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The Pandemic Is Already Cooling The Planet — Will It Do More?

Some say the pandemic has become a permanent ally in the fight against climate catastrophe. It has jump-started a drop in the burning of fossil fuels, and that will continue. Others say this is short-term thinking: The public may abandon its concerns over global warming as it tries to climb out of the economic hole left by the COVID-19 lockdowns. Let's accentuate the positive.

First off, the government-mandated social distancing and its freezing of much industrial activity has already cut greenhouse gas emissions, certainly for the time being. The International Energy Agency predicts that global carbon emissions will have fallen about eight percent this year from 2019's level. That would be the biggest annual decline ever.

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AOC Joins Biden Policy Panel In Bid For Party Unity

Reprinted with permission from Alternet

Now that former Vice President Joe Biden is the presumptive Democratic presidential nominee, the progressive and centrist wings of his party are coalescing around him, including President Barack Obama, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, and Sen. Amy Klobuchar in the center — and Sen. Elizabeth Warren on the left. And Biden, in an obvious effort to reach out to the progressive wing of his party, has asked Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York City to co-chair a Biden campaign task force on climate change.

According to CNN, the task force's other co-chair will be former U.S. senator and 2004 Democratic presidential nominee John Kerry — who took over as secretary of state in Obama's administration in 2013 after Clinton left that position. The task force will also include Varshini Prakash, who serves as executive director of the Sunrise Movement and has championed Ocasio-Cortez' Green New Deal.

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Trump’s EPA Prepares Another Gift For The Coal Industry

Reprinted with permission from DCReport

Trump’s EPA administrator wants to redraw our nation’s mercury standard to benefit coal-fired power plants that belch out nearly half the nation’s mercury emissions. But the agency’s Science Advisory Board is balking.

The board, headed by Trump administration appointee Michael Honeycutt who previously opposed tougher mercury standards, told the EPA it needed to look again at how much mercury people get from fish and the harm from mercury.

“EPA should instigate a new risk assessment,” the board wrote.

Under former President Barack Obama, the EPA only looked at IQ losses in children born to mothers who ate freshwater fish caught by amateur anglers from lakes where the EPA had information on fish tissue. This excluded most of the fish eaten in our country, much of it imported or fish from the ocean.

“It’s absolutely incorrect,” said Elsie Sunderland, a professor of environmental science and engineering at Harvard.

Ellen Kurlansky, a former EPA air policy analyst, said the board recommendation isn’t clear about whether ocean fish should be included in a new assessment.

“What does that actually mean?” she asked.

The Trump EPA packed the Science Advisory Board with industry-friendly appointees like air pollution researcher Robert Phalen who said air can be “a little too clean” for children’s health and consultant Brant Ulsh who claims radiation at low doses may not be dangerous.

The mercury report mentioned a discredited study by consultant and board member Tony Cox that claimed soot in the air can be beneficial.

But even this tainted board couldn’t stomach what the Trump EPA wants to do to our planet. The board also questioned a proposed rule that would limit which wetlands and waterways are protected by the Clean Water Act and the rollback of clean car standards.

Mercury exposure at its worst can mimic cerebral palsy. When airborne mercury settles on water or land that’s often damp, microbes convert it to methylmercury which is highly toxic and becomes more concentrated as it moves up food chains to people and predators.

Mercury raises the risk of diabetes and causes cardiovascular problems for adults, including higher chances of a fatal heart attack. Even how birds sing is affected.

EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler twisted the math for a proposed federal rule to knock out the legal justifications for limiting mercury emissions, claiming that “the only health benefit” to reducing mercury emissions “that the EPA could quantify and monetize” was children’s IQ loss.

In March 2017, coal magnate Robert Murray, who donated $300,000 to Trump’s inauguration, gave the Energy Department a wish list that included rescinding or revising the mercury standard, which Murray Energy had sued to block. Wheeler is a former lobbyist and Murray Energy was his best-paying client.

Murray Energy, once the largest privately held coal company in the country, filed for bankruptcy in October. At least seven coal companies filed for bankruptcy in 2019.

EPA is required by law to base decisions on the “best available science.”

