The Supreme Court is Wrong

Photo by Matthias Heyde on Unsplash.

I have mostly stayed away from writing about political issues on my website since I feel that political disagreement takes away from trying to achieve the greater good. But I feel that I can no longer avoid certain issues, especially since pollution and climate change should not be political issues. These are human issues.

In more than one way recently, the Supreme Court has gotten it wrong.

The Case

The Supreme Court recently ruled in West Virginia v. Environmental Protection Agency that the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) does not have the authority to issue broad, aggressive regulations on climate-warming pollution from power plants that might force many of those plants to close or rebuild. It potentially restricts other agencies from passing regulations to protect both the environment and public health.1

“The case was unusual because it focused on a program that wasn’t even in force: the Clean Power Plan, an Obama-era federal regulation adopted under the Clean Air Act of 1970, which sought to govern greenhouse gas emissions from power plants.” The Clean Power Plan would have required utilities to move away from coal and toward renewable energy.

After a series of lawsuits from Republican states and the coal industry, the Supreme Court blocked the program in 2016 and it never took effect. “The Biden administration tried to have the case dismissed, arguing that there were no E.P.A. regulations in place for the court to consider. That didn’t work and, in the end, the court favored the plaintiffs…who argued that only Congress should have the power to set rules that significantly affect the American economy.”2

“It was the product of a coordinated, multiyear strategy by Republican attorneys general, conservative legal activists and their funders to use the judicial system to rewrite environmental law, weakening the executive branch’s ability to tackle global warming.” -Manuela Andreoni, New York Times3

Smog from a plant, obscuring the sunlight.
Photo by Alexei Scutari on Unsplash.

Greenhouse gases

The greenhouse effect is what it sounds like, in that if you have a covered garden, you are purposely trapping the heat inside. The Earth’s atmosphere does the same thing, as natural greenhouse gases trap heat and keep our habitat warm. However, human activities are responsible for unnatural increases in greenhouse gases in the atmosphere over the last 170 years. This increases the temperature across the planet, hence causing what we call global warming. “The largest source of greenhouse gas emissions from human activities in the United States is from burning fossil fuels for electricity, heat, and transportation.” Carbon dioxide (CO2) is the primary greenhouse gas, accounting for nearly 80% of all U.S. greenhouse gas emissions. “The main human activity that emits CO2 is the combustion of fossil fuels (coal, natural gas, and oil) for energy and transportation.”4

Power plant in distance at sunset, emitting smoke, in Poland.
Photo by Marek Piwnicki on Unsplash.

Greenhouse Gas Emissions

The electricity sector is the second-largest source of greenhouse emissions in the United States (after transportation). This accounts for 25% of the U.S.’s emissions. “Approximately 60% of our electricity comes from burning fossil fuels, mostly coal and natural gas.”5

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), the leading scientific authority on global warming, explains that exceeding a 1.5 degrees Celsius increase would cause climate change’s worst impacts. This means more intense droughts, extreme heat, massive flooding, and the worsening of food shortages, wildfires, and even poverty. It also means the decline of all species. That includes a mass die-off of the world’s coral reefs which actually help regulate the oceans and climate.

Because since the Industrial Revolution, the Earth has already heated 1.1 degrees Celsius (2 degrees Fahrenheit).

“The failure of the United States — the largest emitter of greenhouse gases in history — to meet its climate targets would very likely mean the world will not be able to keep global warming at about 1.5 degrees above preindustrial levels. Beyond that threshold, scientists say, the likelihood of catastrophic heat waves, drought, flooding and widespread extinctions increases significantly.”6

Woman with sign on her back: "time is running out!" with an Earth depicted as a bomb.
Photo by Tobias Rademacher on Unsplash.

Running Out of Time!

We are running out of time to stall massive problems. Once global warming reaches a certain point, it will create a spiral effect. Several articles mentioned how the Supreme Court’s decision will limit “Biden’s plan” or “Biden’s goal” to reduce carbon emissions. But these are not Biden’s goals, nor are they simply goals. Reducing carbon emissions is a requirement! It is a necessary move that the entire globe – every developed nation – must make in order to save the people. We will not survive massive global changes, and we know this. If we want to live and see our grandchildren survive, we must change our ways.

Because we needed to start making these changes 50 years ago.

Reducing carbon emissions should be everyone’s goal, whether they like it or not.

It is not a Republican or Democratic issue.

It’s a human issue.

But the Supreme Court has punted clean air regulations to Congress, and we know that governing body consistently cannot get anything done. Our bipartisan Congress argues and filibusters and achieves nothing.

We don’t have that kind of time.

 

Footnotes:

Book review: Trashlands: A Novel, by Alison Stine

Trashlands: A Novel book coverI typically review only non-fiction books, but this fictional tale hit too close to home and I have to share it with you!

