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Federal drilling ruling shows ‘invisible’ threat of climate change matters most

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Jeff Tyson

The Interior Department failed to account for the climate impact of its oil and gas projects in the U.S., according to the ruling of a federal judge on Tuesday — a ruling that could have broad implications for the Trump administration’s energy agenda.

Anindita Banerjee

Associate Professor of Comparative Literature

Anindita Banerjee is an associate professor of comparative literature at Cornell University and a faculty fellow at the Atkinson Center for a Sustainable Future. She says the ruling highlights the importance of invisible threats such as climate change, and harkens back to the 1960s debate over pesticides.

Banerjee says:

“What is not visible matters the most, like a silent cell metastasizing deep inside the body. While we all accept this as true when looking at economic, social, and political projections, the intangible becomes utterly crucial when it comes to environmental futures.

“Concrete actions in the here and now, such as opening up public land to oil and gas extraction, may not immediately indicate what impact they will have beyond the immediate surroundings. As the ruling shows, however, it is absolutely necessary to take into account that each such site is embedded in extremely complex, often invisible multiscalar ecosystems — systems that connect the natural elements of earth, water, and air with various life forms and human bodies.

“Environmental systems, in turn, affect climate in places and communities far removed from the actual location of the land. Rachel Carson, arguably the most impactful environmental writer of modern times, understood this in 1962. Invisibility was the subject of her enormously influential book Silent Spring, which for the first time made the world aware of the ubiquitous toxicity spread by pesticides through not just human and animal bodies but across all interconnected earth systems. Health and environment could not be separated. To me it is not coincidental that this lawsuit has strong advocates from the environmental medicine community.”

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