The Obama restrictions on mercury have worked. Mercury emissions from U.S. power plants plunged by 65 percent from 2015 to 2017. The standards prevent up to 11,000 premature deaths a year, 4,700 heart attacks and 130,000 asthma attacks, according to EPA estimates.

The Trump EPA also wants to quash rules on sulfur dioxide emissions from coal-fired power plants which cause acid rain.

James Murdoch Slams Climate Denial In Murdoch Media Outlets

Reprinted with permission from MediaMatters

As its global media empire ignores devastating bushfires in Australia, the Murdoch family has come under fire from an insider critic: Rupert’s son James. A spokesperson for James and his wife Kathryn expressed to The Daily Beast “their frustration with some of the News Corp and Fox coverage” of issues related to climate change. The couple, who have previously made their knowledge of the climate crisis public and committed millions of dollars to fight it, noted they are “particularly disappointed with the ongoing denial among the news outlets in Australia given obvious evidence” that increased temperatures have contributed to the severity of the fires. The Murdochs’ News Corp. accounts for 60 percent of daily newspaper sales in Australia, where the family first began building its massive media conglomerate decades ago.

The epidemic of climate denial at Fox News and News Corp. outlets is a global problem. Personalities on their payroll across the world have promoted dangerous conspiracy theories and false punditry obfuscating the role of climate change in the devastating bushfires.

Two weeks into the new year, Fox News has already advanced anti-science talking points multiple times. On the January 13 edition of Fox News’ The Five, co-host Greg Gutfeld blamed the media for the Australian wildfires, saying reporters are “chasing memes instead of actually fact-checking” and said they should instead “be questioning why there are so many arsonists.” The role of arsonists in the Australian bushfires has been greatly exaggerated and, according to climate expert Will Steffen, “The evidence is overwhelming that climate change is playing a prominent role” in the bushfires.

The Daily Beast’s story on James and Kathryn Murdoch’s public criticisms of News Corp. and Fox News’ climate denial noted that a regular guest on Fox host Laura Ingraham’s prime-time show has also hyped the false arson story. On January 7, Fox’s Sean Hannity also promoted disinformation on the role of arsonists in spreading the bushfires. Fox Nation’s Tomi Lahren claimed, “The fact of the matter is this: Australia has an arson problem you can’t pin on global warming, climate change, or whatever title you’re giving your environmental boogeyman these days.”

Even though 2020 just started, Fox News personalities are already working overtime to poison the climate change discourse in media this year. Fox’s Mark Levin yelled that “climate change is BS” and politicians who rightly recognize the threat “are praying to idols” because “you never heard about climate change 10 years ago” (this is false). On January 10, Ingraham bizarrely dismissed the problem of receding glaciers, saying, “The glaciers in the Rocky Mountains receded, which is why we have the Rocky Mountains.” In response, regular guest Raymond Arroyo said, “It’s called nature. It happens.”

Fox host Mark Levin also has been screaming about climate change:

Murdoch-owned media properties have promoted climate denial well beyond Fox News, and his Australian media empire has turned a blind eye to the climate crisis. The family’s national newspaper The Australian has hyped the story about the role of arsonists in spreading the bushfires. Conservative pundits on Sky News Australia have also used the ongoing fire season to push climate misinformation and denial, including Chris KennyPeta Credlin, and habitual climate denier Andrew Bolt. In the past, newspapers owned by News Corp. have been criticized for their role in spreading climate denial.

James Murdoch remains financially and legally involved in both News Corp., where he sits on the board of directors, and the Fox Corporation, the parent company of Fox News. (His father reportedly “had made sure that none of his children would be able to sell their voting shares to an outsider”  after he tried to cash out in 2018 following 21st Century Fox’s merger with Disney and a massive restructuring of assets.) His criticisms are just the latest installment of a decades-long power struggle within the family to shape the media empire’s political influence according to each man’s ideological vision. But because James was effectively forced out of the business after the Disney merger, he’s been relegated to lobbing criticisms from the sidelines as Rupert and rumored climate denier Lachlan Murdoch hold the reins.