Election Science Stakes: Environment

Hoh Rainforest, Washington State Credit: Getty Images

Scientific American senior editor Mark Fischetti talks about how this election will affect environmental science and policy.

Steve Mirsky: In the last episode or our pre-election podcast series we spoke about climate. For this episode I talked about other environmental issues with Scientific American senior editor Mark Fischetti, who oversees our coverage on sustainability.

SM: Mark, what are some of the big environmental issues that are at stake in this election?

Mark Fischetti: Well, I think a lot of people focused on climate, which is certainly something to focus on. But you know, outside of that, I think in terms of the current administration, I think a big focus really should be looking at chemical pollution. There have been a number of regulations that have either been reversed, or just struck down or overridden by the Trump administration that essentially allow more pollution to be imposed on air and water. So for a few examples, right, so there were protections that were taken down for wetlands that basically allow for dumping of pesticides and other pollutants into the waterways.

There were regulations on emissions from power plants, not just about carbon dioxide, but also about heavy metals. So there’s actually less restriction on mercury that power plants could emit. I mean, mercury is a horrible toxin. And then in the whole coal-fired arena, there’s regulations about disposal of toxic waste that have been rolled back too, which will add levels of lead and arsenic and other contaminants like that into the environment. So these are longstanding toxins and other compounds that we know are bad for people and the environment, and those things are being rolled back as well.

SM: Well, that’s a key thing is the health aspect. Because, you know, even if you don’t care that there will ever be another tree, or another bird, human with these things as well.

MF: Right, the birds and the trees and the squirrels and the people all use the same water and the same air and the same soil, which we forget about that as well. There were there are some protections for soils and what kinds of chemicals can be used in agriculture, for that matter, that have been changed as well. So then the question is, would this be different under Biden? And I think it would be because a lot of those regulations, including the ones I kind of called out specifically, most of them were put in place or made tougher during the Obama and Biden administration. So I would think that the Biden administration wouldn’t want to restore that.

—Steve Mirsky

(The above text is a transcript of this podcast)



Mark Fischetti

Mark Fischetti is a senior editor at Scientific American. He covers all aspects of sustainability.

Credit: Nick Higgins

Steve Mirsky

Steve Mirsky has been writing the Anti Gravity column since a typical tectonic plate was about 36 inches from its current location. He also hosts the Scientific American podcast Science Talk.

Credit: Nick Higgins