Credit: United Nations

Peter Dykstra: How quickly we forget

When fact-free assertions and environmental misdeeds arrive at a record pace, it's hard to remember last week's, let alone last year's.

When news – particularly bad news – comes at you through a firehose, it's human nature that this week's headline horrors wash away last week's horrors.


It works that way with mass shootings: The murders in Thousand Oaks push the murders in Pittsburgh to the background. Parkland, Las Vegas, San Bernardino, Orlando, Aurora, Littleton all become distant historical markers, as if they were Civil War battles from 150 years ago.

And, as behaviorists point out, even atrocities can be normalized.

I started combing through the archives to find 25 or so of the Trump Administration's most outrageous whoppers, hypocrisies, and genuinely dangerous deeds on climate and environment.

My eyes started to bleed when I reached 100. But here are 25 of the worst, and as much as I'd like to think I follow this stuff closely, I was struck by how easy it's been for me to normalize my government's environmental death wish. Here's Number One, tweeted six years ago this month:

1.

2. But it's not a hoax everywhere. An application to control coastal erosion with a controversial seawall at Trump's Doonbeg golf resort in Ireland cited climate change as a principal threat. The wall was approved by the County Clare Council in 2017.

3. Trump waged a multi-year effort to block construction of an offshore windfarm visible from his golf resort in Aberdeenshire, Scotland. He lost the final court battle in 2015, and the windfarm is up and running today.

4. If Ireland and Scotland are graced with scenic golf courses, what's in it for us? It's "beautiful, clean coal." It's become Trump's three-word paean to the dying industry, despite billion-dollar failures to cleanse coal emissions.

5. With weeks to go in his presidency, Obama signed the Stream Protection Rule, which barred the dumping of beautiful clean coal waste from mountaintop removal mines into streambeds. Weeks into his presidency, Trump rescinded the rule.

6. Pre-presidential Donald Trump, in a feat of anti-intellectual gymnastics, linked an outdated worry about the ozone layer to his amazing hair to President Obama to climate change. From a Dec. 2015 speech in Myrtle Beach, SC:

"I'm not supposed to be using hair spray. But think of it. So Obama's always talking about the global warming, that global warming is our biggest and most dangerous problem, OK?"

7. The Paris Climate Accord was a rare point of light in humanity's uphill climate battle against itself. Only two pariah nations, Nicaragua and Syria, planned to sit it out. But in June 2017, President Trump made the U.S. the third. Nicaragua and Syria have since signed on. Break out the "Make America a Pariah Again!" hats.

8. Scott Pruitt's ill-fated run as EPA Administrator wounded the agency's effectiveness and morale. But his downfall had more to do with petty ethical failings: Leaning on a fast-food franchise in an attempt to secure a franchise for his wife, and dispatching staff to shop for hotel mattresses and hand lotion.

9. Just months after representing Big Coal at a meeting with Energy Secretary Rick Perry, veteran lobbyist Andrew Wheeler is appointed to replace Pruitt as acting EPA Administrator. On Friday, Trump announced that he plans to make Wheeler's appointment permanent.

Credit: Becker1999/flickr

10. The US partially lifted a ban on importing elephant tusks, lion hides, and other trophy hunting targets. The Administration later backed away from this decision, but an Interior Department panel to study wildlife imports is dominated by safari guides and trophy hunters .

11. Trump made the destruction of Obama's Clean Power Plan an early campaign promise. It's a fixture of his rallies in Coal Country.

12. Climate Omerta: The Sicilian term for the Mafia's code of silence is disturbingly applicable to the widespread deletion of climate change information from government websites, ranging from the EPA and NASA to FEMA and the National Park Service.

13. A decade ago, Donald Trump was a hot ticket on the professional wrestling circuit. It was such a good fit for the Trump brand that he's in the WWE Hall of Fame, and WWE co-owner Stephanie McMahon is now in Trump's cabinet (really). So the ill-fated Scott Pruitt's ill-fated plan to have a blue ribbon smackdown between "Red Team" scientists (deniers) and "Blue Team" scientists was fair game, after all.

14. Will Happer, a retired Princeton physicist and go-to scientist for climate deniers, won a job on the National Security Council.

15. Chlorpyrifos is an insecticide used on cotton, food crops, and golf courses for the past half century. EPA banned the substance for home use in 2000, and the Obama Administration proposed extending the ban to industrial use due to concerns it harms children's brains. Former EPA boss Pruitt halted work on the ban last year, prompting a court battle.

16. EPA also renewed the registration for dicamba this year, ignoring evidence that spray drift from fields treated with the pesticide was killing nearby crops.

17. Citing both relief on emissions and savings for drivers, the Obama Administration set ambitious goals for increasing fuel efficiency for cars and light trucks. The new Trump rules would freeze efficiency standards.

18. Environmentalists and Alaska fishermen cheered when Obama's EPA blocked plans for the massive Pebble Mine. Trump's EPA revived the plan, potentially endangering Bristol Bay, one of the world's most productive fisheries.

Credit: Gage Skidmore/flickr

19. Last December, the Administration rescinded a rule designed to protect drinking water from fracking on public and Indian lands.

20. The Trump Administration is still gung-ho about offshore oil and gas leases in the Arctic, Atlantic and Pacific, despite the fact that the oil and gas industry is not particularly interested.

21. Environmental journalists have long had a testy relationship with the EPA's press office, but in May, the agency's media relations became a contact sport. EPA apologized to Associated Press reporter Ellen Knickmeyer, who was barred from attending a public meeting on drinking water safety, then forcibly removed from the event.

22. A two-employee company from Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke's hometown briefly won a $300 million contract to re-wire Puerto Rico after Hurricane Maria. They were bounced after proving to be woefully short of capable.

23. Zinke faces multiple ethics investigations, and a possible criminal inquiry into a shady land deal. And in a recent speech to an industry group, he blamed wildfires on "environmental terrorist groups."

24. As wildfires plagued California, killing dozens and wiping the town of Paradise from the map, Trump saw fit to tweet a nastygram to California officials, saying the forest fires" were the result of mismanagement. The head of the state's firefighters association said the president was "dangerously wrong."

25. "I am an environmentalist." Donald J. Trump, Sept. 21, 2018.

Oh, please.

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