'Smoking is good for you' and other deadly lies

Imagine you knew nothing about climate change and wanted to learn the basics. What would you do? Many people would search the internet. When I google "climate change," the first page of results includes the NASA and EPA websites on climate change. Exploring the EPA website, I quickly found A Student's Guide to Global Climate Change where I read the following:

"The Earth is getting warmer because people are adding heat-trapping gases to the atmosphere, mainly by burning fossil fuels. These gases are called greenhouse gases. Warmer temperatures are causing other changes around the world, such as melting glaciers and stronger storms. These changes are happening because the Earth's air, water, and land are all linked to the climate. The Earth's climate has changed before, but this time is different. People are causing these changes, which are bigger and happening faster than any climate changes that modern society has ever seen before." [emphasis added]

On the same website there is a simple animation showing how human-produced carbon dioxide is contributing to global warming. EPA administrator Scott Pruitt should check out his own agency's website. He might learn a thing or two before hitting the delete key.


Pruitt -- and the rest of the GOP climate change deniers -- are not cautiously skeptical of climate science, as they would have you believe. They are willfully ignorant of it. In the most egregious and deadly case of privatized profits and socialized costs since Big Tobacco, Pruitt and Company are handing the fossil fuel and car industries billions of dollars in profits at the expense of our children's lives.

Climate change is already affecting the health of children around the world: increased morbidity and mortality from extreme weather events, new exposures to vector-borne infectious diseases such as malaria, food insecurity as a result of crop failure, increased morbidity and mortality from allergic and respiratory disease as air pollution increases and warm seasons lengthen, mental health impacts of increased migration and social strife due to climate change.

Big Tobacco has taught us that corporations -- and their shareholders -- are willing to lie and cheat their way to bigger profits, even if it means their customers are getting sick and dying from using their product. Big Tobacco lied about the health impacts and addictiveness of cigarettes. They aggressively marketed (and continue to market) to youths to get them hooked on tobacco. They manipulate their product to maximize addictiveness. And they spend millions of dollars lobbying to keep the rules in their favor.

Meanwhile, 480,000 Americans die each year (1,300 per day) of tobacco-related causes and we spend $170 billion annually in tobacco-related health care costs and lose $156 billion in lost productivity due to illness and premature death. This is after decades of work by scientists, physicians, and public health advocates fighting Big Tobacco and making significant progress to expose their lies.

Big Oil is Big Tobacco's protégé. Aided by mouthpieces and enablers like Pruitt and Company, Big Oil is peddling lies about greenhouse gases and climate change. They are spending millions on lobbying for favorable rules and subsidies. They are making huge profits while making us sick.

But, whereas tobacco has the power to sicken individuals and families, fossil fuels -- and the global warming they cause -- are sickening whole populations and our planet.

So when Pruitt says, "there's tremendous disagreement about the degree of impact [of carbon dioxide], so no, I would not agree that it's a primary contributor to the global warming that we see," what he really means is, "my fossil fuel buddies' billions in profits disagree with overwhelming scientific evidence that we are causing climate change."

His willful ignorance is killing us.

Pruitt to head the EPA

If Republicans, minus Susan Collins, R-ME but with the help of Joe Manchin III, D-WV and Heidi Heitkamp, D-ND (both coal states), and newly-minted EPA head Pruitt get their way -- rolling back the Clean Power Program, relaxing CAFE standards, expanding coal and oil extraction -- tens of thousands more American children will have preventable asthma attacks, causing them suffering (and in some cases death), and costing the American public tremendous health care expenses. And that is just the beginning. #MoralBankruptcy

Catching Up -- Lightning Round

Executive Orders

1. January 23 -- Reinstating the global gag rule (restricting international funding for organizations that provide abortions or information about abortion). Bad for the health, independence, and self-determination of women around the world.

2. January 23 -- Freezing the federal workforce (hiring freeze). Hard to see how the federal government can do all that it does effectively if it cannot hire people to do the work. Of course, dysfunction may be the goal. There is an exception for positions related to military, national security, and public safety. Some of our biggest and/or notable public safety threats are climate change, drinking water contamination (Flint, MI and other cities), and guns. So, naturally, I expect the hiring freeze does not apply to the EPA, NOAA, OSHA, HUD, USDA, HHS. And there will be new hires at the CDC to research gun violence.

3. January 24 -- Expediting environmental reviews on infrastructure projects. The opposite of a health-in-all-policies or kids-in-all-policies approach. Profit for crony capitalists now; environmental cleanup ... someday.

4. January 25-27 -- (1) The wall, (2) Pursuit of undocumented immigrants (includes defunding so-called sanctuary cities), (3) Visa and refugee program reforms (includes so-called Muslim ban). These actions hurt immigrant and refugee children and their families. They are unnecessary for increasing our security and improving our economy. They will instead worsen our security and decrease our economic growth potential. Children don't migrate, they flee. Here is an excellent article on the harms to children of Trump's immigration ban.

5. January 27 -- Strengthening the military. Already more than half of our discretionary spending goes to the military. Imagine if we spent just some of that money on foreign aid, education for women and girls around the world, climate change research, global renewable energy infrastructure, and diplomatic missions. If we did that, I think our need for military defense would be much less. And the world would be better off to boot.

