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Trump Administration Bails Out the Declining Oil and Gas Industry

The Federal Reserve and U.S. Treasury Department began a corporate bailout in March. Since then, oil and gas companies issued $99.3 billion in new bonds, a report by Friends of the Earth, Public Citizen, and BailoutWatch found. 

The Federal Reserve bought debt from 19 oil and gas companies, and those companies have since sold debt investors over $60 billion in new bonds. Their bond sales represent about 60 percent of energy debt issuance during that period. Twelve of the 19 companies received downgrades of their short-term debt, long-term debt, credit, or default ratings from major credit rating agencies since the bailouts in March. 

The total tally of new bonds issued this year by oil and gas companies is $129 million, which is a record going back at least a decade. This year marked the highest level of energy debt issued since 2010. “This surge in borrowing was made possible by the Fed’s promise to purchase large quantities of corporate debt,” the report stated. 

There is a big gap between the favorable treatment given to corporations and the treatment of municipalities, small businesses, and individuals, the report noted. States and municipalities have been offered much more restrictive loan terms than have private companies although municipal bonds are far less likely to default than corporate debt. Chevron and Wisconsin serve as good examples. The Federal Reserve bought a Chevron bond at a rate of about 0.9 percent over four years. Wisconsin has the same credit rating as Chevron but has to pay about 1.3 percent over three years. 

“This bailout is an unprecedented rescue of a dying industry,” said co-author Alan Zibel, research director of Public Citizen’s Corporate Presidency Project, in a statement.

“Instead of bailing out climate-destroying fossil fuel companies, we must assist small businesses, local governments, and individuals facing dire financial straits.”

Alan Zibel

The oil and gas industry declined until Trump’s corporate bailout

Earlier this year, before the pandemic and the oil price war between Russia and Saudia Arabia caused global demand to sink to an all-time low, the oil and gas industry “showed unmistakable signs of decline,” according to the report. Moody’s. The credit rating agency forecast in February a higher risk of default and a harder time borrowing for the oil industry. Some companies may not have made it if the Federal Reserve had not stepped in. 

Despite the intervention of the Federal Reserve, the oil and gas industry will continue to decline. The consulting firm Rystad Energy forecasts that up to 190 oil-related bankruptcies by the end of 2022 if prices stay low. The firm also warns that investors, including the Federal Reserve, are less likely to be repaid. The report by the three environmental organizations points out that “a bad investment by the central bank can harm taxpayers.”

A total of 12 fossil fuel companies that received investments by the Federal Reserve received downgrades of their debt or credit ratings from major rating agencies since March. EQT Corporation is one of those companies, and its debt was downgraded to junk by Moody’s before the pandemic. Yet the company was able to sell $500 million in bonds in the second quarter of this year. 

The Bureau of Land Management bails out a company that owes back taxes

The Federal Reserve is not the only one to give bailouts to oil companies. The Bureau of Land Management provided US Realm Powder River a 96 percent discount on 23 federal leases in Wyoming even though it owes $4 million in unpaid federal royalties and failed to pay local taxes for the last three years. According to a report by the Western Values Project, US Realm Powder River is either the sole or majority lessee on 16 Bureau of land management leases on over 7,976 acres that were given a reduced royalty rate to 0.5 percent. 

“Once again, the Trump administration has opted to put polluters over people without a second thought while taxpayers foot the bill,” said Western Values Project Director Jayson O’Neill. 

What you can do

There is something you can do if you are tired of the oil and gas industry bailout from the government. Vote on November 3. Let your voice be heard at the ballot box.


Photo by Zbynek Burival on Unsplash

Trump Administration Loophole Allows Industrial Facilities to Pollute Neighborhoods

President Trump set a target on environmental regulations early in his presidency. After taking office in 2017, he issued an executive order that for every new regulation enacted, two are eliminated. His deregulation includes rollbacks of laws protecting the air, water, and addressing climate change. The Brookings Institute found that as of August 2020, the Trump administration enacted 74 rollbacks of environmental protections.

