Author Archives: Johnna Frances Purcell

Potential Presidents on The Environment

As I have discussed previously on this blog, fixing the environmental problems that we currently face will require political action to fix. Lucky for us, there is a major election coming up in 2016 that may really foster in some political change. With an open Presidential seat anything is possible.

As of the day I am writing this, there are four candidates that are definitely running for President. There is one Democrat that has announced and three Republicans. The Democratic candidate is Hillary Clinton. The Republican candidates are Ted Cruz, Rand Paul and Marco Rubio. I thought it would be interesting to look at these candidates and ascertain their perspectives on the environment because one of these people may be the next president of the Unites States.

 Ted Cruz:

While Ted Cruz recently acknowledged that climate change does exist to some degree. But Cruz still has his doubts that climate change is happening right now. Also, Cruz holds that cUnknown-3limate change is definitely not a human caused phenomenon. In fact, recently Cruz said on Late Night with Seth Meyers that debates upon this scientific issue should rely on scientific fact. According to Cruz satellites show that the globe is not warming (although climate scientists disagree).

Cruz also believes that Cap-and-trade has no impact of global temperatures. He also supports investment in know energy resources rather than alternative energy. Cruz also voted no to protecting ocean, costal and Great Lake ecosystems.

 Rand Paul:

As a true-blue (or rather red) conservative libertarian, Rand Paul thinks  Unknown-4that the government should not have a role in regulating the environment. Paul is against the EPA and does not think that it should be able to put regulations on any private citizen or corporation. He also has voted against animal-welfare legislation multiple times. Basically, Rand Paul wants no part of environmental issues, because in his opinion the government should not have any responsibility to the environment.

 Marco Rubio:

Marco Rubio, like his republican contenders, agrees that climate does not exist. If it does, he definitely does not believe that climate change is caused by human activity. Rubio also doubts that any actions that we take now would not change the future of the climate or the world. In Florida, the state that Rubio represents in the Senate, the citizens see first hand the eUnknown-5ffects of climate change. With rising sea levels and saltwater contaminating drinking w ater supplies. Floridians are tired of Rubio denying the very climate change that is affecting their lives.

Additionally, Rubio has said he wanted to support fossil fuel industries and would not support alternative energy initiatives. Rubio is also against the regulation the EPA. On the bright side, Rubio does support tax breaks on energy efficient appliances.

 Hillary Clinton:

As the only Democrat in the race thus far, it is to be expected that she will have quite a different stance on environmental issues. Clinton believes the science of climate change. Clinton believes that global warming is real and that humans cause it. Clinton supports many of the environmental issues that President Obama has introduced. OnUnknown-6e example is Obamas power plant rules that aim to reduce carbon emissions. In addition, Clinton also realizes the connection between empowering women and climate change. Clinton realizes that the secret to stopping climate change is empowering women and if elected she would continue those initiatives.

There are some troubling parts of Clinton’s environmental policy as well. She supported fracking world wide while Secretary of State as a way to decrease poverty worldwide. Clinton’s charitable foundation also takes a lot of donations from oil companies. Further, in the past Clinton supported offshore drilling. Finally, Clinton has stayed silent about the Keystone XL Pipeline making environmental activists wonder whether or not she would allow it to be built.

But as expected, Clinton is generally more accepting of government initiatives to preserve the environment.

In many ways, the future of our planet will undoubtedly be affected by who is chosen as the next leader of the free world. That is why I implore you all to stay informed on all candidates that are introduced to the race. And then on that first Tuesday in November I implore you all to go out and make your voice be heard. It is possibly more important now than it has ever been before.

We Are…Dependent on Fossil Fuel

Everywhere you go on The Penn State Campus, you see evidence of it. Very specific recycling bins, water saving toilets, water saving showerheads and green-to-go takeout boxes. To any passerby, Penn State looks like a very eco-savvy organization. But looks may be deceiving and some of Penn State’s more environmentally harmful activities are the ones that most people do not see. What I am cryptically referring to in Penn State’s investment into fossil fuel industries.