6. January 30 -- Reducing regulation. An arbitrary mandate that for each new regulation, two are struck. This is premised the false notion that regulations, by definition, are bad. Robert Reich makes excellent arguments that refute this idea in his book, Saving Capitalism: For the Many, Not the Few and in abbreviated form in this blog post. Regulations are instrumental to a functioning democratic capitalist society. Regulations protect us from corporate abuses that privatize profits and socialize costs (see #7 below). Regulations protect our life savings, keep our food supply safe, and decrease water and air pollution. This is not to say that regulations should not be reviewed, or that some may be outdated or ill-conceived. But they are not inherently bad.

7. February 3 -- Financial system regulations and the fiduciary standard. This is likely to relax regulations that were put in place during the Great Recession to prevent future financial calamities. Steve Mnuchin, the new treasury secretary, profited from the housing bust. Imagine who might gain from the next preventable financial collapse?

 

Congress

January 13 -- Budget Resolution clearing the way to repeal the ACA. Since this passed, Republicans in Congress seem to be having difficulty replacing the ACA. That's because it is a good policy that helps millions of Americans.

January 24 (House) -- Permanent ban on the use of federal funds for abortions or health insurance that covers abortions. This will make health care less affordable and reproductive health care less attainable. Each year, hundreds of thousands of women make the heart-rending decision to have an abortion. That number is declining, probably due to increased access to contraception through the ACA. Instead of restricting access to legal abortion we should expand access to contraception and comprehensive sex education. When unintended pregnancies are carried to term, we should support moms and families with the social safety nets they need to thrive.

February 2 -- Repeal of the stream protection rule. Makes it easier to mine coal and pollute ground and surface water. No explanation needed here, except to say: If we want to decrease the impact of global warming, instead of burning more coal, we need to sprint in the opposite direction and invest heavily in renewable sources of energy. We cannot continue to support an industry that is contributing to our planet's demise. Clean coal isn't.

February 3 (House) -- Repeal of rule that addresses waste generated during oil and gas production. See above. Once again privatizing profit and socializing costs, spoiling our planet.

February 7 (Senate) -- Approval of nomination of Betsy DeVos to be Education Secretary. Belief in the value of public education is a prerequisite for this post. Fifty Republican Senators and VP Mike Pence thought otherwise. Of note, DeVos had donated $26,000 to Republicans on the Senate HELP committee from 2014 to 2015.

February 8 (Senate) -- Approval of nomination of Jeff Sessions to be Attorney General. The nation's top law enforcement official is now someone who has a sketchy history of racism, is a hardliner on immigration, and is a climate-science skeptic. He is also so close to President Trump that his independence cannot be trusted.

February 10 (Senate) -- Approval of nomination of Tom Price to be Secretary of HHS. A list of Price's qualifications to be HHS Secretary: he is a physician. All indications are that Price will be an instrument of destruction on the ACA and Medicaid, harming low-income children and children with special health care needs.

February 13 (Senate) -- Approval of nomination of David Shulkin to be Secretary of the VA. Shulkin is highly qualified for the job. The VA has very little impact on children. However, children of vets will benefit if and when their parents get improved access to mental and physical health care.

Advancing the Keystone XL and Dakota Access Pipelines

The Keystone XL and Dakota Access pipelines were both halted by the Obama administration but were given new life by President Trump this week. These pipelines would promote the extraction of oil from Canadian oil sands and the Bakken Shale in North Dakota. Moving oil by pipeline is probably safer than moving it by rail, but an even safer option is not to move oil at all and instead leave it in the ground. By further developing fossil fuel resources, rather than promoting energy conservation and development of alternative energy resources (e.g. wind and solar), we are moving in the wrong direction on climate change. Coming on the heels of the warmest year on record, Trump's actions demonstrate a stark disregard for the health of our planet and our children in favor of corporate profits.

Welcome to Kids In All Policies

Welcome to my nascent website/blog! My goal with this website is to lead conversations about the well-being of children in public policy decisions. I have been thinking about doing this kind of thing for some time, but now feel spurred to action by the Trump administration's early and aggressive assault on our children's future, starting with climate change denial and repeal of the Affordable Care Act.

I will attempt to document most policy actions and my immediate impressions of their impact on children in real-time (i.e. within a week) as I truly believe that virtually every action affects kids. I also want to keep a record - for me, and for the world - of everything President Trump and the Congress do to harm children to serve as a guide for rapid reversal of those policies when Trump is no longer in office. Meanwhile, with any luck, by increasing scrutiny on the administration and Congress, we can decrease the harm that is done and maybe even do some good. As I have time, I will circle back to policy issues with more in-depth thought and analysis.

A disclaimer: I am a fairly well-informed citizen and pediatrician with public health training. I am not a policy expert and I certainly have areas of strength (health policy) and areas of weakness (international trade, for example). I will be reading and listening and learning as I go. Finally, all content and opinions on this website are my own, unless otherwise cited.

Thank you for reading this blog. I welcome polite comments, discussion, and suggestions.

Peter