On March 28, 2017, President Trump signed an executive order that will repeal the climate policies former President Obama enacted during his time in office. President Trump promised this action during his presidential campaign, and it marks a troubling direction for the future of our country and for planet Earth as a whole. The president has relentlessly denied the belief that rising carbon dioxide emissions are a pressing global issue, and if further policies from the executive branch are put into effect over the next four years that continue to discard environmental protections, the world may be unable to mollify the substantial harm done to our planet.
In particular, this executive order includes repealing the Clean Power Plan spearheaded by President Obama. This decision is in line with President Trump’s support for the Keystone XL pipeline, repealing of wildlife protection acts and disregard for the necessity of America’s national parks and federal lands. He has claimed that this nullification will provide more jobs for the American people. However, Trump intentionally disregards the fact that jobs in the coal industry, which currently employs fewer than 100,000 people, will not be significant in decades to come, when humanity can no longer reverse the devastating environmental harm (The New York Times, “Coal mining jobs Trump would bring back no longer exist,” 03.29.17).
The damage done to the environment is already visible in the rapidly disappearing Solomon Islands. A study published by the Environmental Research Letters provides irrefutable proof that the Solomon Islands are disappearing due to rising sea levels, with five already underwater over the past seven decades (CNN, “Five Solomon islands swallowed by the sea,” 05.10.2016). In addition, the world’s carbon dioxide levels rose above 400 ppm (parts per million) this past September. Many scientists believe this threshold is the world’s breaking point, resulting in irreparable damage and a continual increase in world temperatures (Climate Central, “The World Passes 400 PPM Threshold. Permanently,” 09.27.2016). Because President Obama’s Clean Power Plan was integral to America’s role in the 2015 Paris Agreement, which seeks to prevent the planet’s temperature from rising over a permanently-detrimental 3.6 degrees, Trump’s rollback of environmental policy will be devastating for not only the nation, but also for the world. 2016 was the hottest year on record, and this trend will only continue if we do not reduce our usage of environment-degrading fossil fuels.
Another action equally detrimental to the environment taken by President Trump is to instate Scott Pruitt, a staunch climate change denier and friend to the fossil fuel industry, as the Administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). He has no experience in matters relating to the environment and has provided no scientific backing for the direction he is taking the agency in. As a person who rejects established science by stating that carbon dioxide emissions do not directly contribute to climate change, Pruitt is unfit to take the helm of our nation’s leading environmental agency.
While President Obama was not infallible in his approach to instating climate protective measures during his time in office, he made strides that were designed to better our country’s future. His Clean Power Plan promised to cut carbon dioxide emissions by 32 percent by 2030, and he signed the 2015 Paris Agreement in which the world’s nations promised to work to reduce climate-harming emissions (The New York Times, “Trump Signs Executive Order Unwinding Obama Climate Policies,” 03.28.2017). President Trump’s reversal of this legacy has the potential to result in droughts, water wars, rising sea levels resulting in higher rates of erosion: environmental catastrophes that will disproportionately impact marginalized groups. These are impacts of environmental racism that we have seen already in places like Flint, Michigan and Kivalina, Alaska, where marginalized communities are put at further risk by the lack of environmental action taken by their respective governments and the lack of protection afforded by the federal government.
President Trump has proven that his capitalistic mindset that favors short-term profits neglects any possible concern for our future as a nation and the world in regards to the environment. Although in 2009 he wrote a letter to President Obama urging him to take immediate action to counteract climate change, he later declared via Twitter, “Global warming is a total, and very expensive, hoax!” A year later, he again changed his platform and donated money to combat climate change, but once again, a year after that, he re-declared the notion of climate change absurd (Newsweek, “A Timeline of Every Ridiculous Thing Trump Has Said About Climate Change,” 04.02.2017). His anti-environmental policies now are dangerous and indicative of how deeply beholden his administration is to the fossil fuel lobby.
Resistance against President Trump’s recent anti-environmental policies is apparent, however. The national parks, which are heralded as areas of conservation unique to the United States, have been threatened by budget cuts and bans on social media postings. In response, multiple “rogue” accounts have cropped up across social media to critique the administration’s harmful policies and to remind the public of the damage being done. One account, “Alt National Park Service,” responded to President Trump’s recent publicity stunt of donating his salary from his first months of presidency to the National Park Service. The group reminded the public that his donation amounted to $78,333, while his intended cuts will take a much deeper toll on the EPA and National Park Service (NPS) budgets. The Interior Department’s budget, for instance, is proposed to be cut by 12 percent, which amounts to a loss of nearly $2 billion (Slate, “Donald Trump Gave a $78,000 Novelty Check to the Park Service, Whose Budget He Wants to Gut,” 4.3.2017). By taking to social media and disseminating this information, these rogue accounts serve as one of many forms of resistance against normalizing President Trump’s anti-environmental policies.
It is imperative that we continue to insist that President Trump shift toward policies that would allow him to keep his promise for more jobs within the United States energy sector but also strive to understand, prevent and repair the egregious harm that accompanies the continual use of fossil fuels. This can be conducted by shifting focus from fossil fuels toward more renewable resources and not repealing the strides that President Obama made toward ensuring a bright future for all of the world’s inhabitants.
In the meantime, the Vassar community, including students, faculty and staff, must continue to take tangible steps here and across the country to counteract President Trump’s harmful rollback of crucial environmental policies. It is critical that we as young people remain informed, vocal and vigilant about climate change. College students should continue to insist upon pursuing options such as a campus-wide divestment from fossil fuels, which 91 percent of the Vassar student body voted for overwhelmingly last year. Through steps taken in public policy and in everyday life, we must seize every opportunity to counteract harm done by us and by this presidential administration. The future of our world depends upon it.
—The Staff Editorial expresses the opinion of at least 2/3 of The Miscellany News Editorial Board.