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December 27, 2023 Heather Cox Richardson

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Fifty years ago tomorrow, on December 28, 1973, President Richard Nixon signed the Endangered Species Act into law. Declaring that Congress had determined that “various species of fish, wildlife, and plants in the United States have been rendered extinct as a consequence of economic growth and development untempered by adequate concern and conservation,” the act provided for the protection of endangered species. 

Just over a decade before, in 1962, ecologist Rachel Carson had published Silent Spring, documenting how pesticides designed to eliminate insects were devastating entire ecosystems of linked organisms. The realization that human destruction of the natural world could make the planet uninhabitable spurred Congress in 1970 to create the Environmental Protection Agency. And in 1973, when Nixon called for stronger laws to protect species in danger of extinction, 194 Democrats and 160 Republicans in the House—99% of those voting—voted yes. Only four Republicans in the House voted no.    

Such strong congressional support for protecting the environment signaled that a new era was at hand. While President Gerald Ford, who succeeded Nixon, tended to dial back environmental protections when he could in order to promote the development of oil and gas resources, President Jimmy Carter pressed the protection of the environment when he took office in 1977. 

In 1978, Carter placed 56 million acres of land in Alaska under federal protection as national monuments, doubling the size of the national park system. “These areas contain resources of unequaled scientific, historic and cultural value, and include some of the most spectacular scenery and wildlife in the world,” he said. In 1979 he had 32 solar panels installed at the White House to help heat the water for the building and demonstrate that it was possible to curb U.S. dependence on fossil fuels. Just before he left office, Carter signed into law the Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act, protecting more than 100 million acres in Alaska, including additional protections for the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.

Oil companies, mining companies, timber companies, the cattle industry, and local officials eager for development strongly opposed Carter’s moves to protect the environment. In Alaska, local activists deliberately broke the regulations in the newly protected places, portraying Carter as King George III—against whom the American colonists revolted in 1776—and insisting that the protection of lands violated the promise of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness promised in the Declaration of Independence. 

For the most part, though, opposition to federal protection of the environment showed up as a drive to reform government regulations that, opponents argued, gave far too much power to unelected bureaucrats. In environmental regulations, the federal government’s protection of the public good ran smack into economic development.

In their 1980 presidential platform, Republicans claimed to be committed to “the conservation and wise management of America’s renewable natural resources” and said the government must protect public health. But they were not convinced that current laws and regulations provided benefits that justified their costs. “Too often,” they said, “current regulations are…rigid and narrow,” and they “strongly affirm[ed] that environmental protection must not become a cover for a ‘no-growth’ policy and a shrinking economy.”

In his acceptance speech for the Republican presidential nomination, Ronald Reagan explained that he wanted to see the U.S. produce more energy to fuel “growth and productivity. Large amounts of oil and natural gas lay beneath our land and off our shores, untouched because the present Administration seems to believe the American people would rather see more regulation, taxes and controls than more energy.” 

In his farewell address after voters elected Reagan, Carter urged Americans to “protect the quality of this world within which we live…. There are real and growing dangers to our simple and our most precious possessions: the air we breathe, the water we drink, and the land which sustains us,” he warned. “The rapid depletion of irreplaceable minerals, the erosion of topsoil, the destruction of beauty, the blight of pollution, the demands of increasing billions of people, all combine to create problems which are easy to observe and predict, but difficult to resolve. If we do not act, the world of the year 2000 will be much less able to sustain life than it is now.” 

“But,” Carter added, “[a]cknowledging the physical realities of our planet does not mean a dismal future of endless sacrifice. In fact, acknowledging these realities is the first step in dealing with them. We can meet the resource problems of the world—water, food, minerals, farmlands, forests, overpopulation, pollution if we tackle them with courage and foresight.”

Reagan began by appointing pro-industry officials James G. Watt and Anne M. Gorsuch (mother of Supreme Court justice Neil Gorsuch) as secretary of the interior and administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency, respectively; they set out to gut government regulation of the environment by slashing budgets and firing staff. But both resigned under scandal in 1983, and their replacements satisfied neither those who wanted to return to the practices of the Carter years nor those who wanted to get rid of those practices altogether. 