Add one more rollback to the list. Trump’s Environmental Protection Agency finalized a rule in early October that rolled back the “once in, always in” toxic air pollution policy requiring industrial facilities to implement measures to control pollution as long as the plant operates. Established in 1995, the policy meant that a facility had to continue to follow standards to clean up the pollution it generated. 

The EPA determined that the once in, always in policy has no authority under the Clean Air Act “to limit when a facility may be determined to be an area source.” Instead, the rollback of the policy allows facilities to reclassify as area sources after they take an “enforceable limit on their potential to emit hazardous air pollutants that bring their level of emissions below the major source thresholds.”

The rollback is an environmental loophole for major polluters

The rollback of the once in, always in policy is a key part of Trump’s deregulation agenda. As EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler said, “Today’s action is an important step to further President Trump’s regulatory reform agenda.”

The rollback amounts to an environmental loophole allowing thousands of large industrial facilities regulated as major pollution sources to opt-out of standards for hazardous air pollutants. It undermines the Clean Air Act that requires large industrial facilities to comply with maximum achievable control technology (MACT) if their emissions of hazardous air pollutants (HAP) exceed major source thresholds. The MACT standards include 187 toxic pollutants. In 1995, the EPA determined that the Clean Air Act requires major industrial facilities to comply with MACT standards as long as they are in operation. 

The loophole allows any facility that is a source of major pollution to reclassify itself as a small area source if it emits below the major source threshold, even if it only emits below the threshold because it complies with MACT standards. A total of 3,912 industrial facilities across the country, including refineries and chemical plants, could use the loophole to avoid complying with MACT standards, according to the EPA’s analysis. Nearly 1,600 of those facilities in 48 states could increase pollution annually by more than 49.2 million pounds, analysis by the Environmental Defense Fund found. 

The most vulnerable are at risk of toxic pollution

The loophole could expose millions of people in the U.S. to toxic air pollution increases. EDF’s analysis found that the greatest increases in pollution would occur in Texas, California, Michigan, and Louisiana. Seven California cities make the top 10 of the American Lung Association’s State of the Air 2020 report for ozone pollution. Six California cities make the top 10 for year-round particle pollution, while five of the state’s cities make the top 10 for short-term particle pollution. 

The environmental loophole puts the most vulnerable people at risk. Many of the facilities where pollution could increase under the loophole are in low-income communities and communities of color. The EDF analysis found that 73 percent of the facilities that will emit more pollutants under the loophole are located where the percent of the population qualifying as low income is above the national median. A total of 91 percent of the facilities are in areas where the percentage of the minority population is above the national median. Children and the elderly will be disproportionately affected. Fully 78 percent of the facilities are in areas where the percent of the population is below five years of age or above 64 years old are above the national median. 

The 3,912 facilities eligible to use the loophole produce pollutants “pose serious risks to human health,” the Union of Concerned Scientists states. Those pollutants include benzene, styrene, and formaldehyde. All three are linked to serious health problems such as cancer and respiratory illness.

What you can do

Are you tired of the Trump administration’s rollbacks of environmental protection? Vote him out on November 3. 


Photo by Marcin Jozwiak on Unsplash

Green Wave 2020 Aims To Put Environmentally Friendly Candidates In Office

President Trump’s environmental policies mostly consist of rolling back Obama-era policies dealing with climate change. Trump announced his intention to withdraw from the Paris climate agreement. That action put the U.S. in the role of being the only country expressing intent to withdraw from the agreement. Trump can’t officially withdraw until the day after the 2020 election. That makes November 3 an important day for environmentalists. 

In early October, a coalition of environmental organizations launched a project to elect environmentally-friendly candidates. Green Wave 2020 is a joint project of Sierra Club, the League of Conservation Voters, EDF Action, the NRDC Action Fund, and the National Wildlife Federation Action Fund to mobilize the members of the organization to help elect environmental champions in November. The organizations created a list of over 30 congressional races where the targeted candidate has a strong environmental track record or platform. Many of the candidates in the 30 prioritized races are running against someone how denies climate change. 

