The Ends Of The World with Guest Peter Brannen

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About The Interview:

Our world has ended five times: it has been broiled, frozen, poison-gassed, smothered, and pelted by asteroids. What else could possibly happen? Journalist Peter Brannen has taken a close look at the five mass extinctions our planet has gone through. What exactly happened to cause extinction on such a massive, planet-wide level?

Interview Transcript:

– Hey welcome back to the Urban Monk. I am happy to be talking about something that’s near and dear to my heart today, the environment. We’re in an administration right now that is very aggressive towards the environment. And we actually this week, today actually, the budget proposed by the Trump administration is trying to slash the EPA by 31%. I don’t care where you come from. Cutting environmental protections is probably a bad idea knowing what we know in this world. So I’ve called in David Willett, from the League of Conservation Voters, these are the good guys that are out there trying to fight this fight for us in Washington. Getting involved in the elections, getting involved in what we need to do to stop this nonsense. And so here we are, we’re gonna talk about what it is that we can do, the good people of the world, to protect our children and our planet. David, welcome to the show.

– Thanks for having me, glad to be here.

– Hey, thanks for doing the work that you do. This is, you know it’s a heavy lift. You guys are gettin’ some overtime this year, huh?

– Definitely. Definitely some late nights and early mornings and weekends, for sure.

History Shows That CO2 Has Caused Previous Mass Extinctions - @PeterBrannen1 via @PedramShojai

– Yeah, no kidding. So, this administration comes in, and says they’re pro-business, and by pro-business somehow there’s this black and white world where you have to be anti-life, right? Like you gotta kill everything in your path, and do whatever it is that’s being suggested here to free up coal and oil and all his buddies to get tax dollars in or whatever it is that they’re proposing to do, right. What is this do to the EPA getting cut by 31%, I mean, how much does it hamstring an organization that’s there to protect us?

– It’ll make a lot of what the EPA does on a daily basis extremely difficult and in some cases, some programs will be completely eliminated. And really what this administration is interested in doing is making it so the government’s looking the other way for industries that are gonna make more money if they’re able to pollute more, if they don’t have to clean up the messes that they create, and if they don’t have to follow regulations, for health and safety. It would have a huge impact particularly disproportionately on people of color and low-income communities where they share the brunt of the pollution in our country. And the administration’s proposed completely eliminating the Office of Environmental Justice, which focuses on that. The long serving head of the Office of Environmental Justice has already resigned in protest, Mustafa Ali, and that’s an area of big concern for us is what kind of impacts these cuts would have on everyday people. The ability to know what kinds of pollution are in your community we wouldn’t be monitoring that as much, the ability to take polluters to court, to hold polluters accountable could be hampered. And just and the things that we still need to know, the science that we are still investigating about the impacts of climate change, what we can do about it. The impacts of pollution, of toxic chemicals, that are getting into our bodies everyday. They just are, wanna get rid of the programs that investigate that science, that take the science that other people are doing and make it publicly available. And hide that all so that the public’s in the dark and we’re dealing with environmental hazards we don’t even know that we’re facing.

– It seems so incredibly regressive to think that way because if you start, you know, increasing the pollution on the people that are the most likely to suffer from it, at the same time take away the safety nets that are there to help them with the fallout of the the health crises and all these things, so that what happens, you have people dying in the street? You have riots, I mean. I don’t see that this has been well thought through. Like you don’t just go ahead and killing people, right? How does this all work together in some argument that makes sense?

– I mean saying that something doesn’t seem well thought through from the Trump administration can pretty much apply across the board to what they’re doing. But even today, in their roll out of their budget proposal as you mentioned, it was a shocking degree of insensitivity to the impacts this has on everyday people. They called climate change programs crazy stuff. And that was what Mulvaney said today when he was talking about programs they’re happy to cut at EPA that fight climate change. He called it crazy. And, when they talked about programs that were affecting everyday people, they said, well we need to be thinking about everything in terms of the tax cuts that we’re able to give to folks. And that really just doesn’t, completely misses the point of what kind of impacts people are dealing with every day, in their everyday lives, whether it’s asthma attacks, whether it’s emergency room visits, whether it’s wanting to know what’s out there that’s safe for their children. And I mean, I don’t think it can be overstated how much this administration is saying they just don’t care. They’ve floated a number of trial balloons about this budget before it came out to see how it went over. And the public reaction was overwhelmingly negative, and they’re moving forward with it anyway. They just aren’t interested in those impacts and all and it seems primarily driven by what polluters have been trying to push for for many years, and just never had the ally in the White House who would do it for them.

The Earth Always Bounces Back, But Will Humanity? - @PeterBrannen1 via @PedramShojai

– Hashtag drain the swamp. Oh my goodness. So, okay, so this stooge comes in here, and starts workin’ for his bosses, and he starts to try to push this legislation. From what I remember, Congress has to actually approve and set the budget though, right?

