It’s Thanksgiving weekend, 2020 style! I hope you didn’t get stuck with an entire boatload of Brussels sprouts all to yourself, while your brother and sister-in-law now have to figure out what to do with twelve pounds of uneaten turkey. (As happened with some friends who called their family gathering off rather late in the game.)
Meanwhile Citizen Deb herself (moi) has been trying to decide what to write about . . .
Should I do a special holiday-weekend romp about the Pilgrims and the “Indians”?
Do I create a QUIZ to test your knowledge on Trump’s myriad environmental rollbacks over the last four years?
OR do I just pour myself a large glass of wine and eat some leftovers?
Well, obviously the answer is all three.
See, as I mentioned in my last post, I’ve been listening to an audio book of Washington Irving’s seriously funny History of New York from the Beginning of the World to the End of the Dutch Dynasty by Deidrich Knickerbocker — which Irving wrote in 1809. I mean, anything that starts at the beginning of the world has Citizen Deb written all over it. (It also happens to be how my own book-in-progress starts.)
But then I was looking over all the envirollbacks [sic] that Biden is going to have to try to unroll come January 20th. Or maybe it’ll be the job of John Kerry, the just-appointed “Climate Envoy” — Biden’s newly created cabinet-level position.
What?? Yeah, baby!!! That’s what I’m talkin’ about!
Actually, Kerry’s job probably won’t involve EPA rollbacks, since the EPA (at least under the outgoing administration) doesn’t recognize the climate crisis or carbon emissions as part of their wheelhouse of protecting American citizens. The last four years they’ve been focusing more on protecting corporate billionaires’ profit margins, which meant a lot of undoing of regulations.
King Trump himself did (sort of) recognize climate change when he signed an Executive Order (EO) revoking Obama’s EO that set a goal of lowering the federal government’s greenhouse gas emissions by 40 percent over 10 years. Even though it’s just a “goal,” King Trump didn’t think we needed that one . . . perhaps because his very good brain doesn’t comprehend “future”? I don’t know.
Each rollback is pretty bad. Like the one that loosened the offshore drilling safety regulations that Obama implemented after the 2010 Deepwater Horizon explosion and oil spill. Whatever. I’m sure the honor system is fine.
But it’s when you read them all in a row that you think, “Why??? Why did they want to bring back over 100 practices that are clearly terrible for people?” Or perhaps you think, “Exactly how evil is this guy and his cronies?” Or is it that he and his cronies have some misconstrued view of the world and its inhabitants?
After all, we’ve had misconstrued views of folks since the Mayflower landed at Plymouth Rock in 1620, and the Pilgrims didn’t know what to make of the unexpected brown people peeping at them from behind the trees.
It’s old news that Europeans pushed the natives into practical extinction throughout the Americas. Even 200 years ago, the young Washington Irving was pointing it out, by creating a brilliant satirical defense from his fictional “author” Diedrich Knickerbocker, who dutifully rationalizes the colonial genocide. (I especially like when he compares our invasion of the natives’ America with the Moon’s inhabitants’ invasion of ours — so hang tight for that.)
In his so-called History of New York, “Knickerbocker” begins his defense with a question:
“What right had the first discoverers of America to land and take possession of a country without first gaining the consent of its inhabitants, or yielding them an adequate compensation for their territory?
“[This is] a question which has . . . given much distress of mind to multitudes of kind-hearted folk. And . . . until it be put to rest, the worthy people of America can by no means enjoy the soil they inhabit with clear right and title, and quiet, unsullied conscience.”
Speaking of questions, let’s start our ROLLBACK QUIZ. I’ll begin with an easy one, on Air Pollution and Emissions rollbacks:
- Which of the following have been carried out by Trump’s Environmental Protection Agency?
- Weakening Obama-era fuel economy and greenhouse gas standards for passenger cars and light trucks.
- Revoking California’s ability to set stricter tailpipe emissions standards than the federal government.
- Withdrawing the legal justification for an Obama-era rule that limited mercury emissions from coal power plants.
- All of the above.
That’s correct! (I’m assuming you said all of the above.)