In very basic terms (as the financial side is not my forte) Penn State has a huge endowment that they invest in portfolios in order to get returns that keep the university functioning. Penn State has a $2.7 billion dollar endowment and a portion of this money in invested in fossil fuel industries.

It is no secret that fossil fuels are dangerous to the environment. The burning of fossil fuels in one key factor in global climate changed caused by the emissions of green house gases in the production and burning of these Fossil Fuels. By investing large sums of money in companies that produce fossil fuels, Penn State is essentially part of the problem.

Divestment is what it sounds like, the opposite of investment. The Organization Go Fossil Free defines divestment as, “ getting rid of stocks, bonds, or investment funds that are unethical or morally ambiguous.” Over 400 institutions of higher learning are in the process of lobbying their administration to divest from the Fossil Fuel Industry. According to the Go Fossil Free website, about 30 universities across the globe have divested from the Fossil Fuel Industry including Stanford University. With joint work between students and professors at Stanford, they convinced the university to divest from companies who work in fossil fuel or coal production. In addition to Universities, other cities, religious organizations, counties and foundations across the world have divested in the Fossil Fuel Industry.

Divestment is endorsed by some of the world most note worthy leaders. Recently, on March 15, 2015, The United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) endorsed the Fossil Free divestment campaign. The spokesman for the UNFCCC Nick Nuttall said, “We support divestment as it sends a signal to companies, especially coal companies, that the age of ‘burn what you like, when you like’ cannot continue.” Additionally Thobama-invest-divest-300x168e UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon has come out in support of the Fossil Free movement and even attended the Fossil Free march in New York City last year. President Obama has also stated his support for divestment stating, “Push your own communities to adopt smarter practices. Invest. Divest. Remind folks there’s no contradiction between a sound environment and strong economic growth.”

At Penn State there is a battle brewing over whether the University should or will divest. Fossil Free PSU is an on-campus organization that is pushing for the divestment in fossil fuel industries. The organization calls for the university to begin by freezing present investment in fossil fuel industries and then to divest in fossil fuel, coal and related industries over a five-year timeline. This money would then hopefully be invested in companies that support greener initiatives. Companies that the club has publicly stated make comparable if not higher returns on investments.

The Penn State Board of Trustees decides upon the decision on how the endowment will be invested. According to the Board the board only oversees the investment process with investment matters being taken care of by third party money managers. Additionally, the Board sites the fact that the decisions as to where to invest money can only be guided by purely financial principals. The university continues to stress that they are trying to reach a balance in their financial obligations and their commitment to “environmental stewardship.”

But this is simply not enough for Penn State student. Recently Fossil Free PSU has made the news for the delivery of coal to the members of the Board of Trustees last December. Additionally, this year members of Fossil Free PSU hand-delivered a letter to President Barron asking him to divest from Fossil Fuel. Fossil Free PSU has recently gained endorsements from two other Penn State organizations. The Penn State Eco-Action Club and the Penn State College Democrats recently announced their support of Fossil Free PSU. The hope of the club is to rally enough support in the student body as to eventually receive the support of University Park Undergraduate Association (UPUA).

I personally support the initiatives of Fossil Free PSU. I hope that you will all consider supporting the Fossil Free initiative at Penn State. The groundbreaking environmental research and student run environmental action at this school are only being overshadowed and even diminished by the fact that the University invests huge amounts of money into the Fossil Fuel Industry. And we are no longer going to stay silent.

Fossil Free PSU:



A Crude Conversation About the Keystone XL Pipeline

If I asked any person to name the most prominent issue of environmental policy presently in America, most would answer with the debate surrounding the construction of the Keystone XL Pipeline. There has been a six-year battle surrounding the construction of the pipeline since September 2008 when TransCanada Corp filed an application with the US State Department to allow the construction of the pipeline.

What the purposed plan is that the Keystone XL Pipeline is that the pipeline would be used to transport crude oil from the tar sands in Alberta Canada. Upurlon arrival in the Gulf Coast this crude oil will be refined and shipped to overseas markets for sale. The Keystone XL Pipeline will not be the first of its kind with other pipelines that not only funnel crude down from out neighbor to the north but also other crude from tar sands. Yet, there has been a largely partisan public debate surrounding this issue for the past 4 years.

