Photo: Donkey Hotey / Flickr
I’ll spare you the perfunctory platitudes about coming together as a country in the aftermath of a savage election. It’s a cheerful thought, but it doesn’t make sense when we’re talking about the environment. How do you come together with people who refuse to recognize what is incontrovertible, scientific fact? You don’t. At least not until they acknowledge the science and admit climate change is a thing. Otherwise, what’s the point?
But it’s not like the science matters, anyway. It’s about money and power. Politicians deny climate change for two reasons: In order to solicit ridiculous donations from the fossil-fuel industry and because it seems to get them elected. Money and power. That’s the long and short of it. If everyone in America pledged to never again vote for a climate denier, the GOP would evolve overnight. Unfortunately, that’s not where we are as a country. This election proved we’re nowhere near that point.
Donald Trump’s unfathomable ascension to the presidency means climate-denying Republicans are poised to control all three branches of government. That’s where we find ourselves today. In no way, shape or form is this anything less than abysmal for our planet. No amount of make-believe unity is going to change that.
Let’s take a look at how the new administration plans to manage our land, water and air.
For starters, President-Elect Trump denies the existence of climate change, calling it a hoax perpetrated by the Chinese. It’s no surprise, then, that he selected climate-skeptic superstar Myron Ebell to run the EPA transition team. He’s also a favorite to lead the agency upon Trump’s inauguration. This article by Scientific American casts Ebell as an eco-villain of the highest order, and pretty much the last person an environmentalist would want to see anywhere near the EPA (which Trump once considered dissolving) let alone running it.
The Department of Interior isn’t shaping up to be any better. Oil executive Forrest Lucas, who co-founded LucasOil, is considered a favorite to become Secretary. That’s right — an oil tycoon may end up running the department that oversees our national parks and wildlife refuges; the department that lists and delists endangered species; the department responsible for regulations governing the extraction of fossil fuels on public lands.
You’ve got to be fracking kidding me.
Another elderly, white oilman, Oklahoman Harold Hamm, has been whispering sweet nothings about energy policy into Trump’s ear and seems primed to become Energy Secretary. He’s all about expanding gas and oil operations in the US (even at the expense of public health) and sees renewables as a distant priority. Awesome.
Trump has already pledged to lift restrictions on fossil-fuel reserves on federal lands; cancel billions in payments to UN climate change programs; push forward with energy projects like the Keystone XL Pipeline; rescind President Obama’s Clean Power Plan; and cancel the Paris Agreement — all within his first 100 days in office. A Republican Congress is foaming at the mouth, dropping the word “mandate” left and right, eager to get in on the ecocide.
I wish I could say Obama’s environmental progress is only going to crumble, but at this point, it looks like the GOP is rigging dynamite in preparation for an implosion.
I could go on forever, but I won’t. I think you get the point. But just in case you don’t…
This means war.
Speaking as a Millennial (but just barely), I come from a generation that has enjoyed a tremendous amount of progress on a number of important issues without really having to fight all that hard for it. That’s about to change.
Hope is a sacred and unassailable thing, though, and it has yet to vanish. Even in the aftermath of an election that couldn’t have gone any worse for the environment, there are reasons to be optimistic.
Trump and his administration comprise but a few men and women who may very well find themselves out of office in four years. No matter their intentions, they just don’t have the power to dismantle decades of environmental progress in a single term (though that’s not to say they couldn’t do some serious damage).
Moreover, we are the United States of America, which means we can still pursue progressive policies at the state level. In the same election that saw Trump rise to power, for example, California voted to ditch plastic bags altogether and ban fracking in one of its most oil-rich counties.
There is also significant legal precedent blocking Trump from going off the chain, most notably a Supreme Court ruling that allowed the EPA to regulate CO2 emissions because they’re considered pollutants under the Clean Air Act. If Trump attempts the full scale of deregulation he so boisterously bragged about on the campaign trail, a number of environmental organizations will challenge him in court.
And let’s not forget that we’re in the midst of a renewable energy revolution. There is undeniable momentum behind wind and solar, which continue to become more practical and affordable every day. We can only expect more green technology — like electric vehicles — to follow suit, with or without Trump’s support.
Like I said, lots of reasons to be positive.
But I want to get really real with you for a second. This isn’t a war that’s likely to be won or lost in courtrooms, legislative chambers or whatever dimly lit corridors Trump plans to do business in. This one’s on you and me. It’s on everyone who calls themselves an environmentalist. And we’re going to need the help of people who, up to this point, haven’t really considered the environment in their day-to-day lives, not because they don’t care, but because they have more important things to worry about, like finding work or feeding their families. Their indifference is understandable, but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t reach out to them. Perhaps these are the people with which we should come together — not Trump and his cadre of oil barons.
First and foremost, it starts with education. One-third of middle and high-school teachers introduce climate change denial to their students. Half allow students to debate the issue without guiding them toward the science — the equivalent of wasting classroom time debating whether or not the Earth is flat. And three out of five science teachers don’t even grasp the total consequences of climate change. There’s no doubt about it: The state of climate-change education in America is pitiful. That needs to change.
But it’s the little things, too. We need to drive less, eat a greener diet, say no to plastic water bottles, recycle, buy locally, drink from reusable cups, refuse straws and about a million other minor lifestyle adjustments that will make a substantial difference en masse. Yes, this war will be fought by politicians, nonprofit organizations, lawyers and activists, but it will be won or lost based on how we choose to live. It’s that simple. And those of us with the most money, leisure time and personal freedom have a responsibility to lead the way.
If you’re an environmentalist, it’s time to move past the election, lace up your boots and get to work. There is much to be done and even more at stake. Let’s get to it.