One year ago, on January 20, 2017, Donald J. Trump was inaugurated 45th president of the United States. The year has however been seen by environmentalists and sustainable development campaigners as a challenging one, in the light of the number of controversial moves made by the White House within 365 days. Washington, DC-based non-profit organisation involved in education and advocacy related to climate change, Climate Reality, lists the decisions, saying however that it remains as hopeful as ever
Choosing Profits Over People
The White House has revoked or repealed dozens of environmental rules, including ones that prevent coal companies from dumping mining debris into local streams and ban offshore oil and gas drilling in the Atlantic and Arctic oceans.
A rule preventing coal companies from dumping mining debris into local streams – Revoked. A ban on offshore oil and gas drilling in the Atlantic and Arctic oceans – Repealed. A proposed rule asking mines to prove they can pay for potential future cleanup efforts – Reversed. Guidance for federal agencies to include greenhouse gas emissions in environmental reviews – Withdrawn. Review of strong fuel-efficiency standards for cars and trucks – Reopened. An Obama-era rule regulating royalties on oil, gas, and coal extracted from federal or tribal land – Rescinded.
So who loses? Pretty much everyone else.
To start, burning fossil fuels pollutes our air directly and immediately with irritants like particulate matter and soot, and as these greenhouse gases accumulate in the atmosphere and average temperatures rise, they also contribute to higher levels of ground-level ozone that can cause acute and long-term respiratory problems.
According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), “Climate change is among the greatest health risks of the twenty-first century. Rising temperatures and more extreme weather events cost lives directly, increase transmission and spread of infectious diseases, and undermine the environmental determinants of health, including clean air and water, and sufficient food.”
But instead of listening to the scientists at WHO and elsewhere, the administration seemed to be listening to, well, fossil fuel executives. The White House went even further and directed federal agencies to stop using the “social cost of carbon,” a tool for estimating the real monetary damage that comes with spreading disease, rising asthma rates, and other impacts of carbon pollution and climate change.
Climate Change and National Security
In December 2017, the White House dropped climate change from the list of global threats to the nation included in the official National Security Strategy (NSS). This action stands in stark contrast to the NSS under the Obama Administration, which recognised climate change as a key threat to national security.
What’s shocking about these moves is that they directly contradict the public stance of the current (and well-respected) secretary of defense, James Mattis.
“Climate change is impacting stability in areas of the world where our troops are operating today,” Secretary Mattis wrote in response to follow-up questions posed after his public confirmation hearing January. “It is appropriate for the Combatant Commands to incorporate drivers of instability that impact the security environment in their areas into their planning.”
Secretary Mattis and Secretary of State Rex Tillerson are said to have also arguedagainst President Trump’s decision to begin the process of withdrawing the US from the Paris Agreement.
There are countless ways the climate crisis impacts the internal stability of nations around the world. But don’t take our word for it. Just listen to some of our nation’s greatest military minds.
Not even a week before releasing the new NSS, the president signed the National Defense Authorisation Act, which includes a section titled “Report on Effects of Climate Change on Department of Defense,” where Secretary Mattis, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Joseph Dunford, and former Secretary of Defense Robert Gates, among others, elaborate on the various and numerous threats climate change poses to the safety and security of America’s military.
The conclusion: “It is the sense of Congress that climate change is a direct threat to the national security of the United States and is impacting stability in areas of the world both where the United States Armed Forces are operating today, and where strategic implications for future conflict exist.”
EPA Leadership: Not That into Protecting the Environment
In October, the Trump Administration proposed repealing America’s Clean Power Plan, a centerpiece of President Obama’s commitment to tackle climate change by reducing the carbon footprint of US power plants.
EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt has set his sights on undoing America’s Clean Power Plan (CPP), in particular. In October, the Trump Administration proposed repealing the CPP, a centerpiece of President Obama’s commitment to tackle climate change by reducing the carbon footprint of US power plants.
Repealing the CPP moves the United States in exactly the opposite direction as the rest of the world is heading in increasingly shifting from fossil fuels to renewables. It’s also yet another example of the US abdicating its traditional role as a global leader (and the White House sacrificing real business opportunities for American companies and workers in the growing clean energy revolution).
Sadly, the writing was always on the wall once Pruitt was nominated to lead EPA. Prior to becoming administrator, Pruitt was an outspoken denier of climate science who led the coalition of state attorneys general suing the agency over the CPP during his tenure as attorney general of Oklahoma. He also received nearly $300,000 in campaign contributions from the fossil fuel industry, and took industry messages straight from lobbyists for official state correspondence to President Obama and EPA.
While in office, his close relationship with the very industries his agency regulates has only deepened while environmentalists and public interest groups have struggled for access. The consequences couldn’t be clearer in the growing list of environmental regulations now on hold, under review, or simply repealed. Which raises all kinds of questions about what happens to the EPA’s important mission of protecting human health and the environment in 2018.
The Paris Agreement
Perhaps, or at least among, the most public assaults on environmental regulation, climate science, public opinion, and common sense undertaken by the Trump Administration came in an announcement made last summer. In a speech from the White House Rose Garden, President Trump declared, “I was elected to represent the citizens of Pittsburgh, not Paris,” and announced the US would begin the lengthy formal process of withdrawing from the Paris Agreement.
The historic agreement, which was signed in 2015 and entered into force in late-2016, united the world around a major goal – to cut greenhouse gas emissions worldwide and together limit global warming. The accord rallied the world around the existentially important cause of limiting global average temperature increases to less than 2 degrees Celsius.
Adding insult to injury, during his Paris announcement, the president also declared his intent to stop payments to the Green Climate Fund, a United Nations programme “which helps fund climate finance investment in low-emission, climate-resilient development through mitigation and adaptation projects and programs in developing countries.”
We could say an awful lot more here, but we’ll leave it at this: The United States is now the only country in the world opposed to the Paris Agreement. That pretty much tells us all that we need to know.
So Where Do Things Stand?
All of this is pretty bad for the planet, of course, but it’s also antithetical to the administration’s “America First” policy. In any scenario where the US attempts to expand fossil fuel production as the rest of the world moves on quickly to renewable energy sources like wind and solar, everyday Americans citizens lose. Beyond even the obvious dangers the climate crisis poses to our short- and long-term well-being, we also lose out on being part of the future of energy and jobs – all so the Big Polluters of today can line their pockets before the jig is truly up.
“The irony is that we may well meet our obligations under the Paris treaty, even with the current administration playing an adversarial role,” Dr. Michael Mann told Climate Reality late last year. “That’s simply because of all of the progress that we are seeing now at the state level, at the municipal level thanks to efforts by folks like Al Gore to really mobilize the American people on this issue.”
He continued, “Ironically, (leaving the Paris Agreement) puts the US in a less competitive position. The rest of the world recognises that the future of our global economy will be in renewable energy. That’s the great economic revolution of this century. And what Trump and those whose agenda he’s advancing are doing is holding us back as the rest of the world moves on, and guaranteeing that we lose out in this economic race.”
In the face of these attacks on the health of our shared planet and the US’ role as a global leader, are you ready to be a voice of reality? Are you ready to take action?
Here’s the deal: As discussed above, the Trump Administration is working to repeal (and possibly replace) America’s Clean Power Plan. Backed by powerful oil, coal, and gas companies, EPA Administrator Pruitt claims the original CPP overstepped EPA authority. But we know this is really about protecting Big Polluters’ bottom lines – no matter the consequences.
Americans agree our families should have clean air to breathe, a safe climate to live in, and a thriving, job-rich future powered by renewable energy.