– [David] That’s right.

– Okay, so he’s suggesting a budget.

– Right, this is like the blueprint. It is very much a statement of their priorities, so it does indicate what you can expect the heads of the EPA to be looking for. The head of the EPA Scott Pruitt had a say in what the president recommended for his agency, same with Department of Interior, same with Department of Energy. And so this is very much a statement of the direction they wanna be headed. But you’re right that Congress ultimately is the body that says this is how much money the government’s gonna spend and we’re reasonably optimistic that there will be some rejection of the Trump administration budget but there’s still very much a lot at play, and a lot of important programs that are at risk.

– Okay so who do we go after in Congress, how do we fight this fight and stop this insanity, I mean I think there’s a side track that’s now starting to build momentum, talking about impeaching this corrupt administration in the first place. But you know, that’s probably a little bit further away, I mean who knows, there might be a bombshell, something that, news item that comes out later today. But assuming that this administration stays in office, who do we target in Congress to stop this insanity and voice our concerns and say that this is not what we want.

– Well so I think that there’s a couple of things to focus on. First, to the point about impeachment, I think it’s really important to keep, for groups like LCV, to keep our focus on what attacks on the environment we’re facing, not all of it is coming from the administration. There are folks in Congress who have long been allies of polluters, that have just been waiting to have a friend in the White House to help them. And they’re still very much pushing things forward. You know on the day after Trump fired Comey, the FBI director, the first thing the Senate did was have a vote on rolling back some Obama-era protections that would have limited methane emissions, which is a dangerous greenhouse gas. That was the first thing they did after Trump fired Comey, was have a vote on rolling back environmental protections. So that’s something that we have to keep in mind. Now we were very fortunate that we actually won that vote. They were unable to roll back that protection. But it was very close. We had three Republicans vote with us. And those folks in Congress who are allies of polluters are gonna continue pushing through that agenda no matter what happens at the White House. And so getting the message out to members of Congress both in the House and Senate is really important. I think there are a lot of folks who are feeling some initial trepidation about how closely they’ve aligned themselves with Trump given the problems that he’s dealing with. And folks that are up in 2018, which is all of the House, and a third of the Senate, we’re starting to see some squishiness. Now there aren’t very many Republican seats up in the Senate in 2018. So we’re looking at people like Dean Heller in Nevada, and Jeff Flake in Arizona as folks who are going to have to really think carefully about whether they wanna be known for rolling back all these environmental protections in states where clean energy is not just good for the environment but also really good for the economy, cause they’re very sunny states. And so those are folks that we’re targeting. And in addition, to the degree there are any moderate Republicans left in the House, we’re working with them trying to see if they’re willing to not go along with the Trump administration on these issues but I would say no matter where you are, making sure that your members of Congress know what you care about, that you don’t wanna see these kinds of massive cuts to the EPA, you don’t wanna see things that threaten the health and safety of our families. Because if it’s a champion, who’s doing the right thing on the environment, they need to hear from their constituents too that you want them to keep fighting. And that’s something that we hear very frequently from members of Congress who are standing up to Trump and who are standing up to the polluter allies in Congress, is they need to feel like they’re getting the support from their constituents, too. So even if you’re in the most liberal of liberal Congressional districts, letting your member know that you want them to keep fighting is appreciated.

Global Warming Isn't Political, It's Scientific - @PeterBrannen1 via @PedramShojai

– So they need to hear from us regardless. And so what’s the best to communicate. You call their office, do you email? I mean it seems like such like a robo-form way of getting in touch with a person that, you know, like I’ve never actually met my Congressman, like do I go down to their office and figure out when they’re gonna show up.

– So it depends on the member. Calls in general are considered more valuable than email, but anything you can do to contact them can make an impact if it’s in large numbers. And then the other thing that League of Conservation Voters has been doing with a number of other groups is particularly during Congressional recesses and we’ll be coming up on one again next week for the Memorial Day recess. A lot of members are in their districts, and some of them hold events, some of them hold town halls, some of them go to Memorial Day parades, or other kinds of public events, and any time that we can be engaging them in public and asking them questions, and telling them what is it that you want them to be working on and fighting for and the concerns that you have is really important, and I think that there’s been more organization of large groups of people at town halls. You’ve seen that over the last couple of recesses this year. There’s a lot of focus on environmental protection and climate change, there’s a great deal of focus on healthcare, and groups like Indivisible, which just sprouted out of nowhere, after the election, have given people the tools to organize in their district, wherever they are and where we’ve been working with them in a number of places to actually get people to turn out to events. Now some members of Congress are trying to hide from their constituents, and not hold town halls. In some of those cases we’ve organized events on our own and invited them to them, or done an event with an empty chair where they should be because they should be talking with their constituents. And a lot of folks are really balancing that pressure of do I dare talk to my constituents knowing how angry they are, but as we get closer to the election, they’re gonna have to talk to people. And they’re gonna be out in public, and I think wherever we can be, and whether you’re thanking someone for doing the right thing or telling them they need to change their tune, engaging them in public is something that you just have to take advantage of when that comes. Cause some of them are in very controlled environments.