Green Wave 2020 involves more than 70 professional organizers in 15 states who mobilize environmental group members volunteering to help elect environmentally-friendly candidates. The organizers provide members with remote phone and text banking opportunities, along with other online tools. The project mobilizes thousands of environmental group members. 

“The stakes for the environment, for our climate, and for communities suffering the worst consequences of toxic pollution across the nation have never been more stark than in 2020,” said Sierra Club President Ramon Cruz. “This unprecedented mobilization of our collective membership, including millions of members nationwide, will also help build lasting infrastructure in key states and districts that environmental champions running for office can rely upon for future election cycles.”

Turning a red state green

Arizona is typically a red state where Republican candidates tend to flourish. The state’s three congressional races each make the priority list of the Green Wave 2020. Those three races include a senate seat. Mark Kelly (D) hopes to unseat incumbent Senator Martha McSally (R) to win John McCain’s former seat. A glance at the websites of both candidates shows why the project focuses on Arizona. McSally’s site does not even mention her environmental views, while Kelly’s site contains information on his views on climate change and the environment.

McSally’s site states that she supported Trump’s repeal of the 16 Obama-era regulations. The League of Conservation Voters gave her a six percent on its National Environmental Scorecard. That ranking put her on the organization’s Dirty Dozen that targets the most anti-environment candidates. McSally voted against the Clean Power Plan, efforts to boost Arizona’s clean energy economy, and clean air protections. Phoenix has one of the worst air basins in the country. The American Lung Association’s State of the Air 2020 report ranked Phoenix among the top 10 most polluted cities for ozone, year-round particle pollution, and short-term particle pollution.

Kelly wants to boost Arizona’s clean energy economy. His site points out that the sector employs 10,500 people in the state. He wants to triple that number by “making massive investments in research and development of technologies that make renewable energy more competitive and accelerate the transition to a renewable economy.” The LCV endorses him for the senate. 

Green Wave 2020: What you can do

Join Green Wave 2020. Vow to vote for candidates that champion the environment and work to mitigate climate change. As EDF Action President Joe Bonfiglio said, “The stakes in this year’s elections are incredibly high.” 


Photo by Christian Lue on Unsplash

Court Rules Fish and Wildlife Service Develop New Recovery Plan for Endangered Red Wolves

Endangered Red Wolves have lost nearly all of its habitat. A court ruling requires US Fish and Wildlife Service create a recovery plan.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service must update its plan to save endangered red wolves. The decision is a result of a legal agreement reached on behalf of a lawsuit brought by the Center for Biological Diversity. Red wolves, native to the southeastern U.S., declined to only nine known wolves in the wild, living in eastern North Carolina

“With only nine wolves known to remain in the wild, the red wolf desperately needed this good news,” said Collette Adkins, carnivore conservation director at the Center for Biological Diversity. “The science shows that the red wolf can be saved, and I’m hopeful that a new recovery plan will put the species back on the road to recovery.”

The Center for Biological Diversity filed a lawsuit in 2019, challenging the failure of the FWS to revise its 1990 recovery plan for the red wolf. The FWS failed to follow through on its 2017 commitment to update the recovery plan by the end of 2018. The Endangered Species Act requires federal agencies to create and implement roadmaps, which serves as a roadmap for species recovery. 

Red Wolves Can Recover

The agreement, approved on October 2 by a North Carolina federal court, requires the FWS to complete a final revised plan for red wolves by February 28, 2023. The Endangered Species Act requires that the agency prepare plans that serve as roadmaps to species recovery. The plan must identify measures to ensure conservation and survival, such as reintroductions. Recovery plans must include a description of site-specific management actions necessary for species recovery, measurable criteria that would result in the delisting of a species, and estimates of the time and costs required to achieve the plan’s goal.

