Saturday, February 4, 2017

Follow Up: What the Trump Presidency Has Meant for the Environment So Far

Back on November 14, 2016, I published an editorial on my blog entitled “What might a Donald Trump Presidency Mean for the Environment?” (Link) Trump had not taken up the role as president just yet, but we were already beginning to see what kind of direction – with regard to the environment – his presidency would travel down. Donald Trump has since been inaugurated, and his term is only 16 days in. 

In this short period of time, we have seen the Trump Administration take more steps down a very dangerous and highly-worrisome path. This follow-up will examine some of the actions already taken by both President Trump’s administration and the Republican-led Congress, along with some of the proposed actions those two groups are considering.

I want to once again stress that although my blog does not normally venture into the political realm, the environment does not exist within a vacuum. The actions taken by politicians have a tremendous effect on the environment. We have already seen terrifying actions not only considered, but also carried out by the Trump Administration, and these actions could or will have horrible ramifications for the environment. When concerned with the environment, one cannot help but find themselves concerned with politics as well.

I will be examining the following:

  • The EPA with regard to Scott Pruitt and the movement to abolish the agency.
  • The actions taken against the Endangered Species Act.
  • The movement to sell off federally-owned public lands.
  • What we can do as concerned citizens.

Scott Pruitt and Abolishing the EPA

First, I want to discuss one of President Trump’s nominees. Although nearly all of the people he has selected for a cabinet position are concerning, unqualified, and potentially-harmful for the United States (e.g. Steve Bannon, Betsy DeVos, Rex Tillerson, and others), I want to focus on Trump’s nominee to lead the Environmental Protection Agency. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is a federal agency dedicated to protecting both the environment and American citizens from significant environmental risks, such as pollution. (Source) The EPA works toward this goal by developing and implementing regulations and standards pertaining to human and environmental health. The EPA also funds scientists to carry out research on the environment and risks to it, so that the EPA can better understand what kinds of regulations to set and how to best enforce them. The EPA oversees and enforces such landmark acts as the Clean Air Act and the Clean Water Act. The Cuyahoga River, for example, doesn’t catch on fire anymore due primarily to the work of the EPA. (Source)

President Trump has selected Scott Pruitt to lead the EPA, although it is important to note that Pruitt still needs to be confirmed by Congress. Pruitt is a completely unwarranted choice to lead the EPA as his ideals stand as the antithesis to the mission of the EPA. In fact, Pruitt has sued the EPA a total of 14 times (Source). These lawsuits all revolved around attempting to block or overturn regulations the EPA enforces to help protect the environment and human health. (Source) It is very concerning to imagine the anti-environmental-protection Pruitt leading the agency whose mission revolves around protecting the environment. How do you protect the environment if you don’t set regulations and standard for corporations to adhere to? Corporations are notorious for disregarding environmental well-being in order to maximize profits (Example 1, Example 2, Example 3), and there needs to be governmental oversight to ensure that corporations can’t simply pollute and destroy the environment when it suits them. Instead of previously being an advocate for environmental health through the use of regulations, Pruitt has simply repeatedly sued the EPA on behalf of corporations in an attempt to get rid of whatever regulations stand in the way of those corporations. These corporations would then donate large sums of money to Pruitt as a “thank you.” (Source) Pruitt obviously has a conflict of interest when it comes to leading the EPA, and he should not have ever been considered for the task.

There are two other concerns involving Pruitt in addition to his anti-EPA history. First, he is a supporter of states having more control in regulations and environmental standards. (Source) This might not sound bad at first, but giving states control could have serious repercussions. Pollution does not adhere to state boundaries, and air pollution and water pollution can easily cross state lines. If one state has relaxed regulations, any legal pollution could easily cross state lines and that other state would have no way of putting an end to whoever is creating the pollution, as that is out of their jurisdiction. Here’s a real-life example. The Illinois River is a tributary to the Arkansas River. The Illinois River begins in Arkansas and flows into Oklahoma before draining into the Arkansas River. Over the past several decades, chicken farms and city wastewater plants located upstream in Arkansas were responsible for dumping high amounts of phosphorus and nitrates into the Illinois River. (Source) When the Illinois River flowed into neighboring Oklahoma, the phosphorus-laden water caused massive algal blooms and lowered the amount of dissolved oxygen in the water. This not only made the Illinois River unattractive for recreational use, but also stressed the aquatic life due to the oxygen-deprived water. Federal courts ruled that upstream states are responsible for the water quality in downstream states, and Arkansas began working to lower the phosphorus and nitrate levels in the Illinois River for Oklahoma. Had regulations been left to the states, Oklahoma would have had no way of forcing the corporations and cities in Arkansas to comply with phosphorus and nitrate level standards. When it comes to pollution and environmental health, there has to be federal oversight to ensure all problems will get addressed equally. 