– Yeah, no kidding. Is there some sort of kind of, I know they have public disclosures. Is there some sort of database where you can kinda see who the dirtiest of money-takers from polluters are? Like, you know, who’s got their roster stacked with like the biggest polluter donors?

– So, there’s a couple of tools. Of course League of Conservation Voters does our scorecard, where we score members of Congress every year on how they voted on the environment, and so they have both an annual score and a lifetime score for how good or bad they are on the environment, and that’s at scorecard.LCV.org. And that doesn’t show who they have benefited from financially, but it does show you kind of what their track record is on the environment, whether they’re good or bad, and that’s really considered the gold standard. It’s not just LCV’s scorecard. A number of environmental groups are on the committee that votes on what votes we’re gonna score. So it really represents a cross-section of the environmental community in terms of how good or bad someone is on the environment. Looking at the money, the tool that I most frequently use is called Open Secrets. And OpenSecrets.org is a website that tracks everything about money in politics at the federal level. And so you can look up a member of Congress and see every one who has given them money. You can have it organized by industry, so if you wanna see how much money they’ve gotten from oil and gas for example, you can just call up that number specifically. So that’s a really good resource for looking at not just candidates but it also shows where third party groups spend money in elections. So you can also look at like, how much the Koch brothers are spending in elections as well.

– That’s interesting. So you can drill down and see how many candidates they’ve been supporting? As a donor, you can see where all their money goes across?

– So you can see how much they’ve spent in terms of kind of official, electoral spending. There is, what’s referred to as dark money. Where groups that kind of sprout up out of nowhere, and have a very innocuous name, and the Koch brothers are known for doing this and they have a number of them. But there’s also like Karl Rove’s group Crossroads. Or, you know, one of the Koch brothers called FreedomWorks. And they don’t engage in expressly electoral activity, but they talk about candidates, and they talk about issues in television advertising for example, and that money isn’t traceable. So that’s a whole other category of money that’s much more difficult to trace, but in terms of direct donations to candidates, all that money you can track.

– Interesting, and this like non-traceable money, like how is that legal? Is that part of this whole Citizens United thing that came through, or is this just some other like super PAC deal?

– Well those are related. The growth of the super PACs and League of Conservation Voters has a super PAC, too. We are very much in favor of campaign finance reform, and we would like to see a total overhaul of the system. Given that the system we’re playing in right now and how much money’s on the other side, we have gone that route too. Super PACs actually the money is disclosed. But Citizens United had a huge impact on the ability of corporations in particular to have an influence on elections and spend a great deal of money in elections because they’re treated like people, and the ruling that corporations are people gave them a huge amount of sway over what they could do, and how much money they could spend in elections. And not necessarily have it directly tied to their brand name, so it doesn’t necessarily have an impact on their overall brand with consumers. And so yes we’ve seen a huge amount of impact and you can actually measure, you can chart the rise in money in politics with our scorecard and see how much of a decline there has been particularly on the Republican side, in terms of how good people are on the environment. The more money there’s been in politics, the worse off the environment has been.

– Fancy that. So is there anyone doing any of this investigative work to figure out who these kind of secret donors are? And kind of digging up what these kind of weird names that keep popping up, and where that money’s coming from, or is it just completely buried?

We Are Ejecting Carbon Into The Air At 10x The Rate Of The Worst Mass Extinction

– No, I mean, Open Secrets does a lot of that work themselves. And they do a very good job at that. There’s been some really good work done at media outlets like ProPublica. The New York Times has been doing a lot of in depth investigative reporting particularly on Scott Pruitt, and there was a big article just this weekend. Scott Pruitt’s the new EPA administrator. And there was a big article this weekend by a really good investigative reporter named Eric Lipton about his ties to a natural gas company from Oklahoma, where he was Attorney General, that go back years and that his relationship with them has maintained and it shows the influence that they’ve had both on his campaigns and fundraising in the state, and now the impact that they’re having on his policy-making at the EPA.

– Yuck, yuck. So, how do we help the League of Conservation Voters get out there on the front lines and do the work that you guys are doing?

