on the Defensive

Earth, Wind, and Fire

1981: Ronald Reagan vs.
“environmental extremists”

   End of bipartisan environmentalism

   Philosophy: “government is the problem”

   Business & right-wing think tanks in charge

      OMB gets veto over new regulations

      Citizen participation limited or avoided

   Energy policy: cheap oil

   Foreign nations take lead in alternative energy

Secretary of Interior James G. Watt

   Plans commercial development of Western public lands

      Excludes environmental organizations, 1981

      Halt to any further parks or wilderness

      States, Congress block offshore oil development

      Congress blocks oil leases in wildlife refuges

      Court blocks strip mining & coal lease changes

Weakening the EPA

   EPA administrator Anne Gorsuch Burford, 1982

      Demands for cost-benefit analyses

       Opposition to “burdensome” regulations

      Proposed budget 1/4 of Carter’s

      Dismantled enforcement division

      Plans to weaken clean air standards

       Weaker auto emission standards

Backlash and radicalization

   1,000,000 sign Sierra Club petition against Watt

      Watt & Burford resign amid scandals, 1983

      Congress renews, expands regulations

   Rise of the radicals

      Greenpeace, 1971

      Sea Shepherds, 1977

      Earth First!, 1980

       Dave Foreman: ecotage

      Rainforest Action Network, 1985

New ideas of the 1980s and 1990s

   James Lovelock’s “Gaia hypothesis,” 1979

      Life, oceans, air, soil = system for optimum environment for life

   Arne Naess, “Deep Ecology,” 1973 (in the US, 1985)

      Anthropocentrism vs. biocentrism

   E. O. Wilson, Biodiversity, 1986

      The trouble with “islands”

   UN Brundtland Report, 1987

      “Sustainable development”

   From 1967 “Lynn White thesis” to 1990s “ecotheology”

      Pope Francis, Laudato Si’: On Care For Our Common Home, 2015

Environmental Justice Movement 

   Warren County protests, 1984

      Rev. Benjamin Chavis and the UCC Report, 1987

       “Environmental racism”

   Spreads across the country

   “Chemical Corridor” or “Cancer Alley”?

      Louisiana’s petrochemical industry

New issues


      From family farm to agribusiness

       Changing government policies: “Get big or get out”

      Loss of farmland: urban sprawl

      Compaction & erosion

      Excess fertilizer and the Gulf’s “Dead Zone”

      Bioengineering (GMO’s) & exotic aliens

International Victories for the Air

   Acid rain: an international problem

      Convention on Long-range Transboundary Air Pollution, 1979

      Clean Air Act, 1990: Cap and trade

   1974: CFCs and the stratospheric ozone layer

      1985: discovery of Antarctic ozone hole

      1987: Montreal Protocol

The fading of environmentalism?

   Decline of outdoor recreation

      Decline in hunting, fishing, visits to National Parks

      “Nature deficit disorder”

       Youth of the 1980s: first generation raised mainly indoors

       Fearful parents keep kids from unstructured outdoor play

       Lure of video and electronics

Corporate opposition gets better

   “Merchants of doubt”

      A few scientists against all government regulation

       Funded by corporations & libertarian groups

       Heritage Foundation, Competitive Enterprise Institute, Marshall Institute, Heartland Institute

      Attack dangers of smoking, secondhand smoke, ozone, acid rain, pesticides (Rachel Carson), global warming

       Tactics: discredit the science (“junk science”), disseminate false information, spread confusion, and promote doubt

      Major funders: Koch brothers, Exxon

       #ExxonKnew, 2016

Global Warming

   1896: Svante Arrhenius: greenhouse theory

   1950s-80s: Data accumulates

      Roger Revelle’s Mauna Loa CO2 measurements

   Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, 1988

   1992 Rio Earth Summit calls for voluntary action

   1997 Kyoto Protocols: stronger reductions

   Worse than expected: heat, extreme weather, sea rise, polar ice cap, glaciers, ocean acidification, coral bleaching

   2015 Paris Climate Change Conference

      Real commitments for the first time: 2°C goal


The “Anthropocene”

   Humans a factor on geologic time scale

   Global warming faster than any time in earth history

   The “Sixth Extinction”

      Humans & Pleistocene extinctions

      Post-Columbian extinctions

      Contemporary crises

       Amphibian disappearance

       Mass bat deaths

       Oceans in crisis: warming, overfishing, pollution

       Pollinator decline



1990s: Marking time

   George H.W. Bush, 1989–93, “environmental President”

      1992 Rio Earth Summit: U.S. obstruction

   Bill Clinton, 1993–2001

      VP Al Gore’s campaign book, Earth in the Balance, 1992

      Little leadership on environmental issues

      1997 Kyoto Earth Summit: no leadership; Republican Congress


Another right turn

   George W. Bush & Dick Cheney, 2001-2009

      Former oil company executives

       Secrecy and exclusion of environmental groups

       Silencing of scientists, reluctance to regulate, leadership vacuum

      Rejects Kyoto, 2001

      Boycotts Johannesburg Earth Summit, 2002

      “Clear Skies” and “Healthy Forests” initiatives

      Focus on hydrogen exclusively

      Energy Policy Act of 2005

       Subsidizes nuclear & oil, exempts fracking from Clean Water Act

Progress on other fronts

   Al Gore’s An Inconvenient Truth, 2006

       2 Academy Awards; 2007 Nobel Peace Prize (with IPCC)

   Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007

      Fuel economy, hybrids, biofuels, lightbulbs (leaves oil subsidies)

   Mainstreaming of organic food

      Whole Foods and other organic grocery stores

      Industrial organic: Cascadian Farms, Earthbound Farm

   Spread of renewable energy (solar and wind power)

   Development of batteries and electric cars (Tesla)