May 20, 2022
Air Date: May 20, 2022
Climate Risk From ‘Zombie’ Rules
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The 6-3 conservative majority of the U.S. Supreme Court is apparently poised to constrain climate action by the Environmental Protection Agency in a decision expected before the end of the SCOTUS term in June. The case, West Virginia v. EPA, involves the Obama Clean Power Plan regulations even though those rules no longer exist, and EPA is replacing them. Harvard Law Professor Richard Lazarus joins Host Steve Curwood to explain how a loss for EPA in this case could limit climate policies across multiple agencies. (14:33)
Self-Immolation for the Climate
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On Earth Day April 22 this year Wynn Bruce, a Buddhist, and environmentalist, set himself on fire on the steps of the Supreme Court to protest inaction on climate change. Living on Earth’s Jenni Doering speaks with Brother Phap Dung, a Buddhist Dharma Teacher, about the urgent message behind this extreme action and how to find hope and purpose in the face of the climate emergency. (11:08)
Beyond the Headlines/ Peter Dykstra
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On this week's trip beyond the headlines Environmental Health News Weekend Editor Peter Dykstra and Host Steve Curwood discuss the Biden Administration’s cancellation of three oil and gas lease sales off the Gulf of Mexico and the coast of Alaska. Then they go over a bill passed by the New York State legislation that would limit the construction of industrial facilities near communities already burdened with pollution. For history they look back to 1969 when folk singer Pete Seeger christened the Hudson River sloop Clearwater. (04:29)
Mass Shooting and Eco-Fascism
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The white suspect of the recent mass murder of Blacks in Buffalo is a self-proclaimed eco-fascist whose 180-page manifesto echoed the same kinds of racist ideas that have been espoused by eugenicists, Hitler, and the Nazis. Host Steve Curwood talks to Professor Betsy Hartmann of Hampshire College about how eco-fascism relates to white supremacy and her call for the environmental movement to delegitimize the eco-fascist movement’s use of violence and racist ideology. (13:26)
Beautiful Mountain Bluebird/ Mark Seth Lender
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Springtime means migratory birds have returned to the North and are preparing to nest and raise their chicks. Mark Seth Lender is Living on Earth's Explorer-In-Residence, and he shares his observations of Canada's mountain bluebirds in the spring. (03:22)
HOSTS: Steve Curwood
GUESTS: Phap Dung, Elizabeth Hartmann, Richard Lazarus
REPORTERS: Peter Dykstra, Mark Seth Lender
CURWOOD: From PRX – this is Living On Earth.
CURWOOD: I’m Steve Curwood.
West Virginia and other Red states are seeking a big win in a climate case at the newly conservative Supreme Court.
LAZARUS: They're going for a ruling which says, EPA never has the authority to address important questions of public health and welfare, and protect the environment, unless the language of the statute specifically authorizes the EPA to take the kind of action they're taking in this case.
CURWOOD: Also, white supremacy, the Buffalo shooter and ecofascism.
HARTMANN: This concept was present in certain Nazi circles, this linkage between this kind of idealized racial and national purity and purity of nature. Blaming Jewish people or other communities for destroying nature, for polluting.
CURWOOD: That and more this week on Living on Earth – Stick Around!
[NEWSBREAK MUSIC: Boards Of Canada “Zoetrope” from “In A Beautiful Place Out In The Country” (Warp Records 2000)]
CURWOOD: From PRX and the Jennifer and Ted Stanley Studios at the University of Massachusetts Boston, this is Living on Earth. I’m Steve Curwood.
The Supreme Court of the United States will likely limit what the federal government can do about climate change in a decision expected before the end of June, according to observers. The case called is West Virginia v. EPA, and it’s a battle over the Obama Clean Power Plan, even though that rule was repealed by the Trump Administration. The odd event of the Supreme Court reviewing a withdrawn rule is linked to the Court’s hard swing to the right and related to the rationales revealed in the unprecedented leak of a draft opinion in an abortion case that would repeal Roe vs. Wade. Harvard Law Professor Richard Lazarus says the 2015 Clean Power Plan rule made history with its efforts to rein in carbon emissions from the utility sector.
LAZARUS: It was such an important rulemaking that it led to the Paris agreement only about a month later. The rest of the world needed to see the United States was all in, it was serious, and it was addressing not just the motor vehicle emissions but also addressing the coal fired power plants.
CURWOOD: But just a few months later in 2016 the Supreme Court put the Clean Power Plan on hold and the rule never went into effect before the Trump administration came in and repealed it.
LAZARUS: And then on January 19th, 2021, a day before President Biden was sworn in, the United States Court of Appeals for the DC Circuit basically struck down the repeal and said, you were wrong, Trump Administration, the Clean Power Plan was not invalid, at least for the reasons you gave. And it looked like for that reason, the Clean Power Plan was gonna be revived, as this wonderful gift from the DC Circuit right before the new president took office, right before a lot of those same people who had written the Clean Power Plan in the Obama Administration were coming back into office again. But that's when the case took a detour.
CURWOOD: Yeah, it doesn't sound like it worked out so well, what exactly happened?