– Well, you know there’s another big place where there’s reason for hope, and that is progress can still be made at the state level. As much as Congress is a mess right now and the Trump administration has no interest in doing anything good on the environment right now, there’s quite a lot of really good work happening in the states. California has long led the way on clean water, clean air, and climate protections. But we’ve also seen a lot of progress even in states with Republican governors. This year we’re starting to see that kind of push back to the Trump administration approach. So, we’ve seen clean energy legislation move forward in Michigan, in Illinois, we’re seeing it move forward in Nevada. And Maryland. And those are all states with Republican governors. The governor of Virginia who’s a Democrat also just made some really big climate moves just last week. So one of the things that I always strongly recommend to people is that getting involved and staying involved in your state politics, not just at the federal level, is really important, and right now, it’s the best chance we have to make progress. And so at the federal level we’re playing defense. We’re doing everything we can to make sure they don’t roll back the progress that we made under President Obama in the last eight years. But it’s just a defensive campaign. At the state and local level, there’s really a chance to actually move the ball forward, and make the air cleaner, make the water cleaner, and do something to fight climate change. That, if we have enough states taking action, that will have an impact that we can all be really proud of. So one of the things to do is get involved in your local races. In some states, in a couple of states, there are elections this year, particularly in Virginia and New Jersey there’s gonna be some really important elections. And then keeping on top of who’s running for office. We encourage people to consider running for office. This is a new playing field for us but after the People’s Climate March which happened a few weeks ago, we had our first ever candidate training where we did it with EMILY’s List and women who were interested in running for office came to a half day training to learn how to be a candidate for office at any level. And more and more people are getting involved in politics. But I think that that of course getting involved at LCV. At LCV.org you can sign up for a number of things. The kind of the action that we’re pushing right now is at LCV.org/resist. Where we’re just trying to show widespread opposition to the Trump administration’s agenda. And the ways that people get involved with LCV is either, there’s going to be some laws that the Trump administration has to follow. They have to get public comments on any big rule changes that they’re gonna make. So right now they’re trying to roll back some climate protections, they’re trying to roll back some clean water protections. And they’re looking at trying to take away some new national monuments that President Obama had established in his final years in office. All of those processes involve soliciting public comment and we’re helping to solicit that. They don’t necessarily have to listen to all of those comments, but it’s going to be very tough for them to say that they’re taking away clean air protection when an overwhelming percentage of the comments they received said leave that alone. And so talking to the federal governments, providing comments, they have to have these. There are websites, there are email addresses. They’ll have hearings in some places. They’re not necessarily making those easy to find. And so using a resource like LCV, we’re gonna help you find those things. But that’s gonna be a tool that we use. And then of course, letting your members of Congress know, your Senators, your Representatives, that you want them to continue fighting if they’re fighting. And that if you want them to not go along with the Trump administration’s agenda, it’s really important, all the time. And then getting ready for next year’s elections, making sure you’re registered to vote. Making sure you’re volunteering with local environmental and electoral organizations. One of the things that we talk about in our office a lot is how are we gonna make sure that people are putting this energy they feel right now in the bank because we really need to remember this feeling that we feel right now in the fall of 2018, and the fall of 2020 even. And it’s going to be exhausting to keep up that fight for that long, so like thinking about ways to make sure that you remember that this is a fight you wanna have and that then you’re able to do it. Make sure you’re setting a reminder for yourself that when there’s elections, look for when the primaries are. Look for when the local elections are, they’re not always on that first Tuesday in November. And then of course get ready for 2018.

Can Human Civilization Adapt To A Major Change In Climate? - @PeterBrannen1 via @PedramShojai

– Amen. So LCV.org. Tools /resist, go in there figure out what part of the ecosystem you wanna jump in in and just roll up your sleeves. Look, you can’t sit there and say, I can’t believe this has happened to us. This is the time to mobilize. If you care about the environment you care about the future, then you have to do something about it, right. So get involved in whatever capacity makes sense for you. David thank you so much for the work that you do. Again I’m gonna post this all over when we blog it and get it out there to our constituents, and have our team go out and kind of join yours to help galvanize this base and do it. Look, you know, for me it’s, the environment is everything. If we don’t have that then what happens is our cells start choking we start dying. And that’s probably a bad thing, right. And so the shortsightedness of these polluters kind of pushing their agenda, and winning over an administration to do so. I mean that’s politics, but you know what, if we wanna just say well that’s politics and roll over and die, we’ll get the world that we have and then worse. So, it’s time to fight, it’s time to mobilize, and it’s time to help people like LCV do their jobs. And it requires us to get involved, so. Again thanks so much for the work that you do, and to my urban monk, my urban monks out there, get involved. Whatever it takes, get involved. Go onto LCV.org. Find your path to helping this and being a part of the solution. Lemme know what you’re doing, and let us know how we can help you do that as well. I’ll see you next time.

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