Tracking environmental news in the Trump era

(de)regulation nation: Interior dumped the Arctic Refuge drilling study right before Christmas

“We as an American public have some choices to make as to which future we want to aim for.”

Welcome to (de)regulation nation, the newsletter tracking environmental news in the Trump era.

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The Trump administration didn’t take much of a holiday break on environmental deregulation. It doesn’t look like the Trump-instigated shutdown of several federal agencies is slowing things down, either.

What the shutdown has accomplished is taking thousands of federal park and forest rangers, public health inspectors, environmental investigators, and regulatory enforcers off the job. The longer these federal workers are on furlough, the higher the chances rise of enduring damage to public lands, a food safety emergency, or a pollution crisis.

So, fair warning: There’s a lengthy section of bad in this week’s newsletter. But of course I’ve made sure to include the better and good news, and here’s a hint of the great news you can look forward to:


bad: oil leasing in the Arctic Refuge took a big step forward in December

  • On Dec. 20, the Department of Interior issued its draft report on drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, a virtually unspoiled 19 million-acre wilderness.

  • Interior took less than a year to create the study, which includes four proposals for leasing and development on the refuge’s 1.6 million-acre coastal plain.

  • The coastal plain is habitat for dozens of wildlife species and millions of animals, from polar bears and migratory birds to the Porcupine caribou herd.

  • The Gwich’in, an Indigenous people of Alaska and Canada who have relied on and revered the Porcupine caribou for millennia, are fighting the leasing and drilling efforts.

  • Results from seismic testing for oil and gas on the coastal plain in the mid-1980s have never been publicly released. But as The New York Times revealed last year via new photographs, a vast grid of decades-old track-marks from the vehicles is still visible today, and likely altering the fragile arctic environment.

  • Interior Department scientists warned colleagues last year that seismic testing for oil and gas deposits in the refuge would harm the area’s already-struggling polar bears, which are spending more time on the coastal plain as Arctic sea ice diminishes due to climate change.

  • The draft report, meanwhile, terms exploration and drilling for oil or gas in the refuge “potential indirect impacts of leasing,” because awarding a federal oil and gas lease “by itself...does not authorize any on the ground oil and gas activities.”

  • Despite the shutdown, Interior staffers are continuing to work on leasing seismic testing in the Arctic Refuge.

  • Read more:

also bad:

  • “The Trump administration is working overtime to make sure the shutdown doesn’t halt oil drilling,” reports Bloomberg, “in ways critics say may flout federal law.”

  • With more than 13,000 Environmental Protection Agency staffers on furlough, environmental regulatory enforcement is at a standstill. “Many routine activities such as checks on regulated businesses, clean-ups of toxic superfund sites and the pursuit of criminal polluters have been paused since 28 December,” reports The Guardian.

  • With hundreds of FDA inspectors also idled, inspections of about 80 percent of the food supply have also sharply declined, as The Washington Post broke on Wednesday evening. “That puts our food supply at risk,” a regulatory expert at the Center for Science in the Public Interest. told The Post. “Regular inspections, which help stop foodborne illness before people get sick, are vital.”

  • The new chair of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, Frank Pallone (D-N.J.), told radio host Brian Lehrer that he won’t stop committee members from taking contributions by fossil fuel firms or other industries, despite the committee’s power over energy and climate policies.

  • Pallone took in $178,000 from energy and natural resource interests in the 2017-18 election cycle, according to Sludge.

better: federal court denies Trump administration’s move to delay children’s climate suit

  • A three-judge panel of the Ninth Circuit Court on Monday told the Trump administration that it has until Feb. 1 to file an opening brief in its appeal of the Juliana v. United States lawsuit.

  • The Trump administration argued for extending the deadline, citing the government shutdown as the reason.

  • A group of 21 children and youths brought the lawsuit in 2015.

  • They contend that the federal government has violated their Constitutional rights to life, liberty, and property by continuing to promote the burning of fossil fuels for energy, which is worsening the effects of climate change.

  • A win for the government on this appeal would narrow the legal arguments available to the plaintiffs.