LAZARUS: So what happened is this: what most people outside of EPA and the Biden Administraiton saw as a gift, they saw that DC Circuit decision as a disaster, ironically. They saw the DC Circuit's potential revival of the Clean Power Plan as putting them in a terrible situation. While they had fought tooth and nail for that plan in 2016, 2021 was not 2016. And what had changed, among other things was the United States Supreme Court. Justice Merrick Garland was not Justice Merrick Garland, he was not on the court; there were instead three new Trump appointees, and they can count to at least five and probably six justices who would rule the Clean Power Plan probably was invalid in the first instance, they would uphold the Trump repeal. So they were so confident they would lose that case in front of the Supreme Court trying to defend the DC Circuit judgment that they actually unilaterally wrote, quickly, a memo, a motion to the DC Circuit that said, Stop the presses! Don't revitalize the Clean Power Plan, stay your mandate. Why? Because they didn't want the mandate to issue, they didn't want the Clean Power Plan to come back, because they wanted to have no chance the United States Supreme Court would review the case. The DC Circuit did just what it asked to do. It basically said, All right, we won't, no Clean Power Plan is revived, because EPA said we're going to start from square one. And EPA thought, with some reason, as the Department of Justice did, that will be the end of it. But then the Supreme Court surprised everyone one more time. In October of 2021, they granted review in the case, even though the case was really dead. It was just a shock, I think even some of the industry petitioners were shocked the court granted review in October 2021. Because there was no regulation of greenhouse gas emissions from the coal fired plants, EPA had made clear they weren't reviving the Clean Power Plan, it hadn't been revised by the DC Circuit, EPA was going to take another year, year and a half to write a new plan. When the court took the case, everyone knew what that meant. That meant the Supreme Court planned to reverse the DC Circuit, there is no other reason to take the case. And they plan to do probably just what EPA didn't want them to do: not just reverse, but potentially reverse on broad, sweeping grounds, of the kind that would limit what EPA could do now, under the Clean Air Act, even before EPA had a chance to try to do it. So that's what happened in October. And that's basically what everyone's been waiting for ever since, and the case was argued on February 28th, 2022. And the decision will come out by the end of June.
CURWOOD: This sort of now zombie Clean Power Rule that has invited this litigation from the Attorney General of West Virginia and several other red states. I mean, how political is that move? I mean, the thing is officially dead, and yet they're suing.
LAZARUS: Yeah, they see a Supreme Court which is now dominated by at least five, if not six, very conservative justices, and they see an opportunity to make big law. They see an opportunity to have the Supreme Court codify a dominant view among conservative justices these days, that federal agencies don't have capacious authority to address important issues of public health and welfare, unless Congress has written specific language authorizing it. And they're going for a big win here. Once the court granted review, in this case, they're swinging for the fences. They're swinging for a ruling with doesn't just say, which the court could do, in this case, under this language, the Clean Power Plan was unlawful, therefore, the Trump repeal was valid. If the court did that kind of narrow ruling, that would not be a big deal, because EPA is already willing to give up the Clean Power Plan. They're not going for that ruling. They're going for a ruling which says, EPA never has the authority to address important questions of public health and welfare and protect the environment unless the language of the statute specifically authorizes EPA to take the kind of action they're taking in this case.
CURWOOD: Professor Lazarus, this sounds to me like the logic of this leaked draft opinion from the Supreme Court on the Mississippi abortion case, that sort of essentially says, since the Constitution doesn't mention it, we can't allow it.
LAZARUS: Yeah, it's certainly true that in terms of the reinterpretation of the Constitution and reading the statute, there's a similarity between those two things, that you've got actually see specific language in it. You know, the Constitution is different than statutes. But the idea of broad, capacious language not being enough, whether it's broad, capacious language saying, you know, due process and liberty and life, not being enough for abortion, or statutory language not being specific enough. So I think you certainly have put your finger on a parallel between the two.
CURWOOD: Well, right, so I mean, when you saw the leaked draft opinion in this Mississippi case, I think it's called Dobbs versus Jackson, what kind of window did it give you into how the court is operating these days?
LAZARUS: Yeah, here's the thing, Steve, which is, I think, different for me than for a lot of people. I watch the court very closely, I learned nothing. I already knew what kind of court we had. I mean, I listened to their oral argument in the Dobbs case in early December, the abortion case from Mississippi, I listened to oral argument. And that's when I found out how conservative they were going to be in that case. I was somewhat surprised, I thought there was a chance there might be the potential for a more moderate position, which wouldn't overrule Roe v. Wade and the Casey case, but might uphold the Mississippi law on narrow grounds. It wasn't there. The Chief Justice was interested in it, but there were five justices to the right who had no interest at all. So at that point, I knew how conservative the Court was, I knew they were going to, basically there were five justices to overrule Roe v. Wade. So when I saw that leaked draft, I was shocked that it was leaked. But there was nothing about the draft that surprised me. I knew that Alito being Alito would, just like they're trying in the Clean Power Plan case, he would swing for the fences. He would write an over the top, excessive opinion of trying to eviscerate Roe v. Wade and the Casey case, and that's what we saw. I think we'll lose a lot of the excessive rhetoric in it. I don't think Justice Kavanaugh or Barrett will sign on to that. I think that was very much a first draft. But the bottom line, overruling, I think will happen. It didn't tell me anything with the West Virginia case. It just confirmed the fact that this is a court which tends to swing for the fences. I knew that from their grant of cert, which was ridiculous, review, in October. And I also before we saw the leak, I heard the oral argument in the West Virginia case on February 28th. The Solicitor General made a very compelling argument on behalf of the EPA saying, look, there's no regulation going on anymore of these, of these sources. There's no reason to hear this case. I was hoping I might hear some indication they were going to step back from the abyss and not give us a bad ruling. I heard nothing of that on February 28th. I think there are five if not six solid votes for a significant, sweeping ruling against EPA's authority, and an opinion which might actually have a lot of spillover effect, far beyond just this one provision of the Clean Air Act: other provisions of the Air Act, other provisions of the Clean Water Act, the Resource Conservation Recovery Act for hazardous waste, for things that Interior are trying to do. And indeed, and here's my one worry, Steve, and I hope that Justices don't do this because they're listening to your broadcast, but I'm sure they do. It worries me about what they might say in this case, that might affect the SEC's recent proposal to have climate disclosure rules as part of SEC filings. This case, if they write it as broadly as I fear they may, may have very broad, sweeping implications for climate change, writ large in the government, but also not for climate change only: for the ability of federal agencies to regulate public health and welfare concerns based on existing federal law.