Back to the audio book, where the fictitious Knickerbocker begins to enlighten us on the colonists’ rights to claim possession of the land from the natives:
“The first source of right by which property is acquired in a country is discovery. For as all mankind have an equal right to anything which has never before been appropriated, so any nation that discovers an uninhabited country . . . is considered as enjoying full property, and absolute, unquestionable empire therein.”
- Ooh, there’s a ROLLBACK for appropriation of property. Can you guess which of the following it is?
- One that allows upwind states to contribute more ozone pollution to downwind states.
- One that opens up part of Alaska’s Arctic National Wildlife Refuge for oil and gas development (overturning six decades of protections for the largest remaining stretch of wilderness in the United States).
- One that approved construction of the Dakota Access pipeline less than a mile from the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation.
- All of the above.
If you said “All of the above,” you are correct!
Knickerbocker continues his defense:
“It follows clearly that the Europeans who first visited America were the real discoverers of the same; nothing being necessary to the establishment of this fact but simply to prove that it was totally uninhabited by man.
“This would at first appear to be a point of some difficulty, for it is well known that this quarter of the world abounded with certain animals that walked erect on two feet, had something of the human countenance, uttered certain unintelligible sounds, very much like language; in short, had a marvelous resemblance to human beings.”
- QUIZ TIME! Which of these animal protections (for actual animals) have been overturned by Trump’s Department of the Interior?
- A ban on the hunting of predators in Alaskan wildlife refuges.
- A rule that barred using bait, such as grease-soaked doughnuts, to lure and kill grizzly bears.
- Limits on the number of endangered marine mammals and sea turtles that can be unintentionally killed or injured with sword-fishing nets on the West Coast.
- A ban on using parts of migratory birds in handicrafts made by Alaskan Natives.
Did you answer “all of the above” without even having it as an option?? You are correct! (Are you seeing a pattern?)
It’s interesting that, even though the conservatives are building an oil pipeline next to a reservation, despite massive protests by indigenous people, the gov’t gave them back migratory bird parts for crafting.
Irving — or should I say Knickerbocker — continues to wax poetic on the colonists’ treatment of their era’s indigenous people:
“But the zealous and enlightened fathers who accompanied the discoverers, for the purpose of promoting the kingdom of heaven by establishing fat monasteries and bishoprics on earth . . . soon plainly proved (and, as there were no Indian writers arose on the other side, the fact was considered as fully admitted and established) that the two-legged race of animals before mentioned were mere cannibals, detestable monsters, and many of them giants.”
Talk of religion reminds me of another rollback, this time by the predominantly Catholic current U.S. Supreme Court, who last week reversed New York’s restrictions on religious gatherings during lockdown. Funny how some humans have a hard time reconciling “rights” with common sense.
Meanwhile Knickerbocker shares quotes on indigenous people from real-life 17th century racists:
“‘It is not easy,’ says [Bouguer], ‘to describe the degree of their indifference for wealth and all its advantages. . . . It is vain to offer them money; they answer they are not hungry.’
‘Ambition they have none—honor, fame, reputation, riches, posts, and distinctions—are unknown among them.’
‘Though half naked, they are as contented as a monarch in his most splendid array.’ And [they] have no beards!”
“. . . All which circumstances plainly convinced the righteous . . . that these miscreants had no title to the soil that they infested—that they were mere wild beasts of the forests and, like them, should either be subdued or exterminated.“
Um . . . how about another ROLLBACK QUIZ QUESTION?
- TRUE OR FALSE: Trump’s Labor Department finalized a rule that limits 401(k) retirement plans from investing in funds that focus on the environment.
I know! You want to say “false,” but it’s true!
Let’s move to Knickerbocker’s next rule of colonial possession:
“We now come to the next [right], which is the right acquired by cultivation. ‘The cultivation of the soil,’ we are told, ‘is an obligation imposed by nature on mankind.’