  • Read more:

good: Supreme Court denies Exxon’s appeal in climate fraud investigation

  • In April, the highest court in Massachusetts told Exxon to hand over company records on what it knew about the link between burning fossil fuels and climate change, and when it knew it, to the state’s attorney general.

  • In September, Exxon appealed the ruling to the Supreme Court.

  • The carbon major argued that because Exxon isn’t headquartered in her state, Mass. A.G. Healey didn’t have the legal authority to subpoena the records.

  • On Monday the Supreme Court declined to hear the appeal, which lets the lower court ruling stand.

  • Since 2016, Massachusetts has been investigating whether Exxon spent decades misleading investors and consumers on the link between burning fossil fuels and climate change.

  • If history is a guide, Exxon will look for other ways to delay producing the records.

  • Read more:

great: one of the world’s most endangered whale species greets a newborn

(de)regulation nation: a message from 1968

"To see the earth as it truly is, small and blue and beautiful in that eternal silence where it floats, is to see ourselves as riders on the earth together..."

Apollo 8 astronaut Bill Anders created this, the first color photo of the Earth ever made from space by a human being, on Dec. 24, 1968.

“For the first time in all of time men have seen it not as continents or oceans from the little distance of a hundred miles or two or three, but seen it from the depth of space; seen it whole and round and beautiful and small,” wrote poet Archibald MacLeish the day Anders made this photo. “What came to their minds a hundred thousand miles and more into space – ‘half way to the moon’ they put it – what came to their minds was the life on that little, lonely, floating planet; that tiny raft in the enormous, empty night."

For most of my lifetime (I was four when Apollo 8 flew), Earthrise has been credited with revolutionizing humanity’s perception of our home planet as fragile and rare. Fifty years later some of us are still wrecking the place, even though the science done over those decades has shown that both are true. One reason I’ve founded (de)regulation nation is to figure out how to connect readers (or viewers or listeners…) as well and as usefully as possible with these facts and their ramifications, and amplify whether those we entrust to respond effectively, in the public interest, are or aren’t live up to their responsibilities.

I hope that reading (de)regulation nation’s balance of bad-better-good-great news over the past year has helped you get to the end of 2018 better informed, at least somewhat hopeful, and curious about what’s next.

See you next year!


Thanks for reading (de)regulation nation, a production of Brooklyn Radio Telegraph LLC.

This newsletter is written by me, Emily J Gertz. I’m an environmental journalist. Learn more about me and see some of my work at my web site.

This week’s quote is by Archibald MacLeish, from his essay “Riders on Earth Together, Brothers in Eternal Cold,” published in The New York Times on Dec. 25, 1968.

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(de)regulation nation: a federal court speaks for the trees

“Unless someone like you cares a whole awful lot, nothing is going to get better. It's not.”

Welcome to (de)regulation nation, the newsletter tracking environmental news in the Trump era.

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Readers have told me that they would like some practical tips on how to solve environmental problems.

But I don’t endorse the “50 simple things you can do to save the Earth” mode of solving environmental problems. Systemic problems won’t be solved by random acts of goodwill by scattered individuals etc etc. Claiming otherwise, against the evidence, tends to guilt trip people into passivity or despair, in my experience.

Still, I empathize with the request. It can become disheartening to go about our highly consumption-driven daily lives as usual, while knowing what the science tells us about resource depletion, climate change, toxic pollution, and biodiversity loss. And truth to tell, I do do a few little things to try and live lighter on a stressed-out planet. Among them:

  • I knit some of my own clothes. It slows down my acquisitive impulses, and as a bonus, is scientifically proven to reduce free-floating anxiety.

  • I also buy used clothing rather than new when possible, since new clothing is a huge source of toxic pollution and water use. Often I turn to eBay as a good source of used or after-market clothes in excellent condition.

If this gives you your own ideas for how to rationalize the contradictions of daily life, I’d love to hear them!


bad: Interior’s pro-industry bias endures despite ouster of its’ ethics-challenged chief

  • ICYMI: Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke resigned last week.

  • The White House had been after him for weeks to jump ship.

  • The reason? Interior’s ethics watchdog referred its investigation of Zinke’s “use of taxpayer resources to advance land developments” in a Montana real estate deal, one that would enrich himself and his wife directly, to the Justice Department for criminal investigation.

  • Along with ethics lapses rivaling those of former EPA administrator Scott Pruitt, Zinke leaves behind the biggest reduction in national monuments boundaries in American history, surging oil and gas development across 17 million acres of public land, reduced agency funding, and overworked and demoralized career staff.

  • Deputy Interior Secretary David Bernhardt, a former oil lobbyist, is now acting chief of the agency.

  • D.C. insiders expect him to maintain Zinke’s pro-industry priorities, while avoiding his former boss’s grandstanding and ethics missteps.

  • According to a lawsuit filed by the environmental group Western Values Project, “many of the deputy secretary’s former clients began receiving sudden and dramatic windfalls only months after his swearing in.”

  • Bernhardt is also leading the agency’s attempt to weaken the Endangered Species Act.

  • Read more about David Bernhardt in Bloomberg.

  • InsideClimate News describes Bernhardt as “the former fossil fuel lobbyist running Trump’s Interior Dept. behind the scenes.

  • The Washington Post reports that Bernhardt “walked into the No. 2 job at Interior with so many potential conflicts of interest he has to carry a small card listing them all.”

  • Read more about the criminal investigation of Zinke's land deal in HuffPost.

  • Zinke is taking his legal problems back to Montana with him, according to The New York Times.

also bad: The oil industry ran a stealth campaign to get rollbacks in car fuel efficiency standards, and succeeded. Read Hiroko Tabuchi’s groundbreaking investigation into the dark money driving Trump energy policies, in The New York Times.

better, sort of: Exxon is asking the Trump administration to regulate methane from gas and oil operations

  • The world’s biggest publicly held petrocorporation has sent a letter to the EPA, asking the agency to regulate methane emissions from oil and gas wells.

  • EPA has been working to roll back Obama-era rules that would force operators to sharply cut their methane spew, which contributes to climate change and can sicken nearby humans and wildlife.

  • Exxon’s request to EPA probably has a lot to do with enlightened self-interest:

    • Since smaller companies would likely find it harder to meet strong regulations than industry-dominant Exxon, sharp methane curbs could thin out the petro-giant’s competition.

    • Exxon also faces growing shareholder discontent over its slow reactions (or outright inaction) on climate change. According to As You Sow, a nonprofit that promotes shareholder activism on climate, Exxon’s ask to EPA “came two weeks after the company received a letter sent on behalf of 61 investors representing $1.9 trillion in assets under management [requesting that] ExxonMobil follow through on its commitment to advocate for sound methane policy.”

  • However its come about, slashing emissions of methane, a powerful heat-trapping gas, would be very good for the climate, human and environmental health.

  • Read more about Exxon’s request to EPA in Axios.

  • Read more about the shareholder activism on methane rules, as well as the letter sent to Exxon and dozens of other energy firms, at the Interfaith Center on Corporate Responsibility.

good from a certain point of view: Trump administration defends Obama-era ozone standard in court

  • The EPA this week defended a 2015 air quality regulation in federal court.

  • The Obama-era rule, the first revision to the ground-level ozone air quality standard since 2008, lowered the allowable level from 75 to 70 parts per billion.

  • But several Republican-led states as well as industry groups sued to block the change, and for the past year the Trump EPA seemed to be moving towards trying to roll it back. Environmental and public health advocates also sued, saying the rule wasn’t strong enough.

  • But government lawyers argued for the 2015 rule during a federal appeals court hearing in Washington, D.C.

  • Confusingly, ground-level ozone isn’t the same thing as the upper-atmospheric ozone layer that protects life on earth from solar UV radiation. It’s a mix of gases and tiny, tiny particles of burnt matter, created by burning fossil fuels. High levels of ground-level ozone are a leading cause of respiratory ailments like asthma, as well as heart disease.

  • At the hearing on Dec. 18, the three-judge panel seemed skeptical of industry’s arguments that EPA had not followed the law in setting the 70 ppb standard.

  • As for the greens’ case, one judge dug into “why the EPA didn’t follow some advice of its panel of external advisers” to set the level even lower with the Justice Dept. attorney representing EPA.

  • Read more about EPA’s day in court in The Hill.

  • E&E News also has a good write-up of the hearing.

  • The enviro-law nerds among us will enjoy this dense but informative take from last year on EPA’s legal moves in the case, in Lexology.

great: Quoting “The Lorax,” federal court blocks Atlantic Coast Pipeline’s planned route across a national forest in Virginia

  • The construction permit approved by the Trump administration would have allowed the 604-mile-long, $7 billion proposed underground pipeline to cross 21 miles of national forest, including a section of the Appalachian Trail.

  • But the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit in Richmond found that the U.S. Forest Service (part of the Department of Agriculture) “ignored federal law and its own agency rules in granting the permit, which will clear a 125[-square-mile] swath of habitat during construction and leave a 50-foot-wide lane in perpetuity for maintenance.”

  • The court’s ruling quoted a famous line from Dr. Seuss’ ecological fable, “The Lorax”:

We trust the United States Forest Service to ‘speak for the trees, for the trees have no tongues.’ A thorough review of the record leads to the necessary conclusion that the Forest Service abdicated its responsibility to preserve national forest resources. This conclusion is particularly informed by the Forest Service’s serious environmental concerns that were suddenly, and mysteriously, assuaged in time to meet a private pipeline company’s deadlines.

Thanks for reading (de)regulation nation, a production of Brooklyn Radio Telegraph LLC.

This newsletter is written by me, Emily J Gertz. I’m an environmental journalist. Learn more about me and see some of my work at my web site.

This week’s quote is from “The Lorax,” natch.

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(de)regulation nation: two weeks of better, good, and great news edition

“So I will not beg the world leaders to care for our future. I will instead let them know change is coming, whether they like it or not."

Welcome to (de)regulation nation, the newsletter tracking environmental news in the Trump era.

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As promised, here’s the upbeat companion to Wednesdays “all bad news” edition of (de)regulation nation. If you know of any stories that I’ve missed, please point me at ‘em in the comments, or email me at

Next week I’ll return to the regular format.

Onward with the better, good, and great news.

Poland calling:

  • At the international climate conference in Poland, the Trump administration has tried to obstruct constructive discussions and commitments. But a host of blue-chip corporations are talking strong climate action, including American firms Microsoft and Bank of America Merrill Lynch. They’ve been joined by the C40 alliance of American mayors, a group that has helped push cities into the forefront of U.S. climate action. "Forward-thinking companies are forging ahead on electric vehicles to demonstrate leadership, reduce their emissions and ready their business operations for a low-carbon economy," said a spokeswoman for a business climate group. "Despite uncertain times internationally the economic opportunities are vast, and business is simply getting on with it.” Read more in Greenbiz.

  • According to a report released at the Poland talks this week, over 1,000 groups representing almost $8 trillion worth of investment funds have divested from fossil fuels. The movement may now be the largest divestment campaign in history. Read more in Earther.

Back in Trump’s backyard…

  • The $867 billion Farm Bill has emerged from both the House and Senate with never-before-seen emphasis on projects to reduce food waste nationally. Decomposing food piles up in landfills, becoming a major source of climate-heating carbon pollution that could be diverted to biogas-powered energy or composting. The bill also funds the Department of Agriculture to “conduct a study on food waste that looks at measurement methodologies, contributing factors, financial costs, the effectiveness of current donation liability protections and other relevant areas.” Read more in WasteDive.

  • Although President Trump has threatened to trash tax incentives for consumers purchasing electric cars, his “incendiary rhetoric and fossil-fuel-friendly policies have failed to even slow down America’s transition to a clean-energy economy,” writes Michael Grunwald in Politico. There’s a long way to go in freeing the nation’s auto fleet from dependence on gasoline. But with the House transitioning to Democratic control next year, and support for the progressive wing’s “Green New Deal” increasing, it’s unlikely Congress will be eliminating the EV tax credit.

  • Dozens of Congressional Democrats this week signed a letter to President Trump stating their worry that “time is running out for the United States” to act effectively on curbing the worst of climate change. The missive sets the stage for ramping up climate policy moves in the House next year. Read the letter.

  • Between the recent, deadly, and devastating California wildfires and the new group of progressive Democrats in the House, climate change could emerge as the “sleeper issue of the new political cycle,” according to an opinion writer at The Wall Street Journal. There’s something snarky to be said here about how much death and destruction it’s taken for the WSJ’s op-ed page to begin reversing its longtime climate denial.

Meanwhile, in the laboratories of democracy:

  • New York State’s Public Utility Commission has voted to implement the country’s most ambitious energy storage target: 1,500 megawatts by 2025 and 3,000 by 2030. It also more than doubled energy efficiency targets for investor-owned utilities. Increasing the amount of energy that utilities can store (via batteries or other methods) is crucial to reducing the state’s carbon pollution, by winding down the state grid’s dependence on coal-fired power plants. Read more in UtilityDive.

  • A federal judge upheld Washington State’s denial of a key permit for construction of a coal export terminal. If built as planned, it would be the largest coal export dock on the West Coast, the point of departure for 44 million tons of Rocky Mountain coal to Asian markets. Read more in the Longview Daily News.

  • Around a dozen companies have so far pledged $285 million for three leases off the coast of Massachusetts. It’s far and away the most ever bid for offshore wind rights in the United States, and the auction hasn’t even ended yet. Read more in Bloomberg.

  • A public meeting regarding permits for a proposed plastics factory in Louisiana became “a referendum on environmental racism.” Residents of St. James Parrish, which is majority African-American, and environmentalists voiced opposition to the project for over three hours before representatives of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, as well as Louisiana environmental and natural resources officials. “Sharon Lavigne, a St. James resident and director of RISE St. James, a recently formed community organization, pointed out that the promised improvements to neighborhood parks and schools are of little use when nearby industrial pollution already threatens community members’ lives.” Read more at DeSmogBlog.

  • In South Dakota, energy regulators approved a plan for a 61-turbine, 220-megawatt wind farm in Bon Homme, Charles Mix and Hutchinson Counties. Commissioners sought to balance the needs of wind supporters with those of residents who don’t want to live near the wind farms by creating noise level restrictions and other conditions. Read more in The Daily Republic.

  • A major American utility has announced plans to cut its carbon emissions 80 percent by 2030, and to zero them out entirely by 2050. Xcel Energy’s goal is an industry first, and will touch power supplies across eight states. ““This risk of climate change isn’t going away and we want to be the company that does something about it and hopefully inspire others to do something about it too,” Xcel’s CEO told reporters. Read more in the (journalist-owned, reader-supported) Colorado Sun.

  • Clean-energy jobs now outnumber fossil fuel jobs across much of the rural Midwest. A new report from the Natural Resources Defense Council found that there 158,000 jobs and growing in wind and solar across 12 mid-America states 2017, with renewable work outpacing fossil fuels in all but two: Kansas and North Dakota. Read more in InsideClimate News.

Thanks for reading (de)regulation nation, a production of Brooklyn Radio Telegraph LLC.

This newsletter is written by me, Emily J Gertz. I’m an environmental journalist. Learn more about me and see some of my work at my web site.

This week’s quote is by Greta Thunberg, the Swedish teen climate activist who has inspired tens of thousands of young people worldwide to take political aim at foot-dragging politicians. Read more about her truth-to-power speech at the Poland climate talks this week in The Hill, and check out this brief profile of Thunberg in The New Yorker.

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(de)regulation nation: two weeks of rollbacks and denial

"Depending on how you look at things, a coal-stuffed climate summit is either completely absurd—'beyond parody,' as one commentator put it—or merely appropriate."

Welcome to (de)regulation nation, the newsletter tracking environmental news in the Trump era.

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If you like this newsletter, please forward it to a friend. If you got it from a friend, please sign up at

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Even by the standards of the Trump administration, it’s been a remarkable two weeks for environmental politics and policy. So in today’s newsletter, I’ll round up the bad environmental news that’s come out since Thanksgiving.

Stay tuned, though! On Friday, we’ll come out the other side with as much upbeat news as I can pack in to a single edition.

Onward with the bad news:

  • The Trump administration tried to bury the peer-reviewed National Climate Assessment by releasing it on “Black Friday,” the day after Thanksgiving. Read more at The New York Times.

  • When news outlets nationwide covered the report’s red-alert conclusions anyway, Trump and his cabinet instead assaulted the messengers. Trump “flatly rejected [the report’s] central finding that global warming is causing ongoing and lasting economic damage. ‘I don’t believe it,’ he said.” But the report could be helpful in the growing list of lawsuits fighting rollbacks of Obama-era policies to reduce greenhouse gas pollution. Read more at InsideClimate News.

  • Then, at the G20 summit in Argentina, Trump refused to sign on to a joint statement vowing to fight climate change. The 19 other world leaders present took the pledge. Read more in Axios.

  • Emails obtained by Sierra Club and shared with reporters revealed that President Trump’s favorite morning show, “Fox & Friends,” let former EPA chief Scott Pruitt’s staff pick and choose topics for interviews, and review questions in advance. Read more in The Daily Beast.

  • Meanwhile, Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke called Rep. Raul Grijalva (D-Ariz.) a drunk, after the lawmaker called for Zinke to resign over his own list of ethics inquiries. Grijalva will chair the House Natural Resources Committee next year, and says he intends to increase Congressional oversight of Interior. Read more in Politico.

  • U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo announced the Trump administration will begin the formal process to pull out of the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty (the INF Treaty) with Russia, unless Russia proves by mid-winter that it has returned to compliance with the pact. Russia is widely regarded to have violated the treaty’s mandate against arming with ground-based intermediate-range nuclear missiles, but a U.S. withdrawal from the agreement could trigger a new bilateral arms race. Read more in The New York Times.

  • Trump wants to take America’s clean water rules back to the 1980s. The EPA has proposed to gut water protections for thousands of streams and millions of acres of wetlands, claiming the move will help streamline regulations for farmers and developers. The current “Waters of the U.S.” rule was backed by hundreds of peer-reviewed studies. “They’re trying to sidestep the science,” a former EPA water expert told a reporter. “The science is pretty clear that whatever happens at the top of the watershed affects the bottom of the watershed.” Read more in The Guardian.

  • The Bureau of Land Management announced plans to rewrite a 2015 federal blueprint (laboriously negotiated with states and other stakeholders by the Obama administration) for saving the sage grouse. The imperiled Western bird’s habitat happens to overlap with millions of acres that the Trump administration wants to lease for oil and gas drilling. Read more in High Country News.

  • The Trump administration also authorized seismic testing for gas and oil deposits off the Atlantic coast, including in areas on the migration route of critically endangered North-Atlantic right whales. Seismic testing involves setting off airguns underwater to bounce sound waves off the sea floor, sort of an ultrasound test to detect buried oil and gas. “From zooplankton all the way up to the largest right whales, including sea turtles and important fisheries,” the seismic blasts affect the entire marine food chain, an environmentalist told a reporter. Industry proponents disagree. Read more at WLRN Miami|South Florida.

  • The EPA wants to roll back Obama-era pollution caps on new coal plants, called “New Source Performance Standards.” The Trump administration’s replacement plan would increase the amount of carbon dioxide a newly built plant could pump out by over 30 percent, from 1,400 pounds per megawatt-hour to 1,900 pounds. The regressive move may have little practical impact, though, as market forces make construction of new coal-fired power plants in the U.S. very unlikely. Read more in Utility Dive.

  • Meanwhile, at the annual international climate conference (being held this year in pro-coal Poland), the United States joined with Russia, Saudi Arabia, and Kuwait to try and water down the gathering’s recognition of a recent United Nations climate science assessment, which forecasts catastrophic consequences if the world doesn’t zero out carbon emissions within 20 to 30 years. Watch more at

Okay, it’s over. See you on Friday with a compilation of the past two weeks in better, good, and great developments.

Thanks for reading (de)regulation nation, a production of Brooklyn Radio Telegraph LLC.

This newsletter is written by me, Emily J Gertz. I’m an environmental journalist. Learn more about me and see some of my work at my web site.

If you’ve received (de)regulation nation from a friend and like it, please subscribe.

Subscribe now

This week’s quote is by Elizabeth Kolbert, from her latest comment on the international climate talks in The New Yorker.

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