CURWOOD: I don't know if it's fair to make the analogy but looking at that draft from Justice Alito, in the abortion case, and the way you describe the arguments around this EPA case, sounds like the High Court is back to the language of Plessy versus Ferguson, that black people have no rights that white people have to respect, and to what extent are we talking about this court saying that the environment and conservation and the way our planet works has no right if it's going to get in the way of commerce and what business wants?
LAZARUS: I don't think they'll say that at all. But what I fear they're gonna say is gonna make it much harder for the federal government to address compelling environmental issues. And here's why. I think what they're likely to say is, that Congress has to speak with specific language to show they really contemplated this kind of regulation. You know, on its face, as a matter of theory, I could defend that, you could defend that: well, if a rule is really important, then Congress should make sure that Congress believes it's the right thing. So in theory that kind of is defensible. Here's the problem. Congress doesn't pass any legislation anymore, and we all know that. So Congress is not going to pass a new Clean Air Act, Clean Water Act to say Oh, Supreme Court, you want more guidance. Here it is. The last time they amended the Clean Air Act was 1990. The last time they amended the Clean Water Act was 1987. The last time they amended the hazardous waste laws: 1984. The last time they amended the endangered species laws: 1973. Congress has gotten out of the lawmaking business because they're subject to congressional paralysis and gridlock writ large. So what the Supreme Court will be doing is setting up a test, which is broad, capacious language is not enough, which is what has been the bedrock of environmental law for the past 50 years, and say you need specific language, when we all know as a practical matter, we're not going to get it, at least in the foreseeable future. And when it comes to issues like climate, time is not neutral. The longer we wait to get that necessary authorization, the exponentially harder it is to address the issue. Given the plight we're in, given the nature of the climate problem, this Court's insistence on this more purified view of separation of powers quickly borders on the irresponsible. Now, here's the one thing I think, though, the Court's not going to do, and I've heard some people say they're worried the Court will do it. They're not going to overrule Massachusetts versus EPA.
CURWOOD: Why not? They're on a, on a roll here to pretty much move things as hard to the right as they as they dare.
LAZARUS: Yeah, and here's why they're not going to do it. It's really for two reasons. The first is, it's not a question presented in the case. No party in the case asked to overrule Massachusetts versus EPA, it's jurisdictionally not a question presented. It wasn't briefed by the parties, it wasn't argued by the parties. Unlike the Dobbs abortion case, Roe v. Wade, it was a question presented, it was briefed by the parties and argued by the parties. In fact, in oral argument in this case, Lindsay See, the Solicitor General said, we are not asking this court to overrule Massachusetts versus EPA. The other thing I want to point out is as disastrous as I worry the Supreme Court's opinion might be in this case, and the kind of effect it will have, I don't think it's going to eliminate every way that EPA can actually regulate greenhouse gases. EPA has lots of, of tools under the Air Act to regulate the sources of greenhouse gases in ways other than focusing on greenhouse gases per se. For instance, if they regulate more stringently other pollutants those sources put out, and there's good scientific reason to do it, based on the harm caused by those other pollutants, whether it's sulfur oxides, particulate matter, nitrogen oxides, or mercury, if they regulate those sources strictly under those other more traditional criteria, guess what? Those pollution control requirements will, incidentally, bring down greenhouse gas emissions. They also may change the economics of those existing coal fired power plants, and to what extent they're economically viable. EPA can do the same by finally regulating, as they could have for years, coal ash put out by those coal fired power plants. They've got the discretion, they've got the science right now to regulate coal ash as a hazardous waste under the Resource Conservation Recovery Act. If they do that, you know, changes completely the economic viability of those coal fired power plants. So EPA has a lot of things they can do that are not directly climate related to go after some of the biggest sources that we have, and that's the coal fired power plants.
CURWOOD: Richard Lazarus is the Howard and Katherine Aibel Professor of Law at Harvard Law School. Thank you so much, Professor Lazarus.
LAZARUS: Thanks, Steve. It's always a pleasure and a treat for me.
- The Washington Post | “Supreme Court leak strikes fear among environmental lawyers”
- About Richard Lazarus
- More from Richard Lazarus and LOE on the gripping story of the landmark climate case Massachusetts v. EPA
- Check out our previous coverage of West Virginia v. EPA
[MUSIC: Alex Pipes, “Pontoon” single, Alex Pipes]
CURWOOD: Coming up – self-immolation to protest inaction on climate change. That’s ahead on Living on Earth.
