Trump will mortgage our environmental future for a quick economic win. Here’s what you can do.
I see a lot of people fretting over the recent election. There is a common sentiment of: “I want to fight, but what can I do?” To answer that question, I want to explore a series of topics about Trump’s immediate and long-term threats to our country, our species, and our planet. As part of the discussion, I will do my best to assess the probability of these threats coming to pass and provide concrete action you might take against each one.
Topic #1: Trump will pilfer environmental funding to buoy the economy
Contrary to what most people think, climate change is the biggest challenge we face as a species. In less than 50 years, climate change will have a bigger effect on our lives than anything we have ever seen. That’s not because storms will kill us all, but rather because it will change rainfall patterns, acidify soil and water, alter coastal landscapes, and change average temperatures.
In short, climate change will alter where humans can live and where we can grow food. It will likely push people first toward the poles, and later back toward the equator. Crop yields will be altered with soil/water acidification, and some fertile zones will be lost. Drought will render some areas inhospitable. In the end it won’t be the weather that kills us, but rather the resource wars of 8 billion people “adapting” to a new planet.
There is no question that the climate IS changing; very few intellectually honest people dispute that at this point. Some people DO dispute the cause; arguing that this is a natural planetary cycle. However our best climate scientists agree that the current change is man-made, and caused by continuous and increasing emissions of greenhouse gases; chief among them, carbon dioxide.
All the life currently living on earth evolved in a CO2 landscape of 150–250 parts per million (ppm). We are currently at 404 ppm (http://go.nasa.gov/1sPR4t6), and we add ~0.5 ppm per year. If our carbon emissions follow average economic growth (say 7% annualized growth) we will be dumping ~3.8 ppm per year in 30 years.
Early indications are that animals accustomed to a lower range of CO2, and concomitant lower average temperatures, are struggling to keep up with the change. Ocean acidification impedes the life cycle of calcifying organisms such as corals and shellfish, which form the basis of the oceanic food web (http://bit.ly/2fUco2o). It also impedes the growth rate of some squid, mussels, and finfish.
Overall warming of the earth affects cold loving species. Moose are losing habitat at the southern ends of the range (http://bit.ly/2fbhh5T). Cold-loving freshwater fish like trout, pike, and walleye will decline and die off. Drought and warm water are decimating salmon populations on the west coast (http://bit.ly/1JVgJiu).
In short, increasing carbon concentration and global temperatures won’t just push humans around, it will fundamentally alter the world as we know it. It is imperative that we reduce carbon emissions and seek out carbon free sources of energy.
Now enter Trump: a showman who is quite skilled at business theater. He is aware of the public perception that the economy is not doing well; he used that to get elected. In order to keep up the enthusiasm of his followers he will look for quick and easy ways to dump cash into the economy and create jobs. He has made several promises in his “Contract with the American Voter”- the plan for his first 100 days- which are extremely worrying (http://n.pr/2fmMuDB). Among those:
· Cancel US payments to the UN for climate change (http://bit.ly/2f6iVFR). Part of the Paris Agreement, these are intended to provide incentives to the developing world to steer away from coal- one of the worst sources of energy, environmentally speaking. Coal has low energy density, and high particulate pollution; meaning that we dump tons of carbon and crap into the air when we burn it, and we get only a little energy in return.
· Cancel Obama’s Clean Power Plan (http://wapo.st/2fIKjJY). Obama set a goal to reduce the US’ carbon emissions by 32%, by 2030 (reseting and keeping them at 2005 levels). The rule was adopted by the EPA, but is still working its way through court challenges; there are several plausible ways Trump could kill it.
· Cut environmental regulations and gut the EPA (http://bit.ly/1IqjXDR). Trump has repeatedly said there is too much regulation on the US economy. He has specifically called out the EPA as unnecessary, expensive, and ineffective.
· “Open up” fracking. That probably includes granting exploration/drilling in the National Parks. In his 100 days plan he explicitly stated he wants to access the $50 trillion worth of fossil fuel reserves. His short list of cabinet choices (http://nyti.ms/2fKXI4c) for Secretary of Interior (which oversees the Park Service) includes two oil executives (and climate change deniers) as well as Sarah Palin-who has historically advocated for drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (“Drill Baby, Drill!”).
· Green light pipelines. In his 100 days plan he specifically calls out the Keystone Pipeline, which Obama has done his best to obstruct. The Guardian also reports that Trump has a direct financial interest in the completion of the DAPL (http://bit.ly/2eLbd59)- talk about conflict of interest.
You get the point. Trump believes climate change is a hoax, and everywhere we’re currently trying to fight it, he see dollar signs. He is thinking he can grab that cash and dump it back into the US economy; maybe even to fund his infrastructure projects (which do sound good- on their face). He also sees the potential to create jobs and income from natural gas. The short term result would probably be a buoyed economy with more jobs; which would make him look good.
However the long term effects would be an energy policy moving headlong towards MORE carbon emissions, rather than away from it. We will dump untold amount of CO2 into the atmosphere and potentially permanently damage environmental treasures (like the Boundary Waters) in our desperate attempt to squeeze out every last drop.
This is critical, because we are approaching the point of no return on climate change. The decisions we make now could fundamentally alter the course of life on Earth. This is NOT the time for quick, easy wins. This IS the time for long-view, big picture thinking!
Probability: High to Definite. These are Trump’s policy plans that he has stated explicitly. With all three branches of government in the firm grasp of the GOP, there is very little to stop him from at least trying all these things.
What you can do: The key will be stopping Trump from succeeding in these goals. Any friction we can add to the system not only buys time, but can help sway the public conversation. Additionally we all need to continue to make good environmental decisions in our own lives.
Specifically, I recommend:
· Support environmental advocacy groups. The NRDC and Sierra Club are two of the most famous and successful. The National Wildlife Organization (http://www.nwf.org) and World Wildlife Fund (WWF) organizations fight to preserve wild species.
· Re-evaluate your opinions on Nuclear Power. One potential bright side of the Trump administration is that he is pro-nuclear. New reactors are being designed which can burn up our current nuclear waste and weapons stockpiles — cleaning up an existing problem and powering the future. Check out Transatomic Power (http://bit.ly/1MTgaVC) for more info. Support the Ecomodernism movement, via the Breakthrough Institute and Mike Shellenberger at Environmental Progress.
· Keep up environmental protests. Call your lawmakers, ask them to protect air, water, and soil where you see it encroached upon. Tell them to support the Paris Agreement and the Clean Power Plan. Carry signs when you have the time and inclination.
· Continuously look at and try to reduce your own impact on the planet. Everything you do (everything!) leaves a footprint: every purchase, every trip to the store, every meal. Think about what you need and choose carefully. Not buying useless crap is a good way to help the planet, as well as your own wallet.
· Take positive action: consider rooftop solar, buy a more fuel efficient (used) or electric car, plant a tree, ride a bike for short trips, start a garden, wear a sweater instead of turning up the thermostat, cool your house at night with fans rather than daytime AC. There are endless ways to use a little less energy here and there, which also make you stronger, tougher, and richer.
· Don’t lose sight of the fact that it’s a shell game. In a year or two when (potentially) gas is cheap and unemployment is lower, remember that we are accumulating an environmental debt that we might not be able to pay back. Don’t let others lose sight of it either.
· Most importantly: Keep up the fight. Change is slow, and generally made by people who keep on pushing-even through the backlash. These acts of self-assertion actually help, and help you feel better.