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