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Fossil Fools

After recent months, when Hurricanes Harvey, Irma and Maria devastated Texas, Florida and Puerto Rico, and unprecedented wildfires torched the West from British Columbia to California, anyone who imagines that climate change has not been happening is a fool. But such “fossil fools,” as I call them, remain extremely influential in the United States—and have captured control of the federal government.

Their bombastic leader, Fool-in-Chief Donald Trump, is the greatest fool of all due to the tremendous impact he can and will have on Earth by withdrawing our nation from the Paris climate accords, to which all but a few nations subscribe. He is aided and abetted in his foolhardy schemes by Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Administrator Scott Pruitt, Energy Secretary Rick Perry, Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke, and Office of Management and Budget (OMB) Director Mick Mulvaney, among others. As The New York Times columnist Paul Krugman noted, these “know-nothing, anti-science conservatives are now running the US government.”

This ship of fools shares the audacious goal of reestablishing US “energy dominance,” by which they mean harnessing the vast carbonaceous fossil-fuel reserves with which our nation was blessed—or, to increasingly many observers, accursed. Renewable energy resources such as solar, wind and water power don’t interest them, probably because these diffuse, decentralized forms of energy cannot be exported easily and will thus add little to corporate profits—the real, unspoken goal.

Closer to home, State Senator Doug Ericksen served as a temporary, part-time ensign on this ship, hoping for a promotion to a full-time captain’s job. But he returned to Washington state disappointed after a four-month tour of duty on the EPA “beachhead team.” He appeared to have all the required qualifications after accepting dozens of free meals and thousands of dollars in campaign contributions from fossil-fuel lobbyists while inviting climate-change deniers to harangue the Senate Energy, Environment and Telecommunications Committee he chairs.

These fossil fools speciously argue that many well-paid jobs would result from reviving fossil-fuel industries, most recently coal jobs in Appalachia. This is public-relations nonsense lacking any solid evidence. As University of California, Berkeley, Professor of Energy Daniel Kammen and colleagues have shown, the job-creation potential of energy conservation and renewable energy far exceeds that of fossil-fuel industries. In this category, coal mining comes in dead last.

The foolish EPA administrator Pruitt boasts that 50,000 coal jobs have been created since the beginning of 2017, but the actual number is at most 2,000. There are only about 50,000 coal-mining jobs in the entire country today according to Federal Reserve Board statistics, down from twice that 25 years ago, due largely to mechanization. And coal mining is a dying industry on life support, with three of the four major US firms in bankruptcy court. Like his blindered boss, Pruitt is lying.

Meanwhile, rising economic powers such as China and India—as well as established ones such as Germany—are taking up the renewable-energy challenge as the United States drops back. This is where the well-paid energy jobs of the future will occur, not in Appalachian or Wyoming coal fields. For example, a solar-power firm in which I am invested, 247 Solar, Inc., has already established partnerships in China, South Africa, Sri Lanka and the United Arab Emirates. Serious discussions are under way with groups in Canada, Germany, and India, but none so far in the United States. The foolish Trump regime is probably part of the reason.

When an obscure Republican political hack with no scientific experience is reviewing EPA grant proposals and summarily rejecting those that mention “the double-C word” climate change, something stinks in the nation’s capital. Similar political censorship has been reported at the Department of Energy. This is science denial at its ugliest. Though it may aid fossil-fuel industries in the short run, it will cause long-term harm for the US economy and ultimately for the fate of the planet.

To science historians, this denial of established climate science is reminiscent of what occurred in Germany during Hitler’s reign. Previously the envy of the world in such disciplines as chemistry and physics, this once-proud nation fell to its knees scientifically during this regime and ended in ruins a decade later. Nazi officials and sympathizers denied science that was widely accepted elsewhere. They reviled the theories of relativity and quantum mechanics as “Jewish physics” but pursued with vengeance experiments on Jews and other untermenschen (sub-humans). In 1945, Germany awoke in ashes.

The primary lesson here is that science and politics usually make terrible bedfellows. Embracing politically motivated forms of science (if we can call them that), as do the deniers of climate change with their irrational, unproved ideas, will inevitably lead to no good—and can easily end in catastrophe. Although it may benefit the few for a while, for example fossil-fuel industries and workers, it will harm the many over the long run. This is indeed a fool’s errand.

We are witnessing an extreme example of what political economists and sociologists have long known: that prior economic commitments can dramatically alter one’s grip on reality. Those who profit mightily from fossil-fuel investments, for example Charles and David Koch, will be naturally blind to the impact that they are having on the earth’s climate and deny it despite overwhelming evidence. In this way they attempt to rationalize and justify what to others is intellectual corruption.

But the US government has been taken over and is being held hostage by these science deniers. There is no better exemplar of this hostile takeover than Pruitt, who as Oklahoma attorney general repeatedly sued the EPA over its attempts to regulate fossil-fuel industries. He had extensive financial and legal support in these efforts from oil-and-gas giant Devon Energy. Since stepping in at this agency steeped in environmental science, he has begun purging climate science and scientists from its web site, boards and staff.

For some reason Pruitt also purged Ericksen as communications director, replacing him with the “obscure political hack” mentioned earlier. Maybe Doug was found wanting in his level of intellectual corruption, or perhaps his communications skills left much to be desired. And he apparently could not land another suitable, lucrative job in the Trump administration. Whatever the case, it seems Ericksen is now back in Washington’s 42nd district, hat in hand, about to seek reelection in 2018.

Similar, if less blatant, purges have been occurring at the Energy and Interior Departments. Presidential budgets for climate science were brutally slashed at these and other agencies involved in this research, thanks in part to OMB Director Mulvaney. Fortunately, Congress has refused to cooperate, especially the Senate.