About 20,000 square miles of public land in five states (Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, North Carolina, Virginia, and West Virginia) in the southeastern U.S. would work well to reintroduce red wolves, a 2019 report by the Center for Biological Diversity shows. The public land in the five states could support about 500 breeding pairs of red wolves. The report recommended that the FWS develop a new recovery plan for the red wolf. A new recovery plan is “critical to saving this species and fostering a future where they can survive and ultimately thrive,” according to the report.

The most endangered canid in the world

Red wolves once populated the southeastern U.S., roaming to Texas in the west, as far south as Florida, and up into the midwest. It has lost 99.7 percent of its historical range. The unlucky wolf species lost more of its historical range than any other large carnivore in the world. The International Union for Conservation of Nature classifies the red wolf as “critically endangered.” They are the world’s most endangered canid, according to Defenders of Wildlife

The current dire status of the red wolf can be attributed to mismanagement, illegal killing, and hybridization with coyotes. The red wolves compete with coyotes for territory and often end up mating with them. Private landowners and livestock farmers often shoot them, mistaking them for coyotes. 

Are you tired of environmental destruction?

Are you tired of critically endangered species like the red wolves only receiving adequate protection because of a court decision? Take action on November 3 and vote for the candidate most likely to enact beneficial environmental policies.

How Meteorological Towers Are Tracking the Impact of Climate Change

Meteorological towers are powerful tools. They take in vast amounts of data and information every day, at all hours of the day. Climate researchers and scientists can then use this data to understand how the world and atmosphere are changing. 

On a large scale, the climate crisis is an urgent global issue that requires constant action. With the right data from these towers, researchers are one step closer to understanding the best paths to take to combat climate change. 

Understanding how the towers work is the first step in gaining the necessary data. From there, taking action is the ultimate goal. 

How Meteorological Towers Work

These meteorological towers come in many different heights. Some are shorter and stand at 20 feet tall, while others skyrocket to almost 1,000 feet. These differences account for the surrounding area and environment. A tower might need to be taller to get more data.

The data these towers receive include anything and everything relating to the climate. From wind speeds to soil temperatures, they have sensors for it all. Scientists and climate experts need detailed information to understand climate change. Air pressure, carbon dioxide (CO2) levels, moisture, light intake, temperatures, precipitation, cloud coverage, and air chemistry are often the main focuses of these towers.  

The towers transmit this data back to a database or computer. Researchers then process the information and monitor changes. If concerning trends are rising, researchers can act accordingly and alert other organizations and governments about impending climate threats. For instance, with climate change comes hurricanes — the towers’ wind sensors can monitor the coming storms.

In the United States, these towers are popping up everywhere. Hawaii saw the installation of its first tower in May 2019, while the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) is installing several around the country. Towers for business use are becoming more popular — one stands at around 33 feet and 35 pounds and is ideal for wind speed and direction equipment. These structures can benefit industries like the shipping sector by providing climate data on a daily basis.

The Climate Crisis

The above components are critical for monitoring everyday patterns. However, more importantly, they are invaluable for the ongoing climate crisis. The increasing installation of these towers across the country only reinforces the need to act immediately. 

For instance, monitoring precipitation, temperatures, and air chemistry may show changes in the climate that negatively impact environments and ecosystems. As air pollution increases, the air’s chemistry will change — including more CO2 emissions. Temperatures have been gradually rising as well, which directly contributes to the destruction of natural resources and habitats — like arctic regions. 

Using the tools from the meteorological towers, researchers can process the changing trends. They can see how the climate crisis worsens rainy and dry seasons. Natural disasters, too, see a direct correlation with global warming.

The meteorological towers then give researchers and scientists insight into how trends will continue to change. They are a warning system of sorts. The towers from NOAA, for instance, have sensors at different intervals, reaching up to almost 1,000 feet. The data these sensors capture then translates into trends, predictions, and actions. 

