The first part of this series was in the Jan 12 Messenger. You know the cliche: It’s 2020, time to see clearly. So let’s look at where we are in terms of the American environment.
In 1970, during the presidency of Richard Nixon, the NEPA (National Environmental Policy Act) was enacted by Congress, one of the most significant pieces of environmental legislation in the history of the world, followed by the Clean Air Act. Later that year, the Environmental Protection Agency began functioning.
In 1972, British meteorologist John Stanley Sawyer published an important paper modeling the effects of carbon dioxide on global warming by the end of the century and was proven remarkably accurate. In 1976 through 1978, Congress passed a number of more important pieces of environmental legislation under President Carter, who also created the US Department of Energy.
Very little significant environmental legislation occurred during the tenure of President Reagan. More stringent curbs on atmospheric sulfates and nitrates were instituted during the President Bush 41 administration.
By 2001, President Clinton was able to claim the second place in protecting federal lands in national forest and national monuments, with a total of 66 million acres, second only to President Teddy Roosevelt, who protected 230 million acres.
President Bush 43 then became the second presidency, after Reagan’s, to try to roll back environmental protections on a large scale, succeeding in such areas as mountaintop removal mining, and creating the “Clear Skies” initiative (actually a weakening of air pollution protections). Under the Bush administration, the EPA was forced to deny that it has responsibility to regulate tailpipe emissions as greenhouse gases. Bush refused to ratify the Kyoto Accord on global warming, even though even Russia was advanced enough to do so.
In 2009, President Obama protected an additional two million acres of American wilderness. Under his administration, the EPA declared that greenhouse gas emissions must be regulated, the most stringent mpg regulations in history were enacted and the clean power initiative begun requiring power plants to reduce carbon emissions. In 2011, the US Supreme Court affirmed the right of the EPA to regulate greenhouse emissions. Despite the much-touted and fictitious “Obama War on Coal,” the coal industry started seriously failing due to nothing more than market forces – not government regulation, but capitalism. In 2013, the carbon dioxide content of the atmosphere passed the 400 ppm mark.
And then President Trump was elected. His program has been to weaken or destroy virtually every environmental protection ever instituted in this nation, even trying to divest federal lands or trying to use them as feeder troughs for industry.
In the past half-century there were huge advancements in environmental quality especially from the early Nixon administration. Although Reagan and Bush 43 actively fought environmental preservation, previous measures were effectively still working. This is despite the accumulating effects of global warming. But now we have a president who apparently lacks the most elemental intellectual capacity to comprehend what global warming even is. In the meantime, we have dramatically dying oceans and now are documenting plastics pollution of the planet that constitutes in and of itself a global catastrophe. Will anything be done about these?
Not with this president. Not with this Senate. Fifty years ago, Exxon Corporation scientists had conclusively proven to the satisfaction of the company that global warming was real and a genuine threat – so they started funding global warming denial programs to shore up profits. And so we suffer through literally the most ANTI-environmental administration in the history of the nation. But most of this can still work – if we simply hold firm and make it clear to our elected representatives that the environment matters.
John Knouse works with the Athens Conservancy to preserve lands in the Athens Area.