“. . . Now, it is notorious that the savages knew nothing of agriculture when first discovered by the Europeans, but lived a most vagabond, disorderly, unrighteous life, rambling from place to place, and prodigally rioting upon the spontaneous luxuries of nature, without tasking her generosity to yield them anything more; whereas it has been most unquestionably shown that Heaven intended the earth should be ploughed, and sown, and manured, and laid out into cities, and towns, and farms, and country seats, and pleasure grounds, and public gardens, all which the Indians knew nothing about—therefore, they did not improve the talents Providence had bestowed on them—therefore they were careless stewards—therefore, they had no right to the soil—therefore, they deserved to be exterminated.“
That reminds me of the ROLLBACKS that are meant to make development in America even easier. Guess which one is my favorite:
- An Executive Order (EO) that revoked a directive to minimize impacts on water, wildlife, land and other natural resources when approving development projects.
- An EO that revoked Obama-era flood standards for federal infrastructure projects that required the government to account for sea level rise and other climate change effects.
- Eliminating the use of an Obama-era planning system designed to minimize harm from oil and gas activity on sensitive landscapes, such as national parks.
- The Interior Department’s restricting environmental studies to one year in length and a maximum of 150 pages, citing a need to reduce paperwork.
- None of the above.
I’m gonna give you that one. None are my favorite. And you’re telling me the study reports don’t come in electronic form? Are they trying to save mimeograph ink as well? And typewriter ribbon?
Returning to Knickerbocker’s final right of possession:
“. . . the right acquired by civilization. All the world knows the lamentable state in which these poor savages were found. Not only deficient in the comforts of life, but, what is still worse, most piteously and unfortunately blind to the miseries of their situation.
“But no sooner did the benevolent inhabitants of Europe behold their sad condition than they immediately went to work to ameliorate and improve it. They . . . made known to them a thousand remedies, by which the most inveterate diseases are alleviated and healed; and — that they might comprehend the benefits and enjoy the comforts of these medicines — they introduced among them the diseases which they were calculated to cure.
“But the most important branch of civilization is the introduction of the Christian faith. . . . It is true, [these savages] neither stole nor defrauded; they were sober, frugal, continent, and faithful to their word; but though they acted right habitually, it was all in vain, unless they acted so from precept. The new comers, therefore, used every method to induce them to embrace and practice the true religion—except, indeed, that of setting them the example.
“Now . . . in certain parts of this delightful quarter of the globe . . . the right of discovery has been so strenuously asserted—the influence of cultivation so industriously extended, and the progress of salvation and civilization so zealously persecuted; that . . . the savage aborigines have, somehow or other, been utterly annihilated—and this all at once brings me to a fourth right . . .the original claimants to the soil being all dead and buried.
“Thus were the Europeans . . . entitled to the eternal thanks of these infidel savages . . . for having hurried them out of the world to enjoy its reward!”
Irving/Knickerbocker then supposes that “the inhabitants of the moon [known as Lunatics] . . . should chance to alight upon this outlandish planet.” I’ll just give you a quick teaser:
Let us suppose them . . . as superior to us in knowledge, and consequently in power, as the Europeans were to the Indians when they first discovered them.
Let us suppose, moreover, that the aerial voyagers, finding this planet to be nothing but a howling wilderness, inhabited by us poor savages and wild beasts, shall take formal possession of it, in the name of his most gracious and philosophic excellency, the Man in the Moon.
You can probably guess whether the invaders ultimately — and rightfully — convert us miserable barbarians from the darkness of Christianity, and make us thorough and absolute Lunatics, thus clearly proving “the right of the early colonists to the possession of this country; and thus is this gigantic question completely vanquished.”
I rarely link out to other places, but Knickerbocker’s History of New York is in the public domain, so you can read the entire section online, or even listen to a free audio book here. It’s truly funny and wonderful. And my excerpts are very much abridged.
And because I love you (and sea turtles), here’s a link to the New York Times’ full list of over 100 environmental rules that have been reversed under Trump.
I’ll end with one of the silliest rollbacks on the list:
Trump’s Energy Department weakened dishwasher energy efficiency standards by exempting fast-cleaning machines from rules that have been in place for decades.
Enjoy the rest of your leftover Brussels sprouts, leave a comment, and please SUBSCRIBE below. I’ll explain why later. Tomorrow it’s back to the book — no holiday weekends for the weary!