Still, with their focus on developing oil and gas, when workers repairing the White House roof removed the solar panels in 1986, Reagan administration officials declined to reinstall them. 

Forty years later, we are reaping the fruits of that shift away from the atmosphere that gave us the Endangered Species Act and toward a focus on developing fossil fuels. On November 30 the World Meteorological Organization (WMO), an agency of the United Nations, reported that global temperatures in 2023 were at record highs both on land and in the seas, Antarctic sea ice extent is at a record low, and devastating fires, floods, outbreaks of disease, and searing heat waves have pounded human communities this year.

The WMO released this provisional report the same day that the U.N. Climate Change negotiations, known as COP28, began in the United Arab Emirates. United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres urged leaders to commit to act to address climate change, while there was still time to avoid “the worst of climate chaos.” After a year in which countries staggered under extreme weather events, climate change is on people’s minds: nearly 80,000 people, including world leaders and celebrities, registered to attend COP28.

After the convention ended on December 13, Umair Irfan of Vox summarized the agreement hashed out there. For the first time in 27 such conventions, countries explicitly called for the phasing out of fossil fuel…but they didn’t say when or by how much. After taking stock of what countries are doing to address climate change, the meeting concluded that efforts to reduce emissions, invest in technology, adapt to warming, and help suffering countries are all falling short. 

In addition to acknowledging the need to move away from fossil fuels, COP28 agreed to cut methane, boost renewable energy considerably, and help countries that are dealing with the fallout from climate change: island nations, for example. But emissions of greenhouse gases continue to rise, and the hope of limiting warmer temperatures to 1.5 degrees Celsius now seems a long shot. Still, renewable energy capacity grew nearly 10% in 2022, led by solar and wind power. 

Today President Joe Biden used the anniversary of the Endangered Species Act to reclaim the spirit of the era in which it was written, urging Americans to protect ecosystems and biodiversity, “honor all the progress we have made toward protecting endangered species,” and to “come together to conserve our planet.” He noted that thanks to the Inflation Reduction Act, the Biden-Harris administration has been able to invest billions of dollars in forest management, ecosystem restoration, and protection of watersheds, as well as making historic investments in addressing climate change, and that, as president, he has protected more lands and waters than any president since John F. Kennedy.

And yet the forces that undermined that spirit are still at work. In the 2022 West Virginia v. Environmental Protection Agency decision, the Supreme Court claimed that Congress could not delegate “major questions” to executive agencies, thus limiting the EPA’s ability to regulate the emissions that create climate change; and House Republicans this summer held a hearing on “the destructive cost of the Endangered Species Act,” claiming that it “has been misused and misapplied for the past 50 years” with “disastrous effects on local economies and businesses throughout the United States.” Chair of the House Committee on Natural Resources Bruce Westerman (R-AR) accused the Biden administration of stifling “everything from forest management to future energy production through burdensome ESA regulations.”

While in 1980 voters could react to such a contrast between the parties’ environmental visions ideologically, in 2023, reality itself is weighing in. Brady Dennis of the Washington Post noted today that in this era of rising waters and epic storms, North Carolina has become the fourth state, along with South Carolina, New York, and New Jersey, to require home sellers to disclose their home’s flooding history and flood risk to prospective buyers.