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[CUTAWAY MUSIC: Alex Pipes, “Pontoon” single, Alex Pipes]
CURWOOD: It’s Living on Earth, I’m Steve Curwood.
On Earth Day, April 22nd a Colorado man set himself on fire on the steps of the US Supreme Court to protest inaction on climate change. Wynn Bruce was airlifted to a hospital but died a day later from his burns. He was a Buddhist and environmental activist. And his protest followed the line of Buddhist monks who self-immolated to call attention to suffering and injustice back during the Vietnam War. More recently some 160 people including Buddhist monks and nuns have set themselves on fire in protest of China’s crackdown in Tibet. Mr. Bruce’s act of self-immolation in front of the Supreme Court came as the justices considered the climate change case West Virginia v. EPA that we talked about before the break. Brother Phap Dung is a Buddhist Dharma Teacher at Deer Park Monastery in Southern California, and he spoke with Living on Earth’s Jenni Doering.
DOERING: Could you tell us a little about the history of self immolation as a form of political protest and moral expression?
DUNG: I'm only 50 something years old. And I knew of it through the war in Vietnam. My parents are from Vietnam, and I escaped as a refugee in the early 80s. And so when I came over here, I came across Buddhists in my college studying that. And now as a monk, we know that there's that way of communicating to give voice and to bring awareness to injustice and violence and so on. In time of the Buddha, there are people who have taken their lives, monastic. But it was not something that we condone, that was actually why the Buddha came up with the precept not to take life, including your own. So in that perspective, you know, people who are Buddhists for monks, or nuns who put fire to their body in a way, it's not like they are killing themselves or suicide, but they're using their body as a way of communicating a message. So this is my own reflection. And it depends on each monk, each nun, each lay person, during the Vietnam War, the media was not covering it, monks and nuns were being killed. So they wanted to bring a violent awareness to it so that the media and the world can look at what's going on. It's so happened, a lot of Buddhists do that, especially in the modern times.
DOERING: What kind of an impact did these acts of self immolation have in Vietnam? And in Tibet?
DUNG: That photograph when it hit the US? It brought a lot of attention. I think it was JFK, the president at that time said that, never before has an image ever brought so much emotion in the American collective consciousness. It's like, I can't imagine the most painful thing that you can do to yourself as a human sensory thing. I sit with it. And then you have to question like, God, what extreme suffering, they must be feeling not for themselves, but for their people What will be so devastating that they inflict that kind of pain on their body on their skin. Think about it, When a house is on fire, and your children are your loved ones in the house. And there is no way they can come out without you going in, would you do that. So it requires a kind of intensity, probably the most intense testing of the human spirit, then again, there are people who actually, they are in despair and in depression, that they also take their life. So that's the other extreme, a meaningless kind of vacuum. Annihile themselves, nothing worth living for. But then there's another one where there is something worth more to live for. And they would put their life on the line for that. And that is peace for the country, peaceful Vietnam for the American to stop bombing. Luckily, you know, they're not like blowing up public arenas and so on. It is another extreme radical form of communication.
R.I.P. Wynn Bruce, who self-immolated on Earth Day outside the Supreme Court over climate change deregulation. pic.twitter.com/DyGKp6rM7x— Midwest People's History (@MPHProject) April 25, 2022
DOERING: In this case, would you consider self immolation an act of violence? Or because it is driven and connected to this moral imperative, Is it non violent?
DUNG: It's on a spectrum. And it's definitely a form of extreme communication. You can't dismiss it as oh, he doesn't feel good about life, and he just wants to kill himself because it has a message, it's at the footsteps of the Supreme Court, totally meditated and made sure he would not harm anyone. And maybe that's part of the intention is to be not violent, but be in your face in terms of the public consciousness, the news, the media, and the world, or whoever is in leadership. You can ignore me, you know, when you riot, you loot, and you burn the city, you know, that's very violent. But what is the message? You see, we must not ignore the message, we have to re examine what is insane and what is sane in terms of our policies, and also the communities the ones who are vulnerable. If we don't know our lifestyle, there's somebody paying for it. There's other lives being paid for it, whether it's animal humans, or the elements water, air, the forests that support human life, or animal life or plant life, let alone. Mr. Bruce was a Buddhist and he was environmentalist. And those things are very related in Buddhism, you always look at the conditions that give us our life. The water is in humans, so water rivers, the air is also a living thing, because we depend on it. So when we destroy that we are destroying our own livelihood.
DOERING: You know, despair and anxiety about the climate emergency are very real phenomenons. And although we will never be able to know exactly what Wynn Bruce was going through, what role do you think that despair may have played in his choice in addition to this act of self image nation, this moral courage?
DUNG: Ever imagined there is some element of despair or helplessness. That there is no other way to wake people up. A lot of young people now, people in general with the media and so on hearing what is happening to environment, all the government leaders and all the affluent nations are not doing anything about it, but even continuing to support the fossil fuel industry. That's why we have this whole increase in climate anxiety. You know, I love it when they first came out with Fridays For The Future, the students skipped school, I love that. You transfer that nausea of nothing is being done to positive action. I participated in a few marches in Paris, in Glasgow and so on. And, and we got to keep doing that we got to keep doing more of that.
