June 10, 2023

A Shameful Abdication

By Stephen Tuttle | July 16, 2022

After a streak of especially nice weather in northern Michigan, it might be a good time for our semi-regular check on how other states are doing. As it turns out, not that well.

The Supreme Court’s recent decision in West Virginia v. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) wasn’t the least bit helpful.

The EPA has been promulgating environmental rules and regulations ever since they were created and the Clean Air Act passed in 1970. Emissions, levels of toxins in our water and particulates in our air, what can and cannot be used in agriculture, and much more are all based on standards developed by the research conducted by the EPA. In fact, most government rules and regulations for our everyday lives have been developed by a bureaucracy given that authority by some statute passed by Congress. It has been that way for more than a century.

But the Supreme Court determined the EPA did not have the authority to regulate emissions from coal-fueled power plants. Absent specific authorization from Congress, the EPA overstepped its authority, according to the court. This ruling now puts at risk all EPA regulations and severely complicates the government’s attempts to rein in greenhouse gasses and mitigate climate change.

That’s a shame, because whatever is happening with the climate is accelerating.

Plant pathogens once limited to the tropics near sea level are gaining altitude and starting to impact crops like coffee and tea. According to Smithsonian Magazine, rot and blight already afflict up to 40 percent of crops like rice and wheat and keep spreading. Oak wilt, which can be asymptomatic for years while still capable of spreading, continues its inexorable march north, following the warmth.

Glaciers aren’t likely to afflict our flora, especially since they keep shrinking, according to the World Glacier Monitoring Service, which, along with its predecessors, has been providing data for more than a century. Glaciers interfacing directly with oceans are being undercut by warmer sea waters, and those on land are being melted by higher air temperatures. Glacial melt is the primary cause of sea level rises and the coastal flooding that accompanies it.

At least no one lives on glaciers, which is more than can be said for permafrost. According to the American Geophysical Union, nearly five million people live directly on permafrost and tens of millions more live nearby. Unfortunately, it is thawing and collapsing, creating what are being called “portals to hell” in some areas, and devouring homes and parts of communities in others. The village of Newtok, Alaska, home to indigenous people for centuries, has already been forced to start relocating as the permafrost literally melts beneath their feet.

Even worse, the thawing soil, gravel, sand, and vegetation of permafrost releases additional carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. It could also release unknown biological hazards including viruses and bacteria that have been safely frozen for millennia.

Closer to home, the Great Salt Lake in Utah is slowly disappearing due to increased evaporation and the reduction of water flowing from the river that feeds it. The lake has now shrunk by two-thirds, and some have even suggested a pipeline from the Mississippi River to help restore the lake levels because a new threat has emerged—arsenic. It turns out arsenic occurs naturally in the soil that used to be safely underwater. Now exposed and dry, the former lake bed is fertile ground for dust storms carrying that arsenic into Salt Lake City and elsewhere.

Lakes Mead and Powell out west are also rapidly shrinking, a disaster in the making. Nearly 40 million people in the western U.S. rely on these Colorado River reservoirs for water for drinking, industry, and agriculture. And 1.4 million count on the electric power being generated by the dams holding them back. But Lake Mead is a stunning 187 feet below capacity, the lowest it has been since it was first created. The seven states that are entitled to Colorado River water are now all at some risk. Arizona has already seen its share of the river’s bounty reduced, and reductions may soon hit Nevada, Utah, and California in the not too distant future.

And our carbon dioxide emissions, which retreated during the pandemic lockdowns, are at their highest levels ever according to the International Energy Agency (IEA).

Finally, in what feels like an abject surrender to the inevitable, scientists at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) say they have developed a plan to launch lots and lots of silicone “bubbles” into space which, when gathered together and placed in a specific orbit directly between earth and the sun, could reduce global warming and end climate change. Unwilling or unable to stop climate change on Earth, we’ll instead put up a giant shade umbrella in space, a shameful abdication of our responsibilities to future generations.


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