Whither Wetlands: Humanity At The Crossroads

The wetlands are an integral part of our global ecosystem and we need to consider our protection of this precious land.

By Judith Stapleton

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If you are a real estate developer without a conscience or any understanding of ecology, then filling in wetlands and creeks and streams to make land shovel-ready for construction may make some kind of sense. But in a world without wetlands and small waterways, there is no sponge to absorb inflows of floodwater, as happens with storm surge and deluge, no habitat for amphibians and small fry, marsh birds and insects, or the bull rushes that so efficiently absorb CO2. Filling in the wetlands would prevent the ebb and flow of this interface between the two global masses of earth and sea—a natural dynamic, like breathing, that is essential for ecological health and human habitat safety. Infill means this cycle would be stopped, as if by a wall.

Such a barrier is the goal of the Trump administration’s recent Executive edict against water protection and the waters of the US, or the WOTUS rule, in the Environmental Protection Act. By reversing this rule, the Administration of the most influential economy and culture in the world has chosen to destroy the filters that provide clean water for everyone and everything.
Pouring the foundation for this wall is the new Administrator of the EPA, Scott Pruitt, whose falsehoods about global warming and “jobs lost” because of environmental protections drip like egg from his face every time he is confronted by the physical and statistical evidence against him.

In a recent interview, the Director of Communications for the Environmental Integrity Project in Washington, Tom Pelton, said, “…There is zero evidence that environmental regulations kill jobs. This is a talking point you often hear from Republicans, but if you look at two decades of economic research, as we did, and if you look at the data from the US Department of Labor Statistics, you see that only 2/10ths of 1% of layoffs in the US are caused by regulations of any kind, including environmental regulations. That’s a big lie that’s put out there to basically help the profitability of some of these big polluting companies.”

Real Estate mogul Trump is about to gut the federal regulations that protect clean air from greenhouse gases and other chemical pollutants, and clean water from industrial waste, again using the completely fabricated claim that these regulations have negative impacts on business and the economy.

What the US policy makers value more than clean water to drink and air to breathe is weapons and military infrastructure, to prepare for an as yet unnamed enemy, but we are pretty sure it is Iran. The White House has announced its intention to boost the Pentagon’s spending in the next fiscal year by about $54 billion. In his first budget proposal, the President said that the defence increase would be financed partly by cuts to the State Department and the EPA, and other non-defence programs, such as Meals-On-Wheels.

There is a terrible irony here. Climate Change is acknowledged by the Pentagon as one of the key drivers of national and international insecurity. They pay attention to the weather. They know Climate Change is not linear—it is a multiplier of events. The Navy is worried about global sea-rise and what to do about all their bases around the world. Every naval base and working port and coastal community and national capital around the globe is worried about this.The Pentagon has recently announced several times that global warming, not ISIS, is the biggest threat to US, and to international security.
The United States already spends more on its military than the next seven or eight nations combined. To raise that investment in the military while cutting protections for the American public and the integrity of the continent is not putting “America first,” it is not even putting Life first.

The question seeping to the surface is: what is it, then?

For Tom Pelton, “It’s just lies. I mean when Trump says he’s for clean air and clean water, he appointed a man to run the EPA who, for example, opposed the Chesapeake Bay clean up. …Scott Pruitt is in the pocket of the oil and gas industry, who’s filed a dozen lawsuits against the EPA basically to stop the EPA regulation of air pollution. …Trump is not interested in clean air and clean water. His actions show that what he’s interested in is helping the oil and gas industry, the coal industry and other industries that are contributing to climate change and to public health problems.”

When English writer George Orwell used the concept of Doublethink in his critical novel, 1984, he was trying to elucidate an almost ineffable and uniquely human practice— the act of simultaneously accepting two mutually contradictory beliefs as correct. For a Europe that had clung to its resentments and did not want to see disaster coming, he was trying to describe the mental dial tone people had chosen as preferable to the truth. And weirdly, there is no dissonance with this turn of mind. It is the pleasant view of everything being okay, at lease for me.