President Obama has always been weary of the pipeline construction. Additionally, President Obama has made it clear that it is not the place of Congress to pass a bill concerning the Keystone XL Pipeline. President Obama awaits the result of an investigation by the State Department before allowing the construction to go forward.

The Keystone Pipeline made it back into the new this week when the House passed the Senate version of the Bill approving the construction of the Keystone pipeline. In anticipation of this, The White House already released a statement saying that President Obama will veto the Bill when it arrives on his desk (which will only be the third time President Obama has exercised his veto power in his presidency). Congress does not seem to possess the two-thirds majority that it would take to overturn the veto so it seems that after 12 separate votes on versions of this Bill in Congress it will still be unable to pass. Therefore, Republicans have spent this past week asking President Obama to reconsider his veto of the Bill.

Supporters of the pipeline claim that this Bill is what the American people want. Honestly, they are not wrong. In a public opinion poll conducted by PEW 65 percent of Americans favor the construction of the Keystone XL Pipeline. That may be because job creation has been so closely tied to the cons9-26-13-1truction of the pipeline. The problem is that the numbers surrounding the number of jobs the Keystone Pipeline will create range from exaggerated to hilariously ridiculous. In terms of direction jobs, the Keystone XL Pipeline will end up creating about 10,000 construction jobs that will last for no longer than a year. In terms of permanent jobs, the pipeline will only create about 50 permanent positions.

Conversely, critics of the Keystone XL Pipeline cite the risks to the environment that the construction of the pipeline would create. It is true that the harvesting of the crude oil from the tar sands is much more dangerous to the environment. In order to extract the crude would emit 17 percent more greenhouse gases than other forms of crude extraction takes. Additionally, the crude oil from the tar sands is a much dirtier and heavier form of crude. If there was to be an oil spill from the pipeline the consequences would be devastating for the Midwest and a lot harder to clean up (think of the BP oil spill times ten).

But here is the harsh truth about the Keystone XL Pipeline, the construction or lack there of itself will have a minimal impact on the environProtests_against_Keystone_XL_Pipeline_for_tar_sands_at_White_House,_2011ment or environmental policy in America. I do not support the construction of the pipeline but honestly the construction of the pipeline itself is neither here nor there. Without the pipeline TransCanada is still going to extract the crude from the tar sands in Alberta. The only difference is that they will have to move it via truck to the gulf coast. It will not change our oil costs, as it will still be sold over sea. A few less temporary jobs will be created but in the end of the day 50 people mean so little to a nation of millions. Generally, I see the construction of the Keystone XL Pipeline as something more symbolic. Construction of this pipeline shows that we as a people are much more willing to spend millions of dollars pumping dirty forms of rude out of the ground than we are willing to support forms of policy that would go towards developing clean forms of energy. What the decision on the Keystone XL Pipeline does do is set a dangerous precedent that America is going to continue to drill its way through the 21st century. Because we are not running out of crude oil, but we are running out of an environment to exploit.

Climate Change is No Longer a Scientific Issue

 By: Johnna Purcell 

In recent years, environmental issues have had a definite shift from an area of scientific debate to the political arena. Climate science has now become an issue of the culture wars, and because of the nature of these polarizing issues we can probably expect gridlock for the next 30 years on how to deal with environmental issues that demand our attention now.

Climate Science: The latest victim of the culture wars.

The term culture wars can be traced back to the early 90s. The term refers to a set of issues that basically boil down to the classic ideological polarization that millennials have witnessed for our entire lives. The clash of liberal and conservative ideologies leaves some issues impossible to solve socially as well as politically. Some key issues of the culture war are abortion rights, feminism, capitalism, and now environmental issues such as climate change.

Scientific Consensus

Scientifically, climate change refers to “any significant change on the measures of climate lasting for a significant period of time.” In the past century, the Earth has been warming. Just in the past century the average temperature of the earth has risen by 1.4 degrees and in the next hundred years the temperature could rise another 2 – 11 degrees. This translates to unpredictable weather patterns including increased rainfall and more frequent and severe heat waves.