This dystopian novel offers a glimpse into a dark future if we don’t make great changes in our current world. The story takes place decades from now and the remnants of wasted resources and excessive plastic abound. Due to global warming, sea levels rose drastically. Americans constructed levees to keep the rising sea level back but those eventually collapsed and caused the great floods. “After the sea walls would not be rebuilt. The roads would not be repaired. Maps had been redrawn with the oceans farther inland…There were no homes.” The main characters live in Scrappalachia, in “the center of the United States,” an area that “became the great vast orchards of scrap” after the floods. They live in old vehicles or make-shift shacks next to Trashlands, a strip club.

“They followed the plastic tide. After the floods destroyed the coasts, rewrote the maps with more blue, something was in the water that lapped at Ohio and Georgia and Pennsylvania. Plastic. People learned quickly that it was useful. It had to be.”

Few forests and natural areas and bodies of clean water exist, thus animals and wildlife are rare. As one person remarks, “People make everything go extinct.” That statement is striking because it’s sadly true. In reality, we are causing the mass extinction of thousands of species right now. In the book, only the older generation could recall things we take for granted, like running water, the internet, or kids playing in autumn leaves. Books are rare since the floods destroyed many of them. An older man recalled the U.S. postal system, which had stopped gradually:

“Roads had been washed away. There were gas shortages, price gouges. Letters piled up, were lost or stolen. Strikes happened…Hospitals closed just when the stream of patients, their lungs filled with water or smoke, became untenable. Groceries couldn’t keep bottled water, rice, or meat on the shelves. It became more common to see plastic bottles than crops in a field. The ground was too saturated to plant…No one knew to collect the plastic yet. No one knew it was all they would have.

Plastic and trash debris floating in water with fish swimming around it.
Photo by Naja Bertolt Jensen on Unsplash

In this future, plastic is a highly valuable resource and people can’t understand why previous generations ever wasted it or discarded it. They struggle to believe that plastic items were once created to be disposable or made for single-use, such as plastic forks. But most plastic had been packaging. One character muses, “What a world that must have been, to have had to protect everything.” A young woman finds what had been a plastic trash can, but didn’t know what it was. Someone older explains that people used to throw stuff away and needed a place to store their ‘trash’ before removing it from their homes.

Plastic drives all aspects of life. ‘Pluckers’ collect and sell plastic waste to factories for little profit in order to survive. The factories reprocess the plastic into plastic bricks and other items. Factory owners sometimes kidnap young children from the poor and force them to work in the factories. Children’s hands are small, which allows them to do a better job at sorting the plastics.

“Yes, people knew that plastic was poison, but they didn’t care. They wanted to make money.”

Junkyard and piles of scrap, incudling a damaged car.
Photo by Evan Demicoli on Unsplash

This novel presents a brilliant concept, an uncertain future drastically changed by the climate crisis. This future is full of sexual assault, rape, and violence. Women live with made-up “families” in order to protect themselves. Some characters feel that women could run the world better than men, and had even come close to doing so at one time.

“[Women] would all do a real fine job of running a world. You know it. I know it. And men know it. That’s why they hold them back.”

I really enjoyed this book and found the perspective really impactful. I hope the world doesn’t come to this! Perhaps we, as a global community, can unite and tackle the effects of climate change. Feel free to comment below on what you thought of the book. Thanks for reading, please share and subscribe!

Honoring Sea Turtles

Sea Turtle at the Newport Aquarium
Sea turtle at the Newport Aquarium. Photo by me

Happy World Sea Turtle Day! Though these beautiful and important creatures deserve everyone’s attention year-round, I like to honor this day, June 16th, to acknowledge and bring awareness to their plight.

I found this video about sea turtles from the Newport Aquarium in Newport, Kentucky, which my family just visited this past April (2022):

The aquarium had a really great display with a cross-section of how a sea turtle nest looks under the sand:

My son pointing examining the sea turtle nest cross section exhibit at the Newport Aquarium.
My son examining the sea turtle nest cross-section exhibit at the Newport Aquarium. Photo by me.
Close-up of the sea turtle nest cross section exhibit at the Newport Aquarium.
Close-up of the sea turtle nest cross-section exhibit at the Newport Aquarium.

It is extremely important to protect these nests since hatchlings have a very low chance of survival to adulthood. Here’s a TED-Ed video explaining the struggles hatchlings face:

What You Can Do

The best thing you can do is to learn, and then educate others! Please read my article about the importance of sea turtles and what is endangering them and what actions you can take to help protect them.

You can also adopt a sea turtle nest! There are many organizations at every level –  global down to local communities – that take donations to protect a nest and educate their communities. I adopt one annually on Hilton Head Island through the Coastal Discovery Museum since that area is special to my family. There seems to be a program near most coastal communities in the United States, so just pick one!