Notes:

http://omnilearn.net/esacourse/pdfs/esastatute.pdf

https://www.govtrack.us/congress/votes/93-1973/h531

P. S. Ward, “Ford and Carter: Contrasting Approaches to Environment,” Journal (Water Pollution Control Federation), 48 (October 1976): 2238-2243.

https://www.washingtonpost.com/archive/politics/1991/08/02/college-to-use-white-house-solar-panels/4ffc021a-04ee-4660-8cd0-6e92ba219e78/

https://www.washingtonpost.com/archive/politics/1978/12/02/carter-sets-aside-56-million-acres-of-alaska-lands/c3d130ae-22d2-47e6-aacc-1ba1b0ef0348/

https://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/documents/farewell-address-the-nation-0

https://www.nytimes.com/1979/01/15/archives/alaskans-protest-publicland-action-paul-reveres-ride-and-george-iii.html

https://www.washingtonpost.com/climate-environment/2023/02/21/jimmy-carter-environment-energy-alaska/

https://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/documents/republican-party-platform-1980

Michael E. Kraft and Norman J. Vig, “Environmental Policy in the Reagan Presidency,” Political Science Quarterly 99 (Autumn 1984): 415-439.

https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/energy-environment/wp/2017/02/01/neil-gorsuchs-mother-once-ran-the-epa-it-was-a-disaster/

https://www.nytimes.com/1989/01/02/us/reagan-and-environment-to-many-a-stalemate.html

https://www.reaganlibrary.gov/archives/speech/republican-national-convention-acceptance-speech-1980

https://wmo.int/news/media-centre/2023-shatters-climate-records-major-impacts

https://www.vox.com/climate/24000157/cop28-climate-conference-uae-dubai-winners-losers-fossil-fuels-methane

https://www.vox.com/24008047/2023-warmest-year-cop28-climate-change-science

https://www.washingtonpost.com/climate-environment/2023/12/27/flood-risk-damage-disclosure-homebuyers/

https://naturalresources.house.gov/news/documentsingle.aspx?DocumentID=414616

https://naturalresources.house.gov/news/documentsingle.aspx?DocumentID=414614

https://www.whitehouse.gov/briefing-room/presidential-actions/2023/12/27/a-proclamation-on-the-50th-anniversary-of-the-endangered-species-act-2023/

https://apnews.com/article/prairie-chicken-longeared-bat-endangered-species-f217ab4fb07951bc5613c1c7e486809a

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Your Constitutional Right To Zyn Kiran Sampath

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Photo illustration by The Free Press

According to Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, they are a “sinister new threat to the health of young Americans.” Vox says they explain “the new ethos of conservative young men.” Business Insider frets that its users belong to “a subculture on the right that doesn’t just tolerate nicotine use, but venerates it.” 

A new front has opened up in the culture war, and the fight is over inch-long nicotine pouches called Zyns. The product was developed as a cleaner, healthier alternative to “Snus”—moist tobacco pouches tucked inside the gums. Zyn pouches offer all the nicotine without the sticky mess. In other words, Zyns are to Snus what Juuls are to cigarettes—and the latest wave in the push for ever more refined, automatic, and hassle-free nicotine delivery.

And they are popular. Nicotine pouches debuted in the U.S. in 2016 and sales grew by over 540 percent between August 2019 to March 2022. Brands like On! and Velo have played their part, but Zyn, the brand born in Sweden in 2014 and acquired by the tobacco behemoth Philip Morris in 2022, commands 75 percent of the market share as of 2023.

“Part of the appeal is the name.” says Wilson Nesbit, an economics student at Yale University. “It’s short. It’s sweet. And you can put it in a lot of words.” 

In other words, it’s memeable. “Monica Lezynsky,” Nesbit offers. “Zyn-Manuel Miranda. Qui-Gon Zyn.”

Nesbit lives on Lynwood Place, a small street just off Yale’s campus in New Haven, Connecticut. Lynwood is home to two churches, three fraternities, two secret societies, one Chabad house, and a boatload of nicotine. Hence the block’s new nickname, Zynwood. 

“It’s been known as Zynwood for two years,” says Nesbit, who lives with six boys in a house on the street. “The guys who lived here before us had a tent with the Zyn brand stamped across it.” More recently, he underwent an artistic project to solidify the community’s identity, collecting the empty Zyn tins from throughout the neighborhood—277 of them—and spelling out ZYNWOOD on the wall of their living room. 