The last concern with Pruitt involves his stance on climate change. Initially, Pruitt was a climate change denier. He claimed in an opinion piece published in 2016 that the debate surrounding climate change was not yet settled by scientists. (Source) This is simply not true. Anthropogenic climate change is occurring, and 97%-98% of climatologists all agree that it is. (Source and Source) There simply is no debate. (If you have questions pertaining to climate change, I highly suggest checking out the following two sites which consider the common arguments against anthropogenic climate change, and what the actual science says: Resource 1 and Resource 2)

However, in a recent Congressional hearing, Pruitt changed his views and did admit that climate change was occurring. (Source) A step in the right direction, perhaps, but not good enough. Instead of admitting that humans are the root cause of the climate change, Pruitt said that human activity contributes to [climate change] in some manner.” (Source) Once again, this is not true. Human activity doesn’t just contribute to the current climate change, it is the primary cause of it. When climate change is the greatest danger facing our livelihood and the well-being of the environment, how can we trust someone who doesn’t accept the reality to lead the EPA in the fight against climate change? 

Of course, it might not even matter if Pruitt is confirmed to lead the EPA. Why? Because the Trump Administration and the Republican-led Congress is attempting to abolish the EPA completely. Republican Representative Matt Gaetz has recently drafted a bill that would dismantle and abolish the important agency. (Source) Gaetz claims that the regulations put in place by the EPA are stifling small businesses, but the EPA is incredibly important. Abolishing the EPA would be utterly detrimental for the environment, our country, and all of us living here. With the drafting of this bill, Representative Gaetz is essentially saying my health, your health, your children’s health, and the well-being of the environment are not as important as the potential for more money. This is not acceptable.

But Gaetz isn’t some lone Congressman introducing some bill that will never go anywhere. The abolition of the EPA is a goal the Trump Administration shares. During his campaign, Trump was very vocal about wanting to abolish the EPA. (Source) And recently Myron Ebell (the infamous climate change denier and leader of the EPA transition team for Trump) claimed that the Trump Administration will continue with this campaign goal, and that they will work to dismantle the EPA. (Source) Just like Representative Gaetz, this is the Trump Administration saying that they do not care about our health, but instead only care about business profits. No one should find this acceptable. And as I previously explained, leaving the mission of the EPA up to the states simply will not work due to intrinsic features of the environment and pollution.

The Federally Threatened Lakeside Daisy, a species protected by the Endangered Species Act.

The Disregard for Endangered Species 

Next I want to discuss the apparent disregard for endangered species and the Endangered Species Act. The Endangered Species Act, passed in 1973, was intended to prevent species in the United States from going extinct. (Source) The Endangered Species Act determines what species are at risk, lists the at-risk species as endangered or threatened, and then begins the process of alleviating whatever pressures are resulting in the decline of the listed species along with bolstering the remaining population. Because of the Endangered Species Act, we still have animals such as the Whooping Crane, Black-Footed Ferret, and the Bald Eagle. Without the actions taken by the ESA, these species – and many more – would now be extinct.

The ESA, however, is being challenged. For example, the Chairman of the House Natural Resources Committee Rob Bishop recently commented that the Endangered Species Act “Has never been used for the rehabilitation of species. It’s been used for control of the land.” (Source) First, the ESA has been used for rehabilitation of species; that part of Bishop’s statement is just incorrect. (Take, for example, the Black-Footed Ferret: https://www.fws.gov/mountain-prairie/species/mammals/blackfootedferret/2013DraftRevisedRecoveryPlan.pdf) But second, and most importantly, Bishop’s comment highlights an apparent, and fundamental, misunderstanding of basic ecology and conservation. Animals require appropriate land to exist. The existence of a species is tied directly to its habitat. It makes no difference if you captive-breed a species if that species’ habitat has been destroyed or modified to an unusable extent. Yes, the ESA is used to control the land, because without setting aside and protecting appropriate habitats for the various listed species, those species will continue to decline before ultimately going extinct. This misunderstanding (or apathy) that Bishop has is concerning, as he is in favor of repealing the act. He is not alone, as other Republicans in powerful positions also dislike the act.