While scientists do recognize that the earth does go through periods of heating and cooling – ninety seven percent of climate change scientists agree that the change we are seeing in the climate today is “very likely” due to human activities. Scientists say that our increased burning of fossil fuels for energy has contributed to the release of large amounts of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere. These greenhouse gases basically act as a “blanket” for the earth and make the plant warmer than usual.

Despite the unequivocal scientific evidence, there is still a raging debate in American, not on how to deal with climate change – but whether climate change even exists.

Political Gridlock

In the same way that climate change has become more of a social issue than a scientific issue, it has also become an issue very prevalent in American politics. Generally, climate change is an issue that splits down party lines politically.

Democrats are of the liberal opinion that climate change is a real and is more than likely a human caused phenomenon (they tend to favor the accepted scientific theories on this topic).

The Republican Party is much more interesting when it comes to its views on climate change. For many years, Republicans denied the existence of climate change and branded it as a hoax. In the past few years, the Republican Party has begun to embrace the idea of a changing climate but refuses to acknowledge that these changes are caused by human activity associated with greenhouse gases. Over 50 percent of the Republicans serving on the 114th United States Congress question or deny the science behind climate change. This could possibly have something to do with the some 60 million dollars that these 170 members of Congress received from the fossil fuel industry.

In the past year, Republicans have tried to discredit climate change scientists as well. Republicans have used the ridiculous claim that climate change scientist cannot be trusted to give an unbiased opinion on climate change they earn money on the existence of climate change. These two clips by Jon Stewart portray this sentiment using actual C-span coverage. (sorry I couldn’t embed this video, but I promise it is worth your time)


In the past week, there was actually a vote on an amendment in the Senate which stated, “climate change is real and not a hoax.” The amendment passed 98-1 and had bipartisan support. It almost didn’t though. In the moments before the chamber was set to vote, Republicans received a notecard from known climate change denier Senator James Inhofe (R-OK) to vote yes on the amendment. While at first this seems like a victory for bipartisanship, the only reason that Republicans decided to vote yes on this amendment is because the wording did not mention that climate change was human caused. If the wording of the amendment had been changed even slightly, Senate Republicans would have voted no on the amendment. So while the Democratic plot to paint the Republican Party as anti-science has failed for now, we are really no closer to having political consensus and action with regards to climate change.

Public Disagreement 

There have been two interesting polls conducted by the PEW Research Center in the last month with the public’s opinions with regard to climate change science.

This poll shows that only 50 percent of respondents believe that climate change is happening because of human activities. What I found very shocking about this poll is that 25 percent of

PI_2015-01-29_science-and-society-03-12respondents believe that there is not sufficient scientific evidence to support that the earth is warming. Further, the poll also showed that these opinions still tended to split down party lines with Democrats and Independents more likely to believe that climate change is a reality. Additionally, the poll showed that younger Americans (18-49) are also more likely to believe in the science of climate change.



Another poll from PEW conducted last month rated dealing with Global Warming as one of the lowest priority issues for President Obama and Congress in the upcoming legislative year. But the poll also showed that this issue was the most partisan when it came to 1-15-2015-priorities_04support/dissent among 1-15-2015-priorities_01respondents. With 54 percent of Democrats rating dealing with Global Warming a top priority and only 15 percent of Republicans rating it a top priority.





I wouldn’t hold my breath in waiting for significant legislative action to happen with regards to climate change. Climate change is an issue that has become too entangled in partisan politics and culture for any meaningful action to take place in the polarized political environment we are presently plagued with. This is unfortunate because according to scientists the time to act on this issue is rapidly passing us by. I fear that by the time the country is ready to take meaningful action it will be too late for our planet. Our government is largely a reactionary body and unfortunately with climate change we cannot be reactionary but have to be proactive in preventing future crises.

Democrat, Republican or Independent – we all breathe the same air, maybe together we can keep that air from becoming toxic.