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  • Writer's pictureDavid J. Ruck

PRO LIFE? THEN YOU NEED CLEAN AIR AND WATER. Why we are supporting Joe Biden for President.

David J. Ruck speaking to an audience
GLO President, David J. Ruck speaking to an audience in Michigan

Since starting Great Lakes Outreach Media in 2018 after a decade and a half of making environmental films, our mission has been driven by one relatively basic concept: Help the public understand how their tax dollars are being used to benefit quality of life through the government agencies and programs which oversee our nations natural resources.

In our view, public appreciation of government and government employees - the civil servants who work passionately and tirelessly to help us understand and adapt to a changing planet - is abysmal. For a long time we've heard remarks attacking public workers as lazy, agenda-driven, politically motivated, or bolstering conspiracy theories that science simply cannot back up. This could not be further from the truth. Viewpoints like these are damaging not only to the public servants who are employed in these positions, but damaging to communities, businesses and individuals who rely on the information generated by tax funded research, programs, and information.

Since 2016, the Trump Administration has repeatedly attacked the "Deep State", a concept that career government employees were somehow conspiring against the president to undermine his credibility and authority as the executive. This narrative has ranged from targeting offices and individuals in national security or justice, to individuals working for the State Department in critical positions over seas, to the scientific communities like those at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration as he has sought to undermine their credibility, motives, and scientific accuracy. This is an information war, declared on reason and reasonable people, but the causalities are our ability to respond to matters of national security or even public health and wellbeing.

Trump sharpiegate
President Trump Adjusts Storm Track with Sharpie

Take, for example, "Sharpiegate". Leaders from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) presented the president with the projected path of a hurricane. The president augmented the projected path with a Sharpie and declared that Alabama was also in the path of the hurricane. This prompted a response from the National Weather Service office in Alabama to correct the record to avoid unnecessary panic in Alabama. Heads rolled. NOAA leadership was forced to respond. An Inspector General report found that the acting administrator's role in reprimanding the Alabama office diminished NOAA's legacy of scientific integrity. We can argue that the acting administrator was in an impossible position: both needing to defend the workforce of NOAA, while appeasing an executive who cannot tolerate being corrected. This was a stain on the administration, but symbolic of the kinds of attacks that have become familiar from an individual with little interest in facts, data, or what science is indicating. Furthermore, it makes professionals in government second guess what they should be doing in a potential crisis situation. This is unthinkable, but sadly our new reality under Trump.

Just last night, Donald Trump again declared his desire for the "cleanest air" and "purist water" and pointed to imaginary policies he's enacted to that end. In truth, Trump's policies with regard to clean air and water have resulted in: lowered emission standards; rolling back Obama-era coal regulations; battling the state of California which has sought its own emission standards; leaving the Paris Climate Accord; rolling back protections on federal lands and shrinking national monuments; removing elements of the Endangered Species Act; removing protections for streams and wetlands; rolling back emissions standards on methane, the most potent of greenhouse gases. How, then, with all of this can one honestly suggest human health and the environment is on a better track under this administration?

oil refinery children playing
Sierra Club Image: Children riding bikes near an oil refinery

The hidden reality and consequences of these actions vast and varied. We've lost our leadership role in sustainability and the environment. We've shelved endangered species as a priority in determining mining or oil drilling projects. We are no longer looked to as a country inventing the future of sustainable interaction with the planet and instead are looked at as a dinosaur stirring the stew of our own extinction. These might all seem like small, bit elements of a broader policy objective of creating jobs and building the economy. But economists are largely in agreement that these are short term economic opportunities, while a "green" economy ensures new jobs, new industries, and a quality of life benefit which is always undervalued and understated in these discussions. What the hell is the point of a booming economy (not that we have that right now) if it has a burn rate of only a few years?

Moreover, the impacts of these policies are felt no more forcefully than in underserved communities with predominantly impoverished or barely working class economic backgrounds. This was also mentioned in the final debate of 2020: the realities and hardships faced by communities nearest to fossil fuel industries suffer economically, but also in terms of their health. Human health, childhood diseases, long term economic and educational deficits; these are all too common in communities most closely tied to or within heavily industrialized zip codes. Air quality suffers. Water is frequently contaminated. Asthma and other respiratory illnesses, reproductive issues, cancer - all of these are elevated in these communities, scattered throughout the country. These are some of the environmental justice issues of our time and they are exacerbated by the policies of this administration with wanton disregard for the poor and people of color who live in their shadows.

Science and scientists have the information to guide us to a better future. However, we must elevate their voices and their expertise. Those of us who understand the real motivations of a climate scientist or university researcher know these folks aren't entering this line of work to get rich, which is the common narrative from folks who want to perpetuate the cycle of industrial control over dangerous policies. These folks invariably get into this line of work because they started out as curious individuals interested in the bees in their back yard, or the fish they were catching with their grandfather. They wanted to understand the "why" of the world around them and - if they are lucky - find a career that allows them to do this at a high level. When it comes to human health, clean air and water, or innovative ways to power the future - both economically and sustainably - these are the people we should be listening to. Not some failed casino owner who can't be bothered with basic facts about complex issues. It is in this spirit that we fully endorse Joe Biden for president. We don't believe Joe has all of the answers, but he has one thing this administration is actively avoiding: the desire and ability to listen to experts in their field about the pressing scientific issues of our time. We've been around enough scientists to know that the loudest voice in the room is probably the least aware of the issue. The willingness to listen to experts is both freeing and exciting: you don't have to have all of the answers when others who have studied the issue their entire lives can explain it for you. This is something Joe Biden has demonstrated he is wanting and willing to do and that should be a relief for all of us.

David J. Ruck Florida Keys
Filmmaker David J. Ruck working on an environmental story in Florida

Our role as citizens is to bring attention to the issues in our communities and to bring the best minds together who are capable of addressing those issues in a meaningful way for the most benefit. That requires we stay informed and aware and draw attention when it's our time to do so. It also means we simply shut up when we don't have an honest clue of the complexities of the issue in front of us. But relax: find an expert and let them explain it. It's not your job to know how to fix the air or the water. However, if something doesn't seem right your university can probably help you ask the right questions or even find some answers. That's how it works. That's how it should work. And so, if you're pro life, let's support a platform that is at least making an honest effort to ensure a basic quality of life for the born and unborn, because environmental issues begin in the womb and can last a lifetime. And big words like "wanting clean water and air" mean very little unless it's backed up by science. And there is nothing scientific about the path we've been on under Trump. We are failing ourselves, our children, and generations to come if we continue on this journey of self destruction.

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