Outright repealing the ESA would be hard. Republican politicians, however, have launched attempts to strip protective powers of the ESA, which is a much more attainable goal, especially with a Republican-controlled Congress. One such attack on the ESA has been the proposal of a limit on how many species can be protected. This proposal makes no sense. Over 1,600 species are currently covered by the ESA, and this number continues to grow thanks to human influences. If a species is near extinction, it is near extinction. Having a limit on how many species can be covered by the ESA won’t help anything; it will simply make those endangered species which could not be covered by the law to go extinct.

Why go after the Endangered Species Act? The underlying reason is money. When a species becomes federally listed, appropriate areas of habitat become regulated to benefit that species. This protection often interferes with businesses dealing in natural resource extraction. Take, for example, the federally-threatened Northern Spotted Owl in the Pacific Northwest. (Source) The Northern Spotted Owl (a subspecies of Spotted Owl) requires extensive old-growth coniferous forests. These old-growth forests are also prime logging locations. The destruction of these old-growth forests for timber subsequently caused the Northern Spotted Owl population to crash, and they began teetering on the edge of extinction. The listing of this species under the ESA required remaining stands of these old-growth conifer forests to be protected, and this directly hindered the logging industry in the Pacific Northwest. The result was a fight between those wanting to protect this species and those wanting to continue logging with disregard for this species’ continued existence. This heated fight even led to the car-bombing of two environmentalists who were advocating for the protection of the Northern Spotted Owl by pro-logging assailants. (Source) As long as there are people who are driven by greed, there will be people opposed to protecting endangered species. It is consequently paramount that protection of these species continues. Right now it appears that these protections will lose out to the industry as a result of Republican politicians, and that is shameful.


Selling Federal Lands?

A push by Republican Congressmen that has been slowly gaining momentum recently involves federal lands. More specifically, it involves getting rid of them. Federal lands are lands controlled by the federal government, and they can be broken up into two main groups. First, there are lands managed by the Department of the Interior, and these include National Parks, National Monuments, and Bureau of Land Management Lands. Then there are lands managed by the Department of Agriculture, and these primarily include National Forests. Although these lands are managed by the federal government, they are what are known as “public lands.” As our government is founded on the principle of “for the people, by the people,” these public lands belong to all of us. They serve a variety of purposes, and most citizens use them recreationally. This summer, for example, I camped out in, explored, and enjoyed various public lands including Zion National Park, Dixie National Forest, and Grand-Staircase Escalante National Monument. These are our lands to use and enjoy, and they also protect many significant natural and historical areas and sites. 

However, there are some Republican politicians who have been attempting to get rid of millions of acres of these public lands. This move came to a head recently, with the introduction of the H.R.621 bill. (Source) I had spent several hours writing up what the H.R.621 bill was, and why it set a bad precedent for future ceding of federal lands, but I woke up on Feb. 2 to great news. The Republican Representative from Utah who had created the bill, Jason Chaffetz, announced that he was withdrawing the bill! (Source) This withdrawal was the result of very vocal public backlash. 

I will still briefly describe what the bill was, and some of the potential purposes behind it, as bills like these will continue to pop up. H.R. 621 would have instructed the Secretary of the Interior to sell 3.3 million acres of public land broken up throughout 10 states in the Western US. The 3.3 million acres in question were areas that, as Chaffetz had put it, “serve no purpose for taxpayers.” I, and many others, had two main problems with the bill. First, it is ridiculous to assert that those parcels of public land served no purpose to taxpayers, and I’ll expound on that in a moment. Second, if this bill had been passed, it would have set a dangerous precedent. Let’s hypothetically consider that those 3.3 million acres don’t do much for taxpayers. If this bill were to be passed, it would set a precedent that there are some federal lands which don’t “have a purpose,” and that the federal government should just cede those lands to the states in which they exist. The question then becomes “What is ‘purposeful’ land?” How do you determine whether a parcel of public land has a purpose in a way that is ultimately not arbitrary? All public land does have some sort of intrinsic purpose, even if it is simply conservation of habitat and opportunities for recreation. At what point do you consider a parcel worth getting rid of? 