One instance where these towers have aided the fight against the climate crisis is in Virginia. At Virginia Commonwealth University (VCU), students and experts have been using the data from meteorological towers to monitor and protect wetlands. These environments are invaluable for helping animals and ecosystems thrive and purifying water naturally. Using data like temperatures, soil moisture, carbon levels, and precipitation shows what researchers need to do to protect these sites. 

The Power of Towers

With their innovative data collecting abilities, these meteorological towers are a gateway to a better understanding of climate change. From there, researchers can choose faster solutions to enact. It all begins with taking in as much data as possible.


Image by Mizzou CAFNR on Flickr

Trump’s Wildfire Prevention Funding Cuts

Trump’s budget for 2020 cut funding for a wildfire suppression program by almost $600 million, recent research by the Western Values Project found. His administration acknowledged that 63 million acres of federal forest lands and 70,000 communities are at risk of severe wildfires. “Instead of increasing budgets to try to prevent fires, the federal government has been relegated to fighting them once they’re blazing,” according to the research.

The Trump administration cut funds by more than half for a program that develops both fire prevention and management practices. Trump also cut $45 million in forest and rangeland research money and eliminated forest service research positions. Trump failed to increase funding to deal with wildfires. The budget for the National Forest Service’s wildland fire management activities remains at $2.4 billion, and Trump’s 2021 budget proposes the same amount. 

Trump withholds funding for political purposes, according to the Western Values Project. “Trump told us to stop giving money to people whose houses had burned down from a wildfire because he was so rageful that people in the state of California didn’t support him and that politically it wasn’t a base for him,” said the former chief of staff at the Department of Homeland Security, which oversees the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA). The USDA and NFS withheld $9 million worth of reimbursements owed to California fire agencies for their time spent fighting fires on federal lands.

Wildfires grow more severe every year. The U.S. Department of Agriculture budget summary for 2020 stated that over the past 10 years over 68,000 wildfires burned around 6.5 million acres on average. In 2018, California broke a record for the number of acres burned (1.7 million acres). This year, over four million acres burned and wildfires still rage across the state. 

California only owns three percent of forests

Trump blames California for the wildfires. “They’re starting again in California,” Trump said about wildfires. “I said, you gotta clean your floors, you gotta clean your forests — there are many, many years of leaves and broken trees and they’re like, like, so flammable, you touch them and it goes up.”

California has 33 million acres of forest, and federal agencies own and manage 57 percent of them (19 million acres). State and local agencies only own three percent. Forty percent of the forests in the state are owned by families, Native American tribes, or companies, with industrial timber companies owning 14 percent (five million acres). 

The need for better wildfire funding

A 2015 USDA report predicted that the share of the budget devoted to wildfire suppression in 2025 could be over 67 percent. This amounts to two out of every three dollars the NFS receives from Congress. That likely means that funding for wildfire prevention could continue to be slashed. The same report points out that the Vegetation and Watershed Management Program plays a key role in restoring lands after wildfires. The funding for the program has been reduced since 2001. As a result, the rate of restoration the agency could have achieved across all NFS lands has decreased.

Changing the way the federal government pays for wildfire prevention is the solution. That means treating wildfires like other natural disasters. Bipartisan legislation offering a more rational approach to funding wildfires is needed, the report points out. Since wildfires in western states are likely to increase, that legislation can’t come fast enough. 

Do you want to see a more sensible approach to wildfire prevention and funding? Vote the Trump administration out of office on November 3. 


Featured image by Glenn Belz on Flickr

14 Million Tonnes of Microplastics On the Sea Floor

Microplastics in the ocean has gained awareness, but a new study shows the problem is far worse than previously understood.

An Australian study estimates that 14 million tonnes of microplastics pile up on the deep ocean floor every year


A study released by CSIRO, Australia’s national science agency, warns that the accumulation of plastic debris, particularly microplastics, is as much as 25 times worse than previously thought.

“Our research found that the deep ocean is a sink for microplastics,” said lead research scientist Denise Hardesty in a Phsy.org article. “We were surprised to observe high microplastic loads in such a remote location.”