DOERING: Right. I mean, speaking of that kind of activism, to what extent is being part of calling for solutions and calling for an end to this climate crisis, is that an antidote to despair, and to this climate anxiety that a lot of us feel?
DUNG: We call that volition in Buddhism, to have a reason to be. We can't be just nine to five workers. We just had a retreat for 110 young adults, they came to the monastery. And of course, they have urban angst, and depression and so on. Some of them cried, because there's too many people, they were like, so afraid. They don't just want to work for money. They want to work for meaning. But there's also learning the tools to take care of our emotion, our anxiety or depression, because in the end, it is just a feeling. And we cannot let that monopolize our mind. Because there's also a wonderful things happening at the same time. Your parents are still alive. You know, your brothers and sisters and your friends are still alive. You have so many other things to be grateful for. You have to nourish yourself with that every time you wake up in the morning, wow, I have 24 brand new hours in front of me. I vow to live today. It was like my last day, when you pour water into your hand you are grateful. So in a way, we also have to hold on to magic to wonder to the miracle of life, as we continue to knock at the door of whatever cause we're doing right. We've had young people come from the XR movement from the Occupy movement.
DOERING: XR is Extinction Rebellion, is that right?
DUNG: Yes. When they do a sit in, they have assigned people to go around taking care of each other, make sure that people are not overloaded, right? You need some water. It reminds me of Martin Luther King's Civil Rights movement where they actually rehearsed and prepared themselves mentally, to withstand the violence and the discrimination and the hate. We need that. And that's why they bring music in the bring art in. They are also celebrating life.
DOERING: There is a lot of crisis in the world. But there's also a lot of solace we can find in nature. How can putting ourselves in the path of the beauty and joy in the world help us reorient ourselves to do important climate work?
DUNG: If you know how to see the environment as not separate from ourselves that they are us then a kind of sense of love, reverence, respect will be the inexhaustible source of energy for you to continue. So if you see it as environment, material things to do and organize with science, only, then it's very, very tedious. When you lay on the ground floor of a seqouia forest and touch the archaic time, the timelessness of the planet, when you can touch that kind of insight. You're not bound to human life form or your own lifespan. Even if the humans kill ourselves, the planet will continue. The planet is fine. We don't need to save the planet. I love seeing these lines when I was in Glasgow, we need to save the planet. And I was like no other planet doesn't need we need to save ourselves is more like the phrase. That kind of insight is not negative and depressing and giving up. But actually, it gives you the power to see this wonder that we're moving through the cosmos. We're not the only planet you know.
DOERING: Yeah, it doesn't mean that climate change doesn't matter. We should give up.
DUNG: No, no, no. It gives you energy to know that you want your children and the next generation to also have this wonder and I lay out and look up into the sky at night and I imagine I am the eye of Mother Earth. I am the lungs of Mother Earth looking back at itself. So we are from the Mother Earth. It's so freeing So in a way those kinds of energy gives me not just hope but real practical energy to sit with someone and listen to their suffering.
CURWOOD: That’s Buddhist Dharma Teacher, Brother Phap Dung, speaking with Living on Earth’s Jenni Doering.
[MUSIC: Phil Scarff, “Mogara Pulala” on Ragas on Saxophone, by Hridaynath Mangeshkar/Sant Dnyaneshwar, Galloping Goat Productions]
CURWOOD: And with me now on the line from Atlanta, Georgia is Peter Dykstra. Peter is an editor with Environmental Health News, that's EHN.org and DailyClimate.org. And, you know, as usual he's taking a look beyond the headlines for us. How are you doing Peter, and what do you have for us today?
DYKSTRA: Hi Steve, I'm going to start off with some kind of mixed news from the Biden administration. They're canceling three oil and gas lease sales two in the Gulf of Mexico, one off the coast of Alaska. It takes millions of acres out of possible drilling, just as US gas prices are reaching record highs.
CURWOOD: So wait a second, why is this the bad news though, to keep it in the ground from your perspective? Because I don't know, I think fossil fuels aren't really good for ecology.
DYKSTRA: Well, the reason that it's mixed news in a way is that particularly the Alaska lease sale, there was absolutely no interest on the part of the oil companies when it was first offered for lease. And the reason for that is, prices have to be really, really high for the per barrel price, the per gallon of gasoline price for going off shore, particularly in the Arctic, to be worth the trouble. And just as the prices are going up, and just as the prices are worth the trouble for the oil industry, Biden pulls the plug on the lease.
CURWOOD: Of course now I gather, that's not the least I mean, the lease story that you have for us today?
DYKSTRA: No, there's another story out of New York state where the legislature has passed a bill, similar to the one that passed a couple of years ago in neighboring New Jersey, my ancestral home. The bill is along with Jersey, one of the two toughest environmental justice laws in the entire country.
CURWOOD: So what does this bill do for environmental justice? Everyone seems to talk about it, but not a lot of folks are doing anything.
DYKSTRA: The federal agencies on the federal level, state agencies on the New York and New Jersey level have to consider before citing any potentially toxic, potentially hazardous site in a poor or minority community. As Jesse Jackson said almost four decades ago, there's a reason that you don't see nuclear waste dumps sited in Beverly Hills.
