Crossposted from the Davis Enterprise From page A9
February 01, 2017
The last column was about the “calm before the storm,” one way of looking at what was then the impending change in the office of president of the United States.

Way back then (less than two weeks ago), it seemed fair to wait a bit and see if and how words spoken about climate change, sustainability and renewables during the campaign would be translated into actions.

It does not look good.

This column is about fastening our seatbelts, battening down the hatches, girding our loins, resisting retrenchment and figuring out how to hold on to as much of the progress that has been made as we can.

Actions taken by the new administration thus far are not specific to policies; they are appointments of people to cabinet-level positions that will develop and carry out policies.

 Let’s start with Scott Pruitt, nominated to lead the Environmental Protection Agency. As attorney general of Oklahoma, he sued the federal government multiple times, essentially arguing that the EPA was taking the title of its agency, “Environmental Protection” way too seriously.

While scientists are warning that we are not doing enough to curb greenhouse-gas emissions, Pruitt says we are doing too much. He is one of several attorneys general suing to stop the Clean Power Act, the centerpiece of America’s contribution to the Paris Climate Agreement, recently signed by virtually every country on the planet.

Pruitt also weighed in on behalf of Exxon Mobil when it was under pressure to reveal what they knew and when they knew it about the adverse effects of climate change.

Speaking of Exxon Mobil, the new secretary of state is likely to be former Exxon CEO Rex Tillerson. He promises to divest himself of all Exxon Mobil stock but he can’t erase from his brain the knowledge that sanctions on Russia are in the way of a half-trillion-dollar deal with that country.

Ryan Zinke, the nominee for secretary of the interior, has a complex history in terms of environmental policy. He is an ardent advocate for the coal industry, but he has opposed some congressional efforts, for example, proposals to turn federal lands over to the states to do with as they please.

Nominated as energy secretary is Rick Perry, former governor of Texas and a stalwart advocate for the fossil-fuel industry. He will be overseeing a department that sets appliance standards and promotes energy policy through research, grants and loans, and can be expected to favor oil and gas development over renewables.

But the thing that worries me most is what seems to be an intentional detachment from the importance of truth. There appear to be efforts underway to limit information to the public and tailor what is released to comport with what the president and his minions define as policy. I hate to say it, but this sounds a lot like what happens in other, authoritarian, countries.

I was at the Women’s March on Jan. 21st in Sacramento. There were signs and posters everywhere, along with different chants. There were the usual slogans, most of them from the 1960s, but there was a group of UC Davis students who happened to occupy a space next to us in the throng.

They had the best chant of all. “What Do We Want? Science-Based Change. When Do We Want It? After Peer Review.” This was funny and got lots of laughs, but it captures the importance of science, the scientific method and reliance on science to guide policy.

So, what to do? I have made a few decisions. I will support news outlets that report facts and are able to discern the difference between that and “alternative facts.”

I subscribe to the New York Times for national and international news. I pay the print subscription price in part to support the critical function of investigative journalism. Friends are doing much the same, with whatever national news source they favor.

 Parenthetically, I also support The Davis Enterprise for the same reason, with the additional benefit of superb local news coverage.

The Times recently published a list of things to watch for in terms of the new president’s policies on climate change. These include, will the government open more federal lands to coal mining, will recently enacted regulations on methane emissions be repealed, will we go backwards on vehicle fuel-economy standards, and will the new administration try to undo America’s commitments in the Paris Climate Accord. I will be watching, and writing letters, and marching.

I also now support, PolitiFact and Snopes to track fake news, lies and misinformation.

I’m seeking ways to become more politically involved. The mass demonstrations across the country and the world were heartening and I want to be a part of efforts to elect candidates who value the environment, know that climate change is a serious issue imperiling the planet and the future, and know the difference between facts and alternative facts.

I want to oppose harmful policies, but I also want to make sure the people I vote for have the backbone to be resolute in the face of these harmful policies.

— John Mott-Smith is a resident of Davis and worried about the future. This column is published on the first and third Wednesdays of each month. Send comments to