While awareness of the problem of ocean plastics has grown in recent years, this disturbing new discovery of the magnitude of plastics debris floating in huge gyres and settling to the seabed emphasizes the urgency of finding effective solutions.

“Government, industry and the community need to work together to significantly reduce the amount of litter we see along our beaches and in our oceans,” Hadley told Phys.org.

Image coourtesy of Phys.org

Water From the Air and Sun

New technology powered by the sun extracts water water from the air. The simple system gives access to regions across the US and the world lacking access to clean water


Water is necessary for life. About 60 percent of the adult human body is water. The brain and heart are composed of 73 percent water, the lungs are 83 percent water, the skin contains 64 percent water, muscles and kidneys are 79 percent, and bones are 31 percent. Given the importance of water for human health, access to clean drinking water is a human right.

Not everyone has access to water piped into their homes. Approximately 15 percent of the Navajo Nation lack access to piped water, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

The lack of water is one of the drivers behind the high numbers of COVID-19 cases among the Navajo, who have the highest rates of infection in the U.S. As of September 28, 2020, there have been 10,312 cases of the virus among the Navajo, and 555 deaths. They lack access to clean water at home for hand-washing, forcing tribe members to break social-distancing guidelines to haul water in. This, in turn, fuels the infection rates. 

Water from air

Enter hydropanel technology that provides clean water systems to Navajo households. Through a grant from the Unreasonable Group and Barclays Bank, Navajo households received 15 systems, with plans to install 15 more systems. The Source Hydropanel system uses solar power to extract water from the air, while fans draw in ambient air and push it through water-absorbing material. Extracted water vapor condenses into liquid and collected in the reservoir.

Cody Friesen, associate professor of Materials Science and Engineering at Arizona State University (ASU), invented the system. His work at ASU inlcudes studying desicants, or substances that absorp water. He figured out how to use a desiccant to generate water using only the sun and air. 

“A standard, two-panel array, produces 4-10 liters of water each day and has 60 liters of storage capacity. …each panel is 4 feet by 8 feet, lasts for 15 years, and utilizes solar power and a small battery to enable water production,” said Cody Friesen, CEO and founder of Source.

“The quality of water produced exceeds the standards of every country where the systems have been deployed.”

Source hydropanel systems provide drinking water to impoverished regions

Over the company’s five-year history, the Source Hydropanel system has supplied clean drinking water to tens of thousands of people in 45 countries. “As the first truly renewable global SOURCE of safe drinking water we have the ability to reach people around the world who lack access to potable water, have variability in supply, or are concerned about the quality of their infrastructure,” said Friesen

One of the places the hydropanel system provides with clean drinking water is Martin County, Kentucky in the Appalachian region. The county’s contaminated infrastructure forces residents to live without clean drinking water. Families fill up jugs from local streams or buy bottled water. Many can’t afford to constantly buy water.

RAMP is a non-profit organization that operates a food pantry and provides emergency assistance. The organization installed a hydropanel system produce up to 3,000 bottles of water a month. 

Widely-known are the water troubles of Flint, Michigan. Plans are underway to build an array of 300 hydropanels to provide clean drinking water to several thousand people. Each of the two planned installations will produce the equivalent of up to 4,500 water bottles a month.

The Climate of Our Moral Character

Our moral character should not be run by fossil fuel. How we chose to model the energy economy of the future says much of who we are now.

Energy, capital, and human well-being

The growing climate activism among the world’s youth opens a fresh debate on the moral character of a civilization that would foreclose the future in a last gasp effort to preserve, as Donald Trump sees it, the “wealth underneath our feet.” American wealth, Trump says, is “based on energy” and that he won’t “jeopardize that for dreams and windmills.”

To have a substantive discussion about wealth, dreams, windmills, and morality, we have to go beyond anything Trump says or does, of course. Especially when the discussion revolves around morality. And so we shall.

