Rediscovering the Lesson of the Inchcape Rock

By: Larry J. Schweiger

In the 18th century, English poet Robert Southey wrote about a 14th century holy Abbot of Aberbrothok who mounted a bell on a treacherous sandstone reef eleven miles off the east coast of Scotland to warn mariners during severe weather. As the story goes, a notorious pirate Ralph the Rover vandalized the bell and dropped it into the sea on his way to plunder other vessels. Having been gone for a time and on his journey back to Scotland with a ship laden with booty, Ralph the Rover encountered a severe storm and without warning, struck the reef and sank his vessel. Southey writes of the Rover’s final moments as the ship sank:

“But even in his dying fear,

One dreadful sound could the Rover hear;

A sound as if with the Inchcape Bell,

The Devil below was ringing his knell.”

For many generations, “The Inchcape Rock” was taught as a cautionary tale to dissuade those who might seek to destroy warning bells.

The poem and the moral justice of the story have long been forgotten as the incoming Trump Administration and the Republican-led Congress are moving to destroy the warning bells of climate disruption by ending NASA climate research efforts. Trump advisor and former Congressman turned lobbyist working largely for the space industry, Bob Walker wants to purge what he called “politicized science” by ending NASA’s climate change research and shifting the funding to a “deep space” program in a blatant move to eliminate the warning bells of climate science. California Governor Jerry Brown responded that the state of California might even launch its own space program if Trump shuts down the climate satellites and ends NASA’s role in climate science. For the past several weeks, climate scientists have been busy copying Federal climate databases to private servers to prevent their destruction.

Once the warning bells of NASA are silenced, the Trump administration will undo EPA’s carbon pollution regulations and fulfill the promise of abandoning the Paris Accord. These are not idle campaign promises by the Twitterer-in-Chief. Despite the many clear climate-warming signals across the planet in 2016, Trump has assembled an administration for accomplishing his reckless ambitions against climate and environmental protections.

Secretary of State:

His nomination for Secretary of State, ExxonMobil CEO Rex Tillerson (Putin’s friend) is ripe for blatant self-dealing over President Obama’s Russian oil sanctions and as he unwinds the Paris Accords. As the head of a global corporation more powerful than many nations, Tillerson has repeatedly misrepresented basic climate science, supported borderless world trade in oil while calling for “a global free market for energy.” Tillerson who has never shown any interest in representing America’s broader National interests in the world will now be our Secretary of State. While ExxonMobil has always had its thumb on the scale of our State Department policies, never before has a CEO of a major oil company ever been suggested for this critically important public office.

Environmental Protection Agency:

I cannot think of a worse choice for EPA Administrator than Scott Pruitt. Pruitt has deep and troubling entanglements with the fossil fuel industry as Oklahoma’s Attorney General. He ignored thousands of Oklahoma homeowners who suffered structural damages from earthquakes-now occurring every 12 hrs.-caused by fracking injection wells. As Oklahoma’s Attorney General, he disassembled the environmental enforcement division and Pruitt led a Nationwide fight against EPA’s efforts to address climate change, toxic air pollution and to protect the waters of the US. I suspect the Koch Brothers are high-fiving over this announcement, as the fox will be put in charge of the chicken coop.

Department of Energy:

At the Department of Energy, Trump is replacing a brilliant Dr. Ernest Moniz with former Texas Governor Rick Perry who is best known for dancing with the stars and for promising to eliminate several federal agencies as a presidential candidate five years ago. When asked to name the agencies, Rick Perry forgot the Energy Department’s name and ended by saying “oops”. Perry’s A&M college transcript consisted mostly of C’s and D’s and contrasts with Moniz who has a Bachelor of Science degree summa cum laude in Physics from Boston College and a Doctorate in Theoretical Physics from Stanford University. Perry apparently hates efficiency and clean energy investments and hopes to abolish the energy department that oversees everything nuclear as well as a large and complex portfolio. What could go wrong with this appointment?

 The Jagged Rocks of Climate Change:

The World Meteorological Organization reported that the global temperature in 2016 is about 1.2C above pre-industrial levels, dangerously close to the 1.5C threshold of the Paris climate agreement. Last year set another new record as the hottest year in record keeping and not surprisingly, 2016 also set new records for severe and devastating weather. According to the American Red Cross: “the American Red Cross provided more assistance to the hundreds of thousands of people impacted by these disasters across the United States than in the past two years combined. In 2016, Red Cross volunteers responded to 180 significant disasters in 45 states and two U.S. territories including wildfires, storms, flooding, Hurricane Matthew and other emergencies…”

Things can only get much worse if the Trump administration pretends that the growing threats from storms, sea level rise, droughts and forest fires don’t exist or if they ignore the consequences of massive volumes of carbon pollution-trapping enormous amounts of heat and acidifying our oceans. Regardless of our political ideology, religion or worldview, there will be a severe price to be paid for silencing the bells of climate science.





About Larry Schweiger

Larry Schweiger is the Past President and Chief Executive Officer of Citizens for PennFuture. Previously, he was President and CEO of the National Wildlife Federation and earlier the CEO of the Western Pennsylvania Conservancy. Larry also served as the Executive Secretary of the Joint (House and Senate) Air and Water Pollution Control and Conservation Committee of the Pennsylvania General Assembly and 1st Vice President of the Chesapeake Bay Foundation. He returned to the National Wildlife Federation in March 2004 with a commitment to confront the climate crisis. He is passionate about protecting nature for our children's future. Larry continues the climate work as the battle moves to the states. Previously, Larry served for eight years as President and CEO of the Western Pennsylvania Conservancy, where he pioneered watershed restoration and promoted ecological research, land conservation, community outreach and Fallingwater restoration. In the past, Larry was the Executive Secretary of the Joint House/Senate Conservation Committee for the Pennsylvania General Assembly, Senior Vice President for Conservation Programs at National Wildlife Federation, and 1st Vice President of the Chesapeake Bay Foundation. Larry wrote a book warning about climate change impacts on nature entitled: "Last Chance: Preserving Life on Earth" that won 1st Prize for the best non-fiction at the 2011 Indie Book Awards. Larry started volunteering at age 14 and is an active community leader, having served on more than 40 governing boards, commissions and committees. He currently serves on the Boards of Directors of Climate Reality; the John Heinz Center for Science, Economics and the Environment; and National Wildlife Federation Action Fund. In 2012, He was honored by the Blue-Green Alliance for the Federation's leadership on the auto rules and was selected as Pennsylvania’s Environmental Professional of the Year in 2002, Pittsburgh of the Year in 2000, and he received a Conservation Service Award from the Christian Environmental Association in September 1995. Larry is married and is blessed with three daughters, two sons-in-law, and five grandsons.
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