Friday, June 29, 2018

Laudato Si and all that ... by gimleteye

Next week, Pope Francis will meet with world environmental leaders in the Vatican, to discuss advancing the agenda of protecting the planet from climate change impacts. The Pope issued his encyclical, "Laudato Si: On Care For Our Common Home", in 2015. A small, powerful constituency -- primarily in the United States and tied to fossil fuel extraction industries -- pushed back, but Pope Francis is determined. The evidence on the ground of climate change is everywhere, notwithstanding the hostility of American conservatives and media machinery like the Murdoch Fox News empire. The Pope is paying attention to sea level rise; from the world's poorest regions, like Bangladesh, to developed nations like the United States and cities like Miami, which -- in addition to being the lowest lying region in a politically influential state -- is also one with the greatest income disparity.

Pope Francis may have read about the recent Republican gubernatorial debate in Florida, a slugfest in which the two top contenders -- Adam Putnam and Ron DeSantis -- focused on how they are respectively more like Trump than their adversary. Trump defines the environment and threats to it as unauthorized access to a golf course he owns. Putnam, as Florida Secretary of Agriculture, has been thoroughly compromised by Big Sugar -- represented by two billionaire families, the Fanjuls and the descendants of Charles Stuart Mott. DeSantis, a Congressman whose campaign Trump endorsed, is a fierce defender of the anti-environmental regulatory jihad.

Then, there is Republican Rick Scott. Florida's term limited governor is challenging Democrat Bill Nelson for US Senate; a race considered critical to Democrats' hope to regain majority control of the Senate. As governor, Scott twiddled his fingers while serial outbreaks of toxic algae spewed from the state's largest fresh water body; outbreaks attributable to a warming climate and the sugar industry -- his big campaign supporters -- and its dominance of water management infrastructure in the state. Some of that algae is being linked through air-borne convection to serious brain disease, like Alzheimer's.

The thread tying together the Republican agenda in Florida and elsewhere is a willingness to dismantle environmental regulations that "drag" on business profits. Scott, for example, drove the final nail of the coffin in the state's growth planning agency. His willingness to abandon environmental enforcement, like wetlands destruction, has unleashed another wave of growth, sprawl, and highways into the Everglades. On another front, Gov. Scott has withheld information on cancer clusters including rare pediatric ones. This dismal course is mirrored by President Trump (eliminating protections for whales and sea turtles) and the empowerment of a radical anti-environmental agenda that masks severe risks to the public. Just one example:
Fearing a “public relations nightmare,” the White House and top officials at the Environmental Protection Agency worked together earlier this year to suppress a federal health study that revealed new evidence about hazardous levels of toxic chemicals in U.S. drinking water.

The study, set to be released by the Department of Health and Human Service (HHS)’s Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR), found that a certain class of chemicals can pose a serious risk to human health at much lower levels than previously thought.

These chemicals, which have been linked to cancer, thyroid diseases, pregnancy complications, and other serious health problems, are present at dangerously high levels in water supplies near chemical plants, military bases, and other sites in multiple states, the study revealed.
Jeb Bush, who did his part as Florida governor to wreck decades of bipartisan consensus on the environment, dismissed Pope Francis' Laudato Si; saying that, in effect, the pope should stick to psalms while good business people took care of the economy. An observer of the Church wrote: "What strikes the Pope as self-evident is that the nature we have attempted to dominate, for the past several centuries, has now turned on us, like Frankenstein’s monster. As he put it in a recent press conference, "God always forgives; human beings sometimes forgive; but when nature is mistreated, she never forgives."

Although these thoughts have yet to register with Florida voters -- who seem to perversely detach their vote for Republicans from the terrible outcomes that Republican officials happily support -- the ones most severely impacted, like in Martin County where Lake Okeechobee is spewing toxic algae onto personal property and treasured waterways, are mobilized. A little further up the Florida Atlantic coast, another group is mobilized too. These are a group of young women who have contracted cancer. They shared neighborhoods, homes and schools near Patrick Air Force Base.

Dr. Julie Greenwalt is a cancer survivor and an oncologist with MD Anderson. She is organizing her community of friends and trying to piece together a toxic puzzle that the government, won't. ""I just feel grateful to be alive, and I know that God has a plan for my life," Greenwalt said. "(Perhaps) this is part of it -- to try and help figure this out."

Maybe God's plan also includes waking up voters, by putting in front of us such insensitive, manipulative and power-hungry politicians who wrap themselves in the velvet robes of religiosity. They should be banished from our legislatures, but only voters have that choice and, so far -- at least as Florida is concerned -- , they have exercised it very poorly.

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