Thank you for reading and supporting sea turtles, please share and subscribe! I’ll close with a video I took of a sea turtle swimming in the Newport Aquarium’s Coral Reef exhibit:

 

Additional Resources:

Video, “All About Sea Turtles,” World Wildlife Fund Wild Classroom, April 13, 2021.

Article, “How To Help Save Sea Turtles,” seeturtleweek.com.

FilmProtecting leatherback turtles – Blue Planet II: Episode 7 Preview, BBC One, December 8, 2017.

Endangered Species Day

Baby harp seal on snow, white and furry with big dark eyes.
Photo by Hotel Kaesong on Flickr, Creative Commons license, (CC BY-SA 2.0)

Today is Endangered Species Day. This day is observed each year on the third Friday of May, a day to raise awareness about endangered species and celebrate those that have recovered through conservation efforts.1 But like me, I bet many of you probably already try to raise awareness when the opportunity arises.

When I was a child, I learned that baby harp seals – the adorable, white, fluffy ones – were killed solely for their fur. At 6 years old, I could not understand how people would kill these animals just for their coats. I believe this is what sparked the environmentalist in me at that young age. I would try to teach others about harp seal pup clubbing and I had a Greenpeace ‘Save the Seals’ button that I wore. A few years later, I learned about elephant poaching – again, shocked and dismayed that people would kill such a large, beautiful animal just for the ivory in its tusks. I wrote papers in school and even designed a t-shirt advocating for elephants.

Obviously, this has continued into adulthood.

Me at 6 years old holding my baby seal stuffed animals.
Me at 6 years old holding my baby seal stuffed animals.

Why Are So Many Species Endangered?

Most endangered species become endangered because of human activity. As our own population increases, other species experience the loss and degradation of habitat, mainly from deforestation. People overhunt and overfish, introduce invasive species, and contribute to climate change.2 Each of these actions slowly degrades the ecosystem of each species and they cannot survive. “Human activity has altered about 75 percent of the surface of the land, eliminating natural systems millions of years in the making and squeezing wildlife into fragments of their former ranges,” wrote Dr. Sylvia A. Earle.3

When we lose a species, we lose an important component in the intricate web of life. The loss creates a butterfly effect in the food chain and ecosystems. Scientists call this the decline of biodiversity. But when we lose a species forever, I feel like we’ve lost more than that – we are losing part of our humanity. We are losing something we can’t replace or reproduce. Technology can’t reverse extinction. (And even if it could someday, we don’t understand every single moving part of ecosystems. Have you ever seen Jurassic Park?)

“We are now causing the extinction of more species than have gone extinct in the last 65 million years.” -Rob Stewart, Revolution

Graphic of the world map with animals making the outlines of the continents.
Image by OpenClipart-Vectors from Pixabay

How Many Species Are Threatened?

More than 40,000 species are threatened with extinction!4 Today, there are 8,722 critically endangered species on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species.5 The IUCN, or the International Union for Conservation of Nature, is the international authority on assessing the status and conservation of plant, animal, and insect species across the world. Here’s a short video about their importance:

“It amazes me that some of our most well-known species are the ones that are closest to extinction.” -Joel Sartore, the Photo Ark

The Endangered Species Act of 1973

This act is the main legislation in the United States aimed at conserving plants and animals at risk of extinction. “The act’s main directive is to recover threatened and endangered species to a state of health and stability in which they no longer require protected status,” Jeff Corwin wrote.6

“The act is easily the most important piece of conservation legislation in the nation’s history. Its most dramatic successes include the recovery of the American alligator, gray whale, bald eagle, peregrine falcon, and eastern population of the brown pelican.” -Edward O. Wilson, Afterword of Silent Spring

Regardless of our political beliefs or affiliation, we must protect and preserve this act and its related legislation. We must stop allowing our representatives to strip away its protections, which they are consistently trying to do. Joel Sartore of the Photo Ark, wrote: “Legislators passed it almost unanimously in 1973. But it has not been reauthorized – given multiyear funding – since the late 1990s. As it stands now, funding for the [Endangered Species Act] comes from annual appropriations requested by the Department of the Interior – subject, of course, to the President’s agenda.”7

Rhinos and a giraffe in the background in a landscape.
Photo by Ken Goulding on Unsplash

Let’s Go Back

“People protect what they love.” -Jacques Cousteau

We can’t just toss a few of every species into zoos and then call it good. We’ve got to do more. Maybe we should go back to thinking like we did as kids. Animals were special, exciting to see and learn about, and important to protect. We all understood this so clearly as children! Even Walt Disney understood:

“How could this earth of ours, which is only a speck in the heavens, have so much variety of life, so many curious and exciting creatures?” -Walt Disney

So what can you do? Protect what you love. Teach others. Here are “10 Actions You Can Take to Conserve Endangered Species” from the Endangered Species Coalition:8

Infographic

Thanks for reading, and Happy Endangered Species Day!

Footnotes: