Editorial: As leaders fail, environmental threats grow graver


Columbus Dispatch



Recent news at both state and global levels highlights the cost that human industry has imposed on the environment and just how difficult it is to slow, let alone reverse the damage. The problem seems to be that too many people either don’t understand, don’t care or don’t believe the threats faced by this planet and its people.

A traditional divide — between liberals more concerned about environmental protection and conservatives more concerned about property rights and supporting businesses — has widened into a gulf.

When Americans in the 1950s and 1960s looked around and saw how polluted the air, water and land had become, protecting the environment seemed a common-sense apolitical endeavor. The next decades brought bipartisan triumphs including the Clean Air Act, Clean Water Act, Endangered Species Act and creation of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

Land developers and polluting industries may not have welcomed restrictions that cost them money, but Americans in

How did protecting the environment become such a partisan issue? How did we arrive at a point where many on the right are willing to dismiss the warnings of scientists as part of a dishonest political scheme?

In Ohio, scientists know that much of western Lake Erie turns green from algae pollution in the summer because of excess phosphorus and that more than 85% of that phosphorus is washed into the lake from farm fields. Yet, after many years of study and talk, Ohio has almost no regulations requiring farmers to limit phosphorus runoff from their fields.

Unsurprisingly, the state isn’t on track to reach its goal, declared in 2015, of a 40% reduction in the amount of phosphorus flowing into the lake each year by 2025. For that to happen, a new study shows, 80% of Ohio farmers would have to adopt multiple strategies such as injecting fertilizer into the ground (instead of spreading it on the surface) and planting buffer strips to filter runoff.

So far in most cases, Ohio lawmakers have created only voluntary guidelines for farmers, and no one is sure how many have adopted best practices. The phosphorus load isn’t decreasing by much.

The 2014 algae bloom wasn’t the worst ever, but that year some formed directly over the Maumee Bay intake valve for the city of Toledo’s water plant, leaving city taps dry for three days. It made national news and people were shocked, but it did not lead to significantly strengthened oversight.

Solutions exist, but they’re inconceivable to many people — especially in the U.S., where lifestyles would have to change the most: eating a lot less meat, driving a lot less and replacing all coal-fired power plants with renewables, for a start.

Not that the U.S. is the only nation foot-dragging on carbon reduction. According to the IPCC report, only 1 in 4 of the nations represented has pledged to reduce emissions by 2030 enough to get the job done.

China and India, the world’s highest and fourth-highest emitters, actually are on track to increase emissions by 2030, and 250 coal-fired power plants are under construction around the world.

The U.S. historically has been a leader in environmental protection, but President Donald Trump’s declared intent to withdraw the U.S. from the Paris Agreement and his relentless drive to dismantle environmental protection is a shameful abdication of that leadership.

Instead of leading the rest of the world toward solutions, Trump’s policy puts the world in greater danger because putting off the necessary change makes the ultimate impact much worse.

While Sen. Rob Portman has been a reliable supporter of important conservation funding programs such as the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative and the Land and Water Conservation Fund, he voted to confirm the parade of climate-change deniers and fossil-fuel beneficiaries Trump put forward for important posts, including Scott Pruitt to head the U.S. EPA and Andrew Wheeler as deputy EPA chief.

Ohio and the world face urgent threats from climate change and environmental degradation. The danger is greater because too many politicians, especially Republicans, refuse to acknowledge the perils, and Trump’s contempt for science and regulation has made the danger far greater. We need leaders who will reject ignorance and stand up for the future.

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