CURWOOD: And Peter, one tiny detail here. Now, New Jersey has this law but the New York State Legislature has only passed the bill, any odds that the governor is not going to sign it? I mean, what's the status of it? Do you think?
DYKSTRA: Well, obviously, New York State is a little distracted right now with the race based massacre this past weekend. But chances are very good that Governor Hochul will sign the bill and it will make its way into law. Two states down 48 to go.
CURWOOD: Alright, now it's the time in our meetings that you typically look at the history books. Tell me what do you see today?
DYKSTRA: Something to do with dirty water in New York and New Jersey, the Hudson River on May 17, 1969. The Hudson River sloop Clearwater is christened by Pete Seeger, the legendary folk singer and other activists. And for the past five decades and more, the Clearwater has sailed up and down the Hudson in the name of a clean Hudson River. Industrial pollution problems, sewage problems. The riverbed they're still contaminated with PCBs, highly toxic chemicals dumped from two Upstate General Electric factories, years and years ago. PCBs are a very hard thing to clean up.
CURWOOD: Yeah, they're almost forever chemicals, aren't they, Peter? But at least the water looks clear on the Hudson River these days.
DYKSTRA: The water looks clear this time of year particularly it's a beautiful place to be and long lived the clear water for its 50 plus years of educating and a little bit of hell racing on the Hudson.
Today would have been Pete Seeger’s 100th birthday. Clearwater exists because of Pete’s vision and we continue to strive to be guided by his principles.— Sloop Clearwater (@SloopClearwater) May 3, 2019
How have you have been influenced by the music, actions, and spirit of Pete Seeger? #Pete100 pic.twitter.com/OJ9B4pgXww
CURWOOD: Thanks, Peter. Peter Dykstra is an editor with Environmental Health News. That's EHN.org and DailyClimate.org. We'll talk to you again real soon.
DYKSTRA: Okay, Steve, thanks a lot. Talk to you soon.
CURWOOD: And there's more on the stories on the Living on Earth webpage that's LOE.org.
- Grist | “Environmental Justice Law In New York Could Prevent New Pollution In Hard-Hit Neighborhoods”
- Sloop Clearwater at 40, Pete Seeger at 90
- AP News | “Biden Cancels Offshore Oil Lease Sales in Gulf Coast, Alaska”
- Learn more about Senate bill S1031C
[MUSIC: Pete Seeger, “Sailing Down My Golden River” on Rainbow Race, by Pete Seeger, Columbia Records]
CURWOOD: Coming up – The links between white supremacy, mass shootings, and eco-fascism. That’s ahead on Living on Earth.
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[CUTAWAY MUSIC: Pete Seeger “Quite Early Morning (with spoken introduction)” on Tomorrow’s Children, Appleseed]
CURWOOD: It’s Living on Earth, I’m Steve Curwood.
The suspect of the recent mass shooting in Buffalo is an 18 year old white supremacist and self-proclaimed eco-fascist. In his 180-page manifesto, he writes: “kill the invaders, kill the overpopulation and by doing so save the environment.” These ideas are part of many cases of eco-fascist violence that accuse minority populations of polluting the environment, going back to eugenics, Hitler and the Nazis. Elizabeth Hartmann is an emerita professor of development studies at Hampshire College and has spent much of her life thinking about environmental anxiety, dystopia, and the threats from the far right to American democracy. She joins us now from Amherst, Massachusetts. Welcome to Living on Earth!
HARTMANN: Thank you.
CURWOOD: There seems to be a new generation of white supremacists emerging. They're isolated. They're radicalized through right wing media platforms. They're younger typically, I mean, the suspect in the Buffalo shootings live streamed the whole thing. What do you see as the implications of this demographic shift?
HARTMANN: I'm extremely worried by it. And I think there's been a certain naivete in the environmental community, that right wing people are pure and simple climate denialists. But that's not true. I think we're seeing among younger generations on the right, an acknowledgement that climate change is real. It's hard to ignore that climate change is real these days, right? And they're, you know, growing up in different school systems exposed to different kinds of facts about the environment. Many of them can see the reality of climate change, but they interpret it in a far right way.
CURWOOD: So how exactly would you define eco fascism? By the way, how old is this concept?
HARTMANN: Eco Fascism is the strategic use of environmental arguments to advance a far right, political objective. This concept was prevalent in certain Nazi circles, this linkage between this kind of idealized racial and national purity and purity of nature, and blaming Jewish people or other communities, for destroying nature for polluting. So you see this combination of a eugenic view of human beings and a eugenic view of pure nature.
CURWOOD: So what kind of things do they say about the environment in this ideology of eco fascism?
HARTMANN: One of the major things they say is that immigrants are destroying the environment, non Anglo Saxon immigrants, they're taking over our cities, they're using up our resources, they're supposedly implicated in climate change. And then coupled with that is the fear of white birth rates declining, and the birth rates of people of color rising. This also utilizes long standing fears in the environmental movement, about overpopulation. White women are having too few babies, this is another fear that's raised in Eco fascist circles.
CURWOOD: I'm wondering to what extent that is linked to the argument that abortion should be illegal?
HARTMANN: Absolutely. Sometimes there's even an irony the far right will say we don't want those white women to have the abortions, but are perfectly happy if those happened among other populations. So actually, globally birth rates have come down in all segments of the population. So the idea that there's this dearth of births among white people and too many births among people of color, of course, it's racist, but it's also not based on any kind of demographic reality.