Now let’s consider another hypothetical. Let’s say Congress determines what purposeful land is, and it cedes any non-purposeful parcels to the states. Having the states control these parcels isn’t inherently bad, but it can be. States would have complete control over the management of these lands. They could, for example, choose to increase resource extraction on the parcel, or maybe even restrict recreational opportunities. Or, they could even sell the land to private businesses, which might be an attractive choice if the state was facing hard financial times. Now, the careful reader might argue that this line of reasoning falls victim to the slippery slope fallacy, but this line of reasoning isn’t without historical precedent. Take, for example, the state of Ohio. In 2015, Ohio leased several hundred acres of state-owned land in Egypt Valley Wildlife Area to a private mining company. (Source) This mining company was then given a permit to strip mine the leased land, which will utterly destroy the forests and grasslands located within parts of the Wildlife Area. Letting private companies either lease or completely buy state land isn’t unheard of, and giving more land to the states will only open up the ability for states to do this more often. 

But the thing is, these public lands do serve a purpose, and they do benefit taxpayers. Public lands bring tourists to towns that are nearby. These tourists then spend money in these nearby towns, benefitting local businesses. And we aren’t just talking a few thousand tourists. In fact, National Parks alone drew over 300,000,000 visitors in 2015. (Source ) These tourists eat at local restaurants, they stay at local lodging, they stop at local stores, etc. All of these businesses employ local people in jobs that otherwise wouldn’t exist without outdoor recreation. A report by the Outdoor Industry Association found that outdoor recreation sustains 6,100,000 jobs and brings in $646 billion in economic stimulus each year. (Source) They also found that outdoor recreation generated approximately $40 billion in federal tax revenue per year. Outdoor recreation is a huge section of the economy, and the majority of it depends on federal public lands. 

What’s frustrating is that the Republican politicians leading the anti-public-lands charge are from states which owe the majority of their tourism and economy to these public lands. Utah Representative Jason Chaffetz, whom I previously mentioned, is one of them. Another is Utah Representative Rob Bishop (who I mentioned in the previous section involving the Endangered Species Act). Utah national parks and national monuments collectively attract 10,000,000 visitors a year, and these visitors bring in millions of dollars to the local economy. I was one of them this past summer. In fact, had it not been for the federal lands in Utah, I would have never gone to that state. Had I never visited, I would have never spent my personal money at local businesses. Federal public lands mean tourism, and tourism means money. In fact, one study found that rural counties in the Western United States with more federal land within the county had “faster population, employment, personal income, and per capita income growth” than nearby counties with less federal land present.

The economic benefits of federal public lands are obvious. So why are these Utah Representatives essentially trying to destroy the hand that feeds their state? It might have to do with the fact that Bishop and Chaffetz have had over $900 million in campaign funds donated to them from the oil, gas, mining, and real estate industries during their political tenure. (Source for Rob Bishop and Source for Jason Chaffetz ) These industries would greatly benefit from states gaining control of these federal public lands and subsequently having the states lease or sell their new land to the various companies in those industries. But as we’ve now seen with Chaffetz, vocal public opposition to these types of bills can get them withdrawn. 

But we must continue being vocal about our opposition, as more bills like this will continue popping up. It’s not the first time a bill like H.R.621 has been created, and it’s not the first time Representatives Chaffetz and Bishop have pushed for the selling of federal lands. And I can guarantee it won’t be the last time, either.


What can we do?

"To announce there must be no criticism of the president, or that we are to stand by the president, right or wrong, is not only unpatriotic and servile, but is morally treasonable to the American public" - Theodore Roosevelt

These are very troubling times. Many people are angry, and I am one of them. I care about the environment and I care about my fellow humans. These two things are not mutually exclusive either; the health of the environment directly affects the health and well-being of you and I. In my opinion, the greatest problem with President Trump is his apparent inability to think in the long-term. He acts with only short-term goals in mind, and oftentimes these actions will have an overall negative effect on us, business, and the environment in the long-term, even if they might benefit some business and some people in the immediate short-term. This is not conducive for “making America great again.” This is harmful. This is detrimental. This is not normal. His actions will harm us for decades to come. 

But, we must not fall to defeatism. We cannot give up. We cannot simply throw in the towel when President Trump or the Republican-controlled Congress announces another ill-conceived and destructive executive order or bill. 

At the same time, we should not allow our anger to bubble over and create more problems. People don’t like to feel personally attacked. Attacking someone instead of talking about their ideas or actions does not actually accomplish anything. If you decide to perform ad hominem attacks on someone, that person is simply going shut down and retreat further into their opinions. That is not an effective way to hold a conversation with anyone. Sadly, I’ve been seeing a lot of this recently, and it’s only reaffirming the opinions of those who supported Trump and further contributing to the hyper-partisan atmosphere. 

We have to approach these conversations in a more productive manner. Ask someone why they think what they think. Find common ground and common motives. Lay out your positions and why you hold them. Back those positions up with facts, but don’t just hit the other person over the head with fact after fact either. It should be a relatively calm (even if intense) conversation, not a screaming match. Having these types of conversations are much more productive than something like “Trump and Trump supporters are idiots for reasons XYZ.” That’s not helpful, and it just makes things worse for everyone. 

We need to be vocal. We need to raise our concerns. We should be doing this in a variety of media and in a variety of ways. Bring attention to issues through social media. Go out and join a peaceful protest. Plan to attend an upcoming march, such as the March for Science on April 22. (March For Science) Call your representatives. This one is important, and it does work. It is important to note that emailing your representatives is NOT as effective as calling. Call, call again, and call some more. 

The one beneficial change that President Trump has brought about is that people are finally engaged and active in politics. This is how it should be. It kills me when I hear people (especially my age) say “I don’t care about politics,” or “I don’t like politics.” You should care about politics, because it affects your life. And you don’t have to like it to care and be active. People don’t like politics. I don’t like having to write a post like this, but it’s important to talk about these issues. I would much rather be writing about salamanders or plants, but politics affects my life and the things I care about, so I’m going to raise my voice and say what I think and why I think it. I encourage you all to do the same. 

Don’t be silent. Don’t be defeated. Don’t give up. 

Be vocal. Be optimistic. And work hard to be the change you want to see. You might think you can’t do much when it comes to something as big as changing the government, but consider the famous quote by the Polish poet StanisÅ‚aw Jerzy Lec:
“No snowflake in an avalanche ever feels responsible.”

Wednesday, January 11, 2017

My Favorite Photographs of 2016

Although I put thought into every photo that I post on my blog, most of them are taken without an artistic intent. The vast majority of the photos I use on my blog were shot with the intent to highlight some interesting natural subject that was before me. I began my photographic hobby, however, as an artistic endeavor. In this post, I want to share my favorite photos I took with my "artistic intent" during 2016.

Landscapes

Redington Pass Arizona
I'll begin with a scene from southern Arizona. I spent a night hammocking high in the Santa Catalina Mountains bordering Tuscon. I awoke in the dark and decided to head out to get some photos of the sun breaking over the mountains. I was rewarded with beautiful colors as the sun began to illuminate Redington Pass, which separates the Santa Catalina Mountains and the neighboring Rincon Mountains.

Scenic Byway 12 Overlooks
Utah is a land of layers. The photo above shows the Henry Mountains rising beyond the Waterpocket Fold of Capitol Reef National Park. The Henry Mountain Range was the last mountain range in the Continental US to be explored and mapped. I took this photo at ~8,700 feet above sea level on the Aquarius Plateau, the highest plateau in North America. The Waterpocket Fold was over 2,000 feet below my vantage point, while the Henry Mountains rose over 2,000 feet above my vantage point!

White Sands National Monument Sunset
One of the most stunning places I visited this past year was White Sands National Monument in New Mexico. I timed my (sadly) short visit to coincide with the setting sun. I was awarded with incredible crepuscular rays as the sun moved behind the San Andres Mountains. If you want to read about the geology of White Sands, check out my post here!

The Narrows Zion National Park
Jumping back to Utah, here is a shot of The Narrows in Zion National Park. Wading through the Virgin River as you hike up The Narrows is an experience you will never forget. To read more about The Narrows, check out my post on the experience right here!

Lickstone Ridge Overlook Blue Ridge Parkway
Moving to the other side of the United States, here's a shot of the Great Smoky Mountains as seen from the Lickstone Ridge Overlook along the Blue Ridge Parkway. I traveled through the Smokies for the first time last January, and I instantly saw why they're part of the Blue Ridge region.

Strouds Run State Park
I've been waiting on a good snow since the weather turned freezing, but sadly the weather has been mild. I ventured out to Strouds Run State Park in southeast Ohio in late December when a snow storm was moving through Central Ohio. As nature would have it, the snow line stayed about 10 miles north of Strouds Run, leaving me with light rain and some fog.

Wildlife

Periscoping Snake
A curious Eastern Gartersnake approached my camera and I early last Spring. I was kneeling on the ground near his hibernaculum when he decided to repeatedly circle me. After a few moments, he stopped in front of me, "periscoped," and flicked his tongue out.

Ash Canyon Bed and Breakfast
I wish I could do more bird photography, but my lack of a 400mm+ telephoto lens severely hinders that endeavor. To compensate, I oftentimes visit bird feeders where the birds are more accepting of human presence. One of those feeders I visited this past year was the famous Ash Canyon Bed & Breakfast in the foothills of the Huachuca Mountains, Arizona. Although most-known for regularly hosting a variety of hummingbirds such as the rare Lucifer Hummingbird — Ash Canyon B&B has a wide range of species which visit dozens of feeders on the property. This Black-Headed Grosbeak was one such species which paid a short visit to the feeders.

Zelus luridus
I'm a huge fan of parasitic plants. When the Beechdrops, a parasite of American Beech trees, began to bloom this fall, I traveled out to my local woods to get some photos of the chlorophyll-less flowers. On one of the flower stalks I found a tiny Pale Green Assassin Bug nymph (Zelus luridus) patiently waiting to ambush an unsuspecting insect. 

Anhinga
My favorite hobby is birding, hands down. Seeing birds that aren't in Ohio is consequently the aspect of traveling that I most look forward to. While on a recent road trip to coastal South Carolina after Christmas, I ran into this Anhinga. Anhingas are, in my opinion, very silly birds, and I love them. This individual was in the process of drying himself out after a successful feeding.

Wildlife in the Studio

Greater Earless Lizard Cophosaurus texanus
This summer I had the opportunity to do some in-the-studio photography with wild animals, a first for me. I was a field assistant for a lizard biologist out in Arizona, and we would bring various lizard species into a lab for data collection. After the data collection was completed, I would have a photoshoot with some of the more magnificent individuals. My favorite lizard we worked with was the Greater Earless Lizard, Cophosaurus texanus. The male Greater Earless Lizards were just otherworldly in their coloration.
Desert Blonde Tarantula Aphonopelma chalcodes
Lizards weren't the only animals I brought into my little makeshift studio. This Desert Blonde Tarantula, Aphonopelma chalcodes, wandered onto the field station porch one afternoon, so we picked him up and took him inside. A few moments later I got this photo. To read my post about tarantulas, check out this link!

Ornate Tree Lizard
The vast majority of this summer's work was spent catching and studying these tiny reptiles, the Ornate Tree Lizard, Urosaurus ornatus. As the name implies, the males of this species are rather stunning. Each male has a colored throat patch which can come in a variety of color morphs (this one is blue), and the stomachs of the males always have blue patches. They're tiny lizards, with their body (minus the tail) only being about the size of your finger.  

People

Radar Hill Athens
I ventured up to Radar Hill in Athens, Ohio, back in November to get some shots of the supermoon. I decided to zoom out and take this shot of my significant other, Olivia, gazing at the rising supermoon.

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Thanks for reading! If you want to see more of my photography, or keep up with my latest shots, please check out my Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/kyle_from_ohio/
 

Monday, November 14, 2016

What might a Donald Trump presidency mean for the environment?

Grand Canyon National Park
I normally reserve this blog for educational purposes pertaining to various natural science topics, but the results of the November 8th election need to be discussed. I understand that there will be readers who will not like this, and those who would rather me stay out of the political realm, but the truth is that nature and the sciences do not exist in a vacuum. Politics influences science, and science influences politics. This interplay between the political world and the scientific world then influences our Earth, and those living on it. Sometimes the results of these influences can be beneficial. Many times, however, these results prove to be harmful, if not downright disastrous, for the environment.
 