The Zynwood sign. (Photo courtesy of Wilson Nesbit)

But Zyns aren’t just for college kids. Twentysomethings in corporate jobs now see them as a sophisticated way to get a nicotine hit.

“Vapes are unprofessional,” Andrew Schuler, a consultant at PricewaterhouseCoopers, former vaper, and Zyn user, tells me. “We need nicotine to cope with our jobs because they are extremely stressful,” says Schuler, who goes through three to four pouches a day. “But you’re not going to rip a clunky-looking, purple-colored vape at your desk.”

It’s also about optimization, he said. “Smoking a cigarette requires a break.”

“The guy who used to work at the desk next to me used to take meetings with a Zyn in his cheek,” says one friend, a former Goldman Sachs banker. 

For some, nicotine delivered via Zyns isn’t a nasty addiction, but something of a macho life hack. Arch-techbro Peter Thiel claims nicotine raises your IQ 10 points, while Tucker Carlson (Carlzyn?) proclaimed on Theo Von’s podcast, “Zyn is a powerful work enhancer” as well as “a man enhancer.” (Last December, the Nelk Boys podcasters gifted Carlson the world’s largest Zyn, delivered via helicopter.) But it isn’t neccessarily just right-wingers who use Zyn: a recent picture of Squad member Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez showed a Zyn pack-shaped bulge in her white jeans. 

Tucker Carl-zyn with the world’s largest Zyn, and a regular-sized packet for scale. (Image via X)

In January, Chuck Schumer called for a crackdown on Zyns. “Amid federal action against e-cigs and their grip on young people, a quiet and dangerous alternative has emerged and it is called Zyn,” Schumer said, warning that Zyns “lock their sights on teens and use social media to hook them.”

As part of his crackdown, Schumer wants to investigate how Phillip Morris has marketed Zyn, and whether the firm has targeted minors. In 2023, Juul agreed to pay $462 million to settle lawsuits into the marketing of vaping products to children. But, rather than investing in social media influencers or extensive advertising campaigns, Zyn has relied on organic viral traction in the U.S. 

A spokesman for Zyn says the company’s marketing practices “are focused on preventing underage access and set the benchmark for the industry.” 

But even Nesbit says Schumer is right to worry about young people getting hooked on the pouch. “It’s an easy introduction for youths that haven’t used nicotine,” he told me over the phone from Zynwood. “Mitigating youth usage should be a top priority, but finding the right approach is another story.” 

Others see ingesting Zyns as a constitutional right, and Schumer as an enemy of freedom. As Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene recently exclaimed on X about his crackdown : “This calls for a Zynsurrection!”

Kiran Sampath is a researcher and reporter. Read her last piece about the temple in New Jersey that took 12 years and $96 million to build.

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South Korea Is Running Out of Kids. Is This America’s Future? Anna Louie Sussman

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In January, more than 150 schools in South Korea had no new first graders. (Photo by Busà Photography via Getty Images)

If you’ve been on TikTok in the last few weeks, you might have seen that American women are talking about 4B. The South Korean feminist movement gets its name from the “Four Nos” its adherents commit to: no dating, no sex, no marriage, no childbirth. In short, 4B, which began around 2019, encourages women to actively avoid men as much as possible. That it’s now trending in the U.S. raises an uncomfortable question: Are our gender politics starting to look like Korea’s? And if so, will the demographic consequences be as extreme?

Right now, South Korea is running out of kids. Last week, it was reported that the Education Ministry plans to reduce the number of teacher training places, citing the precipitous decline in students, which is so extreme that in January of this year more than 150 schools across the nation had no new first graders. Six years ago, the average number of children a South Korean woman had in her lifetime was 0.92, a figure rarely seen outside wartime; since then, it’s fallen all the way to 0.78, with a projection of 0.65 in 2025. In Seoul, the capital, it’s already at 0.59

When I visited Seoul in 2022 to report on why Koreans aren’t having babies, I often found myself wondering: Could this happen in America? Our nation’s fertility, though significantly below the replacement rate of 2.1, is currently higher, at 1.8. But, in the course of dozens of conversations with Koreans of reproductive age, I heard more extreme versions of sentiments I’d started to observe at home. 

Today, Americans who want a good old-fashioned heterosexual relationship struggle to find someone who shares their values. Analysis has shown a gigantic mismatch in the nation’s dating pool: for each single liberal woman, there exist 0.6 single liberal young men. Conservative young men have it even worse, with just 0.5 single conservative young women available to choose from. At the end of last year, the pollster Dan Cox found that this divide is particularly intense among American members of Gen Z, whose oldest members are now 27, the average age of a first-time mother in 2022. 

In Gen Z, Cox showed, women and men are much further apart on fundamental questions of gender equality than the generation before them: whereas 52 percent of millennial men say they’re feminists, compared to 54 percent of women, the equivalent figures for Gen Z are 43 percent and 61 percent. In 2019, a third of adult men under 30 said they face discrimination based on their sex; only five years later, that number has increased to almost half.

Recent data suggest this gender divide is global—and growing. In January, a Financial Times report showed the wide, and widening, divergence in political values between young women and men. This is true in South Korea and the U.S. but also in China, Germany, and the UK.

Americans haven’t given up on having a family to the extent that South Koreans have. In 2023, about 35 percent of Koreans said they don’t think having children after marriage is necessary, a figure that rose to more than 57 percent among 19- to 24-year-olds. By contrast, a recent Gallup poll found that the vast majority of Americans under 30 “either already have children (21 percent) or hope to someday (63 percent).” 

But young American women haven’t just been making TikToks about 4B out of curiosity—an increasing number are genuinely swearing off male partners, with the hashtag #celibacyjourney racking up tens of millions of views. A New York Times op-ed published in February described going “boysober” as “this year’s hottest mental health craze.” Meanwhile, men who identify as “involuntarily celibate” are retreating to online echo chambers that, one 2022 study suggested, now harbor eight times as many instances of degrading language toward women than they did in 2016. In the twelve months after December 2022, self-described misogynist Andrew Tate’s following on X increased from 3 million to 8.5 million.

Conservative politicians across the globe are capitalizing on these divides. Not long before I arrived in Korea, the president Yoon Suk-yeol had coasted into office in May 2022 on a wave of anti-feminist campaign promises, in what multiple observers described as an “incel election.” For the first time, young men describing themselves as anti-feminist were seen as an influential voting bloc, with Yoon promising to abolish the nation’s Ministry of Gender Equality and Family. (He has not yet succeeded.)

In the U.S., the Republicans also appear to be aggressively courting the male vote. Since the fall of Roe, the Republican Party has become actively hostile to women’s reproductive rights, pushing female voters left. And some of the party’s most influential members are now stoking a war between men and women.

In a breathtakingly offensive comment last January, Florida congressman Matt Gaetz called for the Republican Party to all but forget about female voters, saying that “For every Karen we lose, there’s a Julio and a Jamal ready to sign up for the MAGA movement.” Fox News host Jesse Watters has been even more explicit in singling out liberal single women as the GOP’s nemesis, alighting, somehow, on matrimony as an electoral strategy. 

“Single women are breaking for Democrats by 30 points,” he said after the 2022 midterms. “We need these ladies to get married,” he warned, following up with an order: “Guys, go put a ring on it.” 

And yet a recent poll found that 40 percent of Republicans said they don’t believe marital rape should definitely or probably be prosecuted, suggesting the party’s not overflowing with eligible bachelors. 

All signs point to an ever-widening rift between the sexes. And if women and men become sworn enemies, America is going to start running out of kids, too.

Anna Louie Sussman is a journalist covering gender, economics, and reproduction. She is a 2024 Alicia Patterson Fellow

For more on America’s gender divide, read Rikki Schlott’s piece, “When It Comes to Sex, My Generation Is Screwed,” and become a Free Press subscriber today:

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April 15, 2024 Garamond

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