CURWOOD: Eco fascism, married to this white supremacy, we seem to be seeing more and more of this, you don't have to be black to be killed by these people, you can be Jewish, you can be Asian and attacked on the street, you can be Hispanic and get cut down in a Walmart in El Paso. What's the thinking here, especially visibly, Jewish people look white.
HARTMANN: It's really a kind of white Anglo Saxon white supremacy. And this conspiracy theory about Jews trying to orchestrate the great replacement, you know, harkens back of course, to Nazi times, certain people are more at risk then others, our democracy is at risk. It's just so critical that environmental movements really differentiate themselves from these kinds of eco fascist arguments, take them on directly. Criticize them, show where they're coming from. Show who's funding them. So it's very clear that this is a very fringe idea. And also, it's very important for progressive environmental movements, to work for concrete climate policies. Practical victories would go a long way, I think, to eradicating some of our apocalyptic fears.
CURWOOD: Now, how does all this fit into the history of xenophobia on our planet?
HARTMANN: It fits in rather well, unfortunately. One thing listeners should know is that in the 1970s and 80s, there was a right wing John Tanton network that still exists today of so called environmental groups who were appealing to liberal environmentalist, trying to get them to join in an anti immigrant xenophobic assault on immigrants by blaming immigrants for environmental degradation. And this Tanton network has had a lot of power in Washington in the liberal media, even Stephen Miller, Jeff Sessions former Attorney General, were a part of the Tanton network. There's a long history here. And we have to keep an eye on to these more publicly respectable groups that are helping to drive this ideology that then manifests itself in these violent ways.
CURWOOD: Sadly, I recall that Theodore Roosevelt once wrote in his book, The Winning of the West that it wouldn't be one unless it was rid of the red, yellow, black and brown man.
HARTMANN: Absolutely. And of course, he is like lauded for being this great conservationist. But what were his views based on? He also believed white women weren't having enough babies.
CURWOOD: There was also in the Sierra Club years ago, a major split over there was proposition in California regarding immigration. Talk a little bit about that, and how that plays into this present attraction of eco fascism.
HARTMANN: Right, well, I was involved in that struggle to keep the Sierra Club being taken over by anti immigrant interests. So it was a frightening time because, in a way, the etiology of overpopulation and the willingness of many liberal environmentalists to embrace the idea that overpopulation was the main cause of environmental degradation, globally, allowed the Tantan network and others to play that card and again, to blame immigrants. So there was an opening in the environmental movement that fortunately activists managed to stop today. Happily, the Sierra Club's really looking critically back on its own history. But simultaneously, there is a lot of apocalyptic fear among many young environmentalists about climate change. That kind of Apocalypticism can also push people, unfortunately, to places maybe where they should not be, and it can push them to in a way forum and ideological bridge with the far right, who also draws on a very apocalyptic view of the future.
CURWOOD: So 150 years ago, there was quite a comprehensive movement for the control of people of color. Of course, I'm speaking about the Civil War and the rise of the Confederacy. To what extent are today's right wing politicians, descendants of the Old Confederacy, the old South?
HARTMANN: Very much so in some cases, right, you almost feel like it's the Jim Crow era all over again, with the gerrymandering and the reluctance of that Southern elite to give up their power. But on a more optimistic side, the fact that those statues are coming down, that there is more of an acknowledgement, the history of slavery, the acknowledgement of those things is also progressing, so we can't lose heart. And in a way, this is dying gasps of that culture, you know, tacking on to the worst aspects of white supremacy as a way to keep itself alive. But a lot of damage can be done in the meantime.
CURWOOD: Now the buffalo shooter was apparently evaluated for mental health issues. How does mental health among young people relate to the rise in hate crimes and eco fascism?
HARTMANN: I think obviously, mental health is an issue. But I think access to weapons by mentally ill people is a real problem. The mass murders that occur here are very much part and parcel of our gun culture and our failure to regulate gun ownership. It's a hard time right now, we're still living with COVID period of isolation, and the climate emergency is getting worse, and people aren't doing enough about it. Now, we also have the war in Ukraine. So there's a sense of despair. And I think when people feel despair, they can get a very bleak worldview. If you don't have the community to support you through how do we build a better world, you can fall into an apocalyptic despair, I fear it on the right. But I also fear it on the left, because I think if people embrace this Apocalypticism they are leaving themselves open to being swayed by right wing interests. And also they are often becoming fatalistic and unable to actually do the kind of climate politics and larger kind of progressive politics that need to happen.
CURWOOD: How might eco fascism de legitimize the non violent ethos of the current climate and environmental movement?
HARTMANN: I think there's a real danger that the larger sense of climate apocalypse could raise the ante in terms of violence.
CURWOOD: To what extent do you see these kinds of violent mass shooting events happening more and more in the future, or perhaps less frequently?
HARTMANN: You know, I'm very frightened not just about the rise of eco fascism, but of the far right in the United States. People like to paint the killers as these isolated people in their basements getting radicalized by the Internet, which is, in some cases, true, but there's a very organized far right movement in this country. And moreover, there is easy access to weapons. Put those two together, I am afraid we're going to see more mass shootings. Now, the degree to which eco Fascism is implicated in each one, we will have to see. But I see that as a component getting more mainstreamed into far right thinking. And so then environmentalists need to be very cautious and wary and work against these eco fascist tendencies.