I consider myself a nature educator. I spend my free time working on this blog to teach various readers about nature and the environment, leading various nature-themed educational hikes, and running an educational club for wildlife enthusiasts. The rest of my time is dedicated to being a student; I am currently attending Ohio University in pursuit of a degree in wildlife and conservation biology. During my four years at OU, I have gotten involved in various wildlife biology research, from salamanders to lizards and more. As you can see, my entire life revolves around nature. This personal love and respect for nature has entwined itself throughout my entire being, from my jobs to my hobbies to my philosophies. 

It is this love, and concern, for nature which has left me terrified after the results of last week’s election. Why? Because Donald Trump represents a direct threat to the environment and wildlife. 

The Earth is in trouble. Anthropogenic climate change poses a threat to not only the human race, but to all living creatures. Despite the overwhelming evidence, there is a good deal of Americans who do not accept climate change. For those Americans who do accept that the global climate is warming, only 65% believe human activity is the cause. (Source) This is a surprising figure, as there is overwhelming data to show that we humans are in fact to blame for climate change. 

And even more surprisingly, accepting the reality that humans are to blame for climate change has somehow become a partisan issue. A 2015 Pew Research Center survey found that while 68% of democrats say that “global climate change is a very serious problem,” only 20% of republicans agree. This boggles my mind, as climate change is not, and never will be, a true partisan issue. Climate change will affect us all, and it will affect all of our children and our children’s children. 

The fact is, anthropogenic climate change is a very, very serious threat to the creatures of the Earth, including us humans. Even the Pentagon says that climate change poses an immediate threat to the US’s national security. (Source) I don’t know why so many still reject this reality. Maybe it’s partially the fact that people are uneducated about the subject. Maybe it’s partially because scientists haven’t done a good enough job communicating the actual science behind climate change. Maybe it’s partially the fear that people will lose their jobs if we switch to cleaner energy. 

Maybe it’s the fact that change is scary for humans. Our current lifestyle is not sustainable, and in order to lessen the blow that climate change will ultimately have, we would have to change this lifestyle. We are creatures of habit, and even when a change will be good, we so often vehemently oppose it. I will say, the change that will come when the effects of climate change begin throwing the environmental and political worlds into chaos will be much greater than any lifestyle changes we could make to lessen this. It is also important to note that even if we were to completely stop carbon emissions right now, some effects of climate change would still be inevitable. We are at the tipping point between experiencing very negative effects or catastrophic effects.  

Donald Trump isn’t officially the president yet, and as such we don’t know what he is actually going to do. However, my fear stems from what he has previously said, and who he has surrounded himself with. I want to go through just a few of his beliefs, his plans, and the beliefs and plans of his colleagues.

