertification, among others — impact our security situation. I will ensure that the department continues to be prepared to conduct operations today and in the future, and that we are prepared to address the effects of a changing climate on our threat assessments, resources, and readiness.”

Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis

An associate professor at the University of Texas’ LBJ School of Public Policy and an internationally-recognized expert on climate change policy and national security, Busby remains unperturbed in the face of whiplash contradiction. A veteran of climate research and negotiation, he recommended substituting “climate weirding” for “climate change” to cultivate civil discussion — not so easy in a world where the weather is mentioned in the same breath as terrorism.

 “It’s (climate change) a super-wicked problem, characterized by greed, lots of actors and short-term actions.”

Dr. Joshua Busby

The military perspective: assess and plan for risk   

From a military perspective, the risks posed by climate change are unequivocal. They can be assigned a dollar figure. The 2017 hurricane season was the costliest in U.S. history. Damages topped $200 billion, not including cost of calling out the National Guard for the three most expensive hurricanes in recent history — Harvey, Irma and Maria.  Tasked with managing installations from Newport News to Africa and Antarctica, it must contend with rising sea levels, temperature and humidity; agricultural production; and  massive migration.

“In the Arctic, the combination of melting sea ice, thawing permafrost, and sea-level rise is eroding shorelines, which is damaging radar and communication installations, runways, seawalls, and training areas. In the Marshall Islands, an Air Force radar installation built on an atoll at a cost of $1,000,000,000 is projected to be underwater within two decades.”

The National Defense Authorization Act

Busby and his team are helping the military pinpoint trouble spots before they occur. Using a composite mapping tool, they identify the countries most vulnerable to a combination of weather, famine, poverty and weak government — India, Sri Lanka, Burma, Bangladesh. In this way, military can more effectively plan and direct help where it will be needed, as well as measure results over time.

Meanwhile in private sector, opportunity

While the military sees threats, the private sector sees opportunity. Rich Sorkin, CEO of Jupiter, a risk assessment firm recently profiled by NPR, raised $10 million and hired top scientists from the federal government in a bid to help businesses and property owners prepare for a changing climate.

“Hugely important, globally significant, gigantic economic problem, not currently being addressed.”

                                                    Rich Sorkin, CEO, Jupiter

And of course, defense contractor Raytheon forecasts a boon in weapon sales:   “Domestically, the effects of climate change could overwhelm disaster-response capabilities. Internationally, climate change may cause humanitarian disasters, contribute to political violence, and undermine weak governments.”

Want to learn more?

The Center for Climate and Security

Publications

Slides from the presentation

NOTE:  If you haven’t followed NPR and Frontline’s coverage of the economic devastation wrought be Hurricane Maria and the inadequacy of the federal response, I recommend reading/watching it here.  Maria, of course, was the third major hurricane that required federal aid in the fall of 2017.