CURWOOD: Let's go to the heart of the fear here that these white people have about people of color. They could be worried that as the number of people of color rise, they might want to get even for all the evils that white people have done to them, or are in another hand, they may just simply believe that white people are superior. What are their views? Do you think,
HARTMANN: Among white supremacist, they believe they're superior, right? But they also are working out of a culture of fear. There's an idea also that there's going to be warfare, that people of color are going to take against them violently, or they're going to take against people of color. Finally, of course, they almost enjoy the prospect sense of the battle of Armageddon, the purification of society. So those kinds of myths are kind of summoned to do this. I think one of the great ironies, of course, is when you travel across the United States, there's more and more interracial relationships, and many people, many families are mixed now. So the idea that there's going to be this huge race war of white against black, it's summoning these old fears. I think we also have to acknowledge that many white working class people in this country feel let down by this system, that there has been a failure in a way of class politics in this country bringing together people of different races, but of similar social classes to work together for change. Right. And I think there's a failure of political imagination. On the more progressive side of the political equation. People need to imagine a more holistic politics and holistic social movement to bring people together.
CURWOOD: What would that be?
HARTMANN: I think we need more unity of purpose against the far right and the right, we need to bring other social movements together. And I think there's a real opportunity now because it's so clear that this threat is real. It's not isolated gunmen. These are not isolated events. We have to get away from that. Again, I you know, I don't say this lightly. I feel like there's a real threat of fascism in this country today.
CURWOOD: Betsy Hartmann is a professor emerita at Hampshire College and what's the name of your latest book?
HARTMANN: The America Syndrome, Apocalypse War and Our Call to Greatness.
CURWOOD: Well, thank you for taking the time with us today.
HARMANN: Thank you.
[MUSIC: Vanderlei Pereira, “Corrupiao (Oriole)” on Blindfold Test, by Edu Lobo/arr.Vanderlei Pereira, Jazzheads Records]
CURWOOD: Springtime in the North means migratory birds have returned and are getting ready for the serious business of nesting and raising chicks. Our Explorer in Residence, Mark Seth Lender, shares his observations of bluebirds this time of year in British Columbia.
Wire to Wire
Mountain Bluebird, British Columbia
LENDER: Mountain Bluebird, wings beating time, follows the wire down the line. Her flight, a path that plies just above the barbs with which (in our pedestrian desire) we strive to set apart. Cedar from silage. Sweet corn from forest mosses. Nature from what we nurture. Untamed darkling woods and rills – fenced off – from cows and fields in crop or fallow.
But when it comes to Mountain Bluebird we are temperance on the vine. We consign, what Bluebird seeks to find: Nest boxes, arranged every twenty fenceposts, like pulses, like Hollows of the Human Heart.
Bluebird has come to depend upon us this built wooden refuge to provide, roof over head. Vindictive as we are against what is unkempt, our dread, of wild things, of wilderness, our fell hand bringing forest to its knees with two-man saw and chain saw. Yet Bluebird earns Reprieve. In a field returned to Nature insects abound, the greening hills alive. There Bluebirds, thrive.
Bluebird lands at the cross-corner of the section divide -
To the gate post -
To the bleached twig with its single empty pinecone -
Then to the twisted pair of tines, shining, sharp against weather that is sure to arrive. There, though pressed, by shortness of season Bluebird hesitates. She holds, in her beak, beetles with mirrored wings in hues of fluorescein and violet blue -
She waits. Then leaps!
Then comes to rest on a lichen-crusted tree all gray and yellow-green, unintended compliment to her pale cyan and cerulean.
Significant Other stands nearby, her guard, and decoy (Her muted watercolors a non-compete against his feathered lightning). Like a bolt from the blue he tackles a sprig of mullein just off to the side, it sways as he lands, his tail spread wide. Balancing, he stretches out his wings. And, while the world eyes the bright of him –
Quick to the nest she tips in.
Only two babies inside but they make quick work of the parcel that she brings. No murmurings of motherhood (work is her every reason and her rhyme), she launches into thin blue air, to answer that collect call of the wild, in mime, quick-time:
Bluebird toes the line!
CURWOOD: That’s Living on Earth’s Explorer in Residence Mark Seth Lender. And there are pictures at our website loe.org
[MUSIC: Gary Burton, “Prelude For Vibes” on Next Generation, by Vadim Neselovski, Concord Records]
CURWOOD: Living on Earth is produced by the World Media Foundation.
Our crew includes Naomi Arenberg, Bobby Bascomb, Paloma Beltran, Chloe Chen, Iris Chen, Josh Croom, Gabriella Diplan, Jenni Doering, Mark Kausch, Mark Seth Lender, Don Lyman, Louis Mallison, Aynsley O’Neill, Sophia Pandelidis, Jake Rego, Teresa Shi, and Jolanda Omari. Tom Tiger engineered our show. Special Thanks to Destination Wildlife. Alison Lirish Dean composed our themes. You can hear us anytime at L-O-E dot org, Apple Podcasts and Google Podcasts, and like us, please, on our Facebook page - Living on Earth. We tweet from @livingonearth. And find us on Instagram at livingonearthradio. I’m Steve Curwood. Thanks for listening!
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