  • Donald Trump does not believe in climate change. He tweeted that “The concept of global warming was created by and for the Chinese in order to make U.S. manufacturing non-competitive.” (Source) This is totally incorrect on two levels. First, it assumes that anthropogenic climate change is a hoax, which it is not (I am not going to spend time on this post to go over why anthropogenic climate change is real, but feel free to check out this amazingly informative series of articles about climate change or this series of articles) The greenhouse effect, one of the fundamental concepts underlying climate change, was first postulated in 1824 by the French mathematician and physicist Joseph Fourier. Even more so, anthropogenic climate change as we know it first came into the scientific and public eye in 1957 with a paper (Source) published by the American scientist Roger Revelle and the Austrian scientist Hans Suess.
  • Donald Trump wants to withdraw the United States from the Paris Agreement. (Source) The Paris Agreement is a world-wide treaty which was signed by 193 countries. The countries which signed the Paris Agreement aim to reduce global carbon emissions and attempt to limit the warming of the global temperature. Combating climate change is a world-wide endeavor, and having the US pull out of this agreement would be a global embarrassment and only help to hasten an environmental disaster.
  • Donald Trump has selected Myron Ebell to oversee the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) transition. (Source) Who is Myron Ebell, and why is this such a concerning pick? Myron Ebell is one of the most vocal climate change “deniers” in Washington D.C. He believes that the recent unprecedented upswing in the global temperature isn’t due to humans and is “nothing to worry about.” (Source). Ebell has also spent decades trying to deregulate the oil and gas industries, which he believes are being wrongfully held down by the regulations put in place for the continued health and safety of us, our cities, the environment, and wildlife.
  • Speaking of the oil and coal industries, Donald Trump has promised to “encourage the production of [fossil fuels] by opening onshore and offshore leasing on federal lands and waters.” (Source) There has to come a point when we admit to ourselves that not only do we have to stop our dependence on fossil fuels for both environmental and economic reasons, but that the coal industry is never coming back to what it once was. Even if we step aside from all the environmental concerns surrounding coal, the industry is dying and cannot be saved. The coal jobs Trump promises he will bring back are simply gone. The market for coal is shrinking, and the waning demand will only keep decreasing as we (slowly) move away from fossil fuels. The rise of fracking and cheap natural gas has been one of the biggest killers of coal, as coal mining is more expensive than obtaining natural gas. (Source) Even then, the decades-long rise in automation of the coal mining process has eliminated the need for a large workforce. The supposed “War on Coal” that Obama is argued to be waging doesn’t exist. Changing technologies, a waning demand for coal, and the rise of cheaper alternatives doomed coal. (Source) As you can see, the fall of coal jobs isn’t due to environmental regulations as Trump and others suggest. We need to stop trying to invest in outdated sources of energy, and instead invest heavily in new, renewable sources, as – whether people like it or not – these are the future. 
  • Although Trump hasn’t announced his pick for the Secretary of the Interior, he has given a list of those who he is considering. Four of his picks have very dangerous views (and past actions) when it comes to the environment. Before I go into the potential appointees, I want to go over what the Department of the Interior oversees. The Department of the Interior’s job is to manage and conserve federal lands and natural resources. This department oversees the US Fish and Wildlife Service, the National Park Service, the Bureau of Land Management (BLM), the US Geological Survey, and many other services and bureaus. The following are some of the people who Trump is considering to appoint to the position. (Source) First up is Forrest Lucas, co-founder of Lucas Oil. Besides being in the oil industry, Lucas has funded several anti-animals’ rights groups and pieces. (Source) For example, he funded a film which portrayed puppy mills as misunderstood and unfairly criticized. And when a ballot measure came up in Missouri that aimed to fight puppy mills (Source), Lucas spent thousands to fight it. Second up is Jan Brewer, former governor of Arizona. Brewer has been a strong critic of the Endangered Species Act (which is overseen and enforced by the Department of the Interior might I add), which she believes is an unnecessary roadblock to other affairs (Source) Another being considered is Harold Hamm, an oil and gas tycoon who has been a major proponent of fracking. Hamm made the news in 2015 when it came to light that he tried to pressure a dean at the University of Oklahoma to dismiss certain scientists at the university because they were studying links between fracking and the unprecedented increase in earthquakes in the state. (Source) Regardless of your stance on fracking, you should not be okay with anyone trying to silence and censor research. And finally, there’s Sarah Palin. She denies anthropogenic climate change, calling it “snake oil science” (Source). She opposed listing Polar Bears as endangered. She fought for the culling of wolves to improve game populations for hunters. She also fought for more drilling in the Arctic, including in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. Are these really the people that we want in charge of our resources, our national parks, and our wildlife?

These are just a few of the alarming and concerning beliefs on the environment that Donald Trump, his peers, and his colleagues have. And this isn’t even taking into account the dangerous rhetoric he has spread throughout the campaign, which has emboldened sexists, racists, and bigots around the country. This is a nature-themed blog, so I will keep this post to the subject at hand. If his words become actions, and the people he wants in power reach that power, we are looking at an unprecedented threat to the environment of the likes we have not seen before. His presidency could help usher in a global catastrophic disaster that we might never recover from.

For many of us, we are angry. We are sad. We are upset. We are scared.

We have to channel these feelings into something productive; we cannot hold a defeatist attitude. We have to go out and be vocal. We have to put our energy into educating and advocating. We have to hold Donald Trump and his administration accountable for every single thing that they do, just as we would hold any president and their administration accountable.

I will be open with you. I personally did not like Hillary Clinton at all. She represented, in my opinion, all that I hate about American politics. But I voted for her because Donald Trump espouses the disregard and disdain for the environment and our fellow humans that I loathe beyond anything. We cannot let this disregard continue it is dangerous. We must stand up and fight for a better future for us and the generations to come.

I will leave you with a quote to consider:
“When someone shows you who they are, believe them.” - Maya Angelou
White Sands National Monument