Will the United States, once the world’s most innovative, high-tech economy, revert to an extractive economy like those of West Virginia and Wyoming—or like that of Trump’s much-admired favorite nation Russia? A glance at these faltering economies reveals that they are hardly the wave of the future.

Will the United States, the world’s most innovative, high-tech economy, revert to an extractive economy like those of West Virginia and Wyoming—or like that of Russia?

This is however where our national “leadership” hopes to take us. If these ignorant fools succeed, the future of our nation and planet will be imperiled. But there is reason to hope. 42nd district voters can do their part and begin turning back this toxic red-state tide by booting Ericksen out of office next year.

About Michael Riordan

Writer • Eastsound, WA • Member since Nov 25, 2016

Michael Riordan writes about science, technology and public policy from Orcas Island, where he lives and kayaks. He holds a PhD degree in physics from MIT, having worked on the [...]

Comments by Readers

Larry Horowitz

Oct 16, 2017

Thank you Michael.  I prefer not to enter the climate change debate and would like to focus instead on potential breakthrough energy technologies.  It’s clear that producing energy by furning fossil fuels is antiquated, caveman-like, dirty technology.  Additionally, peak oil is real, not only because we will eventually use it all up, but because it will become incredibly expensive well before then.  

With your background in physics, I am curious if you have been following the work of those pushing the envelope in these breakthrough technologies.  For example, are you familiar with the various research projects of the Integrity Research Institute?

Best,
Larry

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Dick Conoboy

Oct 17, 2017

Michael,

Booting out Ericksen means we have someone to wear that boot.  Has anyone tried on the boot yet to see if it fits?

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Michael Riordan

Oct 18, 2017

I can think of several people in the 42nd District who would be far better senators than Doug, but don’t want to name names as they might not be willing to run against him. I’ll let others much more knowledgable about Whatcom County politics speak out (if they dare).

Quite frankly, I can’t imagine anyone much worse than Ericksen. You have to remember that he used his position and influence as state senator to become Deputy Director of the WA Trump campaign, even bringing him to Whatcom County for the Lynden rally, so he has to share the blame for all the havoc that the Fool-in-Chief has been wreaking in the county, state, nation, and world. And not just in the area of fossil fuels and climate change.

Take health care, for example. Yesterday Trump threatened to defund the subsidies given to insurers under the Affordable Care Act to help cover the costs of lowering deductibles, co-payments and other out-of-pocket costs for the indigent and less well off. Insurers are consequently abandoning rural counties en masse. We have only one left here in San Juan County. As Senator Patty Murray was quoted in today’s New York Times, Trump is trying to “sabotage health care in this country.”

Trump Enablers like Doug — and a wealthy, part-time  Fairhaven resident I can think of — must bear the blame for the chaos he is causing. They helped put this narcissistic blowhard  into the highest office in the nation and gave him the enormous powers he is absolutely unfit to wield.

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Elisabeth Britt

Oct 18, 2017

Hi Dick,

A quick review of the Public Disclosure Commission State Legislature PDC filings for 2018 reveal  that Doug Ericksen and Port Commissioner Michael McAuley are the only two candidates that have indicated any interest in the 42nd District Senate seat to date.  So, yes.  Someone is attempting to try on that boot.  That said, official filing week isn’t until next August and I expect that we will see additional challengers for the seat, before  the 2018 filing week closes.  

 

 

 

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Elisabeth Britt

Oct 19, 2017

On October 9, 2017, Senator Ericksen’s PIO posted the following Statement regarding the EPA’s decision to reverse Obama Administration rules overriding state’s authority to regulate power plant emissions.  Ericksen claims that the rule would have driven up energy prices for Americans across the nation.  I wonder, will the repeal of the rule result in lower energy costs for Americans? I think we already know the answer to that question.  

Regarding Doug’s recent attempt to secure a position with the EPA.  I don’t begrudge anyone the right to search for a new job. But Doug is a state Senator who represents the 42nd Legislative District. Granted, the Legislature’s rules do not prohibit a legislator from having another job. However, our state Legislature only meets for a few months each year.  Hence, the majority of state legislators take a leave of absence from their regular jobs during legislative session in order to provide their constitutents with the level of representation they deserve. They don’t run off to Washington D.C. to earn a six figure salary during the state legislative session. But Doug has always enjoyed bending the rules - or, in some cases, creating the framework for new rules, after abusing free meals from lobbyists in Olympia.  Perhaps the administration will draft another set of new rules restricting full-time outside employment during regularly scheduled legislative sessions after Doug’s latest escapade. If nothing else, the 2018 state Senate Campaign will be highly entertaining, as Doug routinely skirts questions regarding  his trustworthiness as an elected official.     

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Michael Riordan

Oct 23, 2017

To put some hard numbers on Doug’s EPA sojourn earlier this year,  he worked—or at least got paid for— a total of 516 hours for the federal government, according to official EPA records obtained by Freedom of Information Act requests. For the full 120 days, that comes to 4.3 hours per day when he was not working on WA state business, or substantially more than that if you do not include weekends. Over the same time period, his Senate colleagues such as Kevin Ranker were often putting in 16 hour days while in Olympia. At Doug’s salary rate of $77.84, the highest possible rate for a non-permanent US government employee, he earned (or was paid) over $40,000 at the federal trough, helping Scott Pruitt and others gut the EPA.

 The senator and real-estate mogul may have shared a “golden handshake” in the above photo, taken in May 2016—were it not for their greasy palms.

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