I will give Mr. Trump this, however: energy is wealth. Certainly in the capitalistic, transactional sense, there is wealth in energy, but limiting our worldview, as Trump does, to the simple equation of wealth accumulation in terms of capital transfer is, as Greta Thunberg so eloquently said at the UN last week, a fantasy of unlimited growth. It is, many argue, an immoral fantasy. One in which most of us live.

We all want energy, in this simple sense, to power the machinery of modern life. Without question, humanity has flourished from the “wealth beneath our feet.” As such, there is an argument for the moral good of pulling up the trapped sunlight in ever more sophisticated methods of extraction. This makes some of us uncomfortable. How can we consider a fossil fuel economy a “good” thing, when we see the environmental destruction, social injustice, unrestrained greed, and existential climate crises that come with it?

I suggest that the “good” we derive from access to fossil energy is not a moral grounding for humanity. Moral good derives from it, just as a moral wrong. Fossil fuel extraction is a method, a tactic, technology. It is not a basis upon which to hang any moral argument. It is amoral. Just like our president.

Moral energy

In order to consider issues of energy and morality, we must think past our current age, even past the totality of human history. Throughout the world, most of us underpin our moral sense in some form of religious ideation. We apply an abstract notion of “God” as an external moral force guiding our behavior.

Indeed, we are a storytelling species, framing our perception of consciousness and reality on personal and social narratives. In one form or another, this is arguably inevitable. Not having a story is not having a life.

The problem with pinning the ultimate nature of morality on any particular myth is that we pin our allegiance, and thus our humanity, on the story, not the underlying principle the story intends to illustrate. We learn to hate those who don’t know or don’t believe in our story. Or at least dismiss them as deluded.

What if morality is rooted in biology?

Evolution, biology, and moral character

Writing in New Scientist, neurophilosopher Patricia Churchland argues against the common notion that our self-interested survival precludes altruism. In Deliver us from evil: How biology, not religion, made humans moral,” Churchland says that it is through the evolution of our mammalian brains and our unrivaled ability of learning and abstraction that we find our moral ground. The plasticity of our brain and flexibility in our social interactions necessitates innate selflessness. Without it, we would never survive. We would have never come to be.

This is generally true of all mammals and even birds to some degree. Care for the other — kin, kith, and beyond. But no other species has climbed so high or developed such complex social interaction as Homo sapiens.

All this is enormously oversimplified, of course. It seems like war, cruelty, dishonesty, gluttony, egocentrism, violence, and greed are all part of the human package. Ages of philosophers have posited the reasons why. It will be on the minds of philosophers when the last breath of humanity flickers out, sooner or later.

If it is essentially the ability of selfless adaptation and learning from which our morality arises, we can then take agency and responsibility, not just for ourselves (though certainly that’s where it must start), not just for the greedy accumulation of wealth, not just to fearfully cling to dogma, but for a better world of our making.

Fossil fuels entrench us in a Faustian bargain. It has corrupted the human spirit even as we have thrived in its heat. It is the cognitive dissonance that isolates us from our moral grounding.

We act morally when learn and adapt to the world around us and in a manner that the moral climate of our character transcends the generations. It is here that we risk losing ourselves entirely. 

Earth Day Without Us: Human conceit, resilience, and finding our place in the Anthropocene

Leaves of a tree

“We are all but recent leaves on the same old tree of life and if this life has adapted itself to new functions and conditions, it uses the same old basic principles over and over again. There is no real difference between the grass and the man who mows it.”
Albert Szent-György

In his 2007 bestseller “The World Without Us,” Alan Weisman expands on a thought experiment published in a 2005 issue of Discover magazine: What if we considered the human impact on the planet by removing the humans?

Everything we’ve built, dumped, dammed, spilt, or pulled up out of the ground remains; but there are no longer any people keeping all those balls in the air. The human endeavor comes crashing down. Earth and its surviving inhabitants are left to digest what remains of civilization, as all the great structures of Man come crumbling back into dust, leaving a scarred but resilient Earth. Continue reading “Earth Day Without Us: Human conceit, resilience, and finding our place in the Anthropocene”