But in the wake of Super Typhoons Haiyan and Megi, Superstorm Sandy, Hurricane Katrina and Wilma and Ike and Rita and Dennis and Ivan, as we face a permanent erasure of the Arctic ice that is the world’s air conditioner, with record temperature extremes, ocean acidification, rapid species extinctions, drought in all the planet’s agricultural zones, and subsequent starvation, disease, and violent conflict—as we wake to see disaster rushing toward us, what will the last straw be?

NOAA’s Coral Reef Watch program is watching the Great Barrier Reef die. Their research shows that the only way to improve the outlook for the reef is aggressive action to reduce greenhouse gas concentrations.
But none of the industrial nations, including Australia, is really interested in committing to such reduction. In fact, in all the places where members of government feel pretty comfortable in their daily lives, with plenty of clean water and a flush toilet, air conditioning when it gets hot and a natural gas furnace for when it gets cold, a car in the garage, and tickets to fly to some other part of the world for a holiday—these people do not feel the urgency of the threat of extinction, the ruin of their children’s future. They are oblivious to the facts of life: that we are all in the same boat here. And in more and more places, the tsunami sirens are going off.
In November, NASA launched its latest weather satellite, the GOES-R (Geostationary Operational Environmental Satellite), and it has just sent back its first spectacular hi-resolution images of earth from 22,300 miles up in orbit. On 16 channels of infrared and near-infrared, it detects different wavelengths of light, which will help National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) researchers and other scientists distinguish between different components of the atmosphere—clouds and water vapour, and particles from smoke, ice, and volcanic ash.

It was designed to monitor hurricanes and other high-impact types of weather such as extreme precipitation, tornadoes, typhoons and tsunamis, but it tracks changes in surface temperatures on land and sea too— vital data for farming and livestock management, fishing, pleasure craft and cargo shipping. The implications for human health and safety as well as international trade are obvious. The insurance industry world-wide depends on forecasting data. Only Japan has a weather satellite (Himawari-8) in orbit with similar capabilities. So it is a stunning misfire of planning that the Trump Administration has announced that the new investment into the military will be partly funded by cuts to the Office of Oceanic and Atmospheric Research (26 percent of current funding, or $126 million) and the satellite data division (22 percent, or $513 million), according to Andrea Thompson and Brian Kahn, of Climate Central.
Several smaller programs, such as external research funding and work in coastal resilience, which provides funds for coastal communities to guard against storm surge and rising seas, would be eliminated entirely.

Climate Central has just reported that carbon dioxide is poised to surpass the previous dire record set last year and reach heights unseen in human history. In the coming weeks of Spring, CO2 will start to breach the 410 parts per million threshold on a daily basis, at the Mauna Loa Observatory in Hawaii. The monthly average for May came close to topping 410 ppm, according to the UK Met Office’s inaugural carbon dioxide forecast, also just released.
At this year’s G7 Summit in Italy, President Trump has continued his rampage through the environment, leaving a trail of muck wherever he stepped. His threat to “pull out of” the Paris Accord has everyone feeling more than a little desperate as his Administration’s obvious trajectory is to strip any and all regulations and policies enacted under previous administrations to protect the vital elements of the environment—namely, air and water.

But Climate Scientist and author, Dana Nuccitelli, reminds us that the Clean Air Act is a law; it places a legal requirement on the federal government to regulate carbon pollution. The Air Pollution Act of 1955 was the first US federal legislation that pertained to air pollution. The first legislation meant to “control” air pollution was the Clean Air Act of 1963.
The Paris Agreement, on the other hand, remains an entirely voluntary agreement. Without the active participation of parties to the agreement, the consequence is not legal, it is biological.
So it is an example of the shallow and uninformed thinking of the President’s Administration that they imagine environmental groups will protest the retrogressive policies they plan by using the Paris Accord as the fulcrum of their legal arguments. Environmental groups have no such plan. The law will be used in defence of the environment, because the law is the right instrument to use when crimes are committed.

Trump’s threat is nothing more than a red herring in a toxic sea of fakery, myth, and stupidity. The onus will be on China to continue to tip the scales toward economies of efficiency in renewables production. The rest of us will be following in their slipstream.

Publishers Note: Judith Stapleton is a writer in the fields of science and medicine.