As the shutdown continues, the decision to keep the National Parks open is having dire consequences. While the image of what is supposed to be our pristine national wilderness being completely trashed and (literally) shat upon is striking, the state of our environment is in even more danger. As climate change looms, this administration has spent the past two years fighting against basic environmental protections, rather than addressing the impending global climate cataclysm.
Donald Trump is not only dismissive of climate change (although whether he actually thinks it is a hoax perpetrated by the Chinese is up for debate, and also moot), he is completely dismissive of protecting the environment as a concept. Even being a part of the Paris Agreement was too much for him. (Although technically, we can’t leave until next year, we have simply announced our intention of doing so.) Where is the United States in this crisis? How are we, the supposed leaders of the free world, dealing with this ongoing potential cataclysm? ‘People like myself, we have very high levels of intelligence but we’re not necessarily such believers.’, according to the President. The people he considers with “very high intelligence” are a part of his administration, and their policies are disastrous at best. The people he hired and appointed in environment-related positions show much the same disdain for the future as he does. Fortunately, renewable and non-carbon based forms of energy are getting cheaper, because otherwise what reduction we have in carbon emissions would more than likely not exist, or would be an increase instead.
One look at EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt’s record is enough to see that. More than a dozen investigations were being conducted at the time of his resignation, and his corruption was both personal and professional. Trump’s penchant for appointing people that have a more than zealous self-interest is not surprising, but Pruitt (along with Secretaries Price and Zinke) were among the most aggressive. As the former Attorney General of Oklahoma, Pruitt had experience with helping oil companies, to the point where he wanted the EPA to set up a debate concerning climate change. Not on effective strategies for mitigating or minimizing its effects, but on whether it exists. (It does, of course, and is caused by human activity.)
As head of the EPA, Pruitt was more concerned with cutting environmental protections than improving them. Pruitt’s replacement, Andrew Wheeler, is cut from the same mold. Just more competent, less flashily corrupt, and thus more dangerous. On a cheery note, the EPA is continuing its anti-environmental mission by attempting to roll back mercury restrictions on coal power plants. It has already moved to curb restrictions on carbon dioxide and coal ash. The only solace is that coal usage continues to diminish, but it is still a massive power source for the country, and the world. As the shutdown goes on, the Interior Department is also trying to progress opening the ANWR to oil drilling. As we head into 2019, we must face a dirtier, warmer, world, made dirtier and warmer by the hot air coming from the administration currently residing in the White House.
It isn’t just the environment himself that Trump seems at war with. He also seems to be completely indifferent to the suffering of the American people. There have been many environmental events in the past two years that were completely mismanaged, to the point of making Bush’s response to Katrina and Brownie’s disastrous “Heckuva job” seem a well-oiled machine.
The most immediately striking environmental event is that our serious natural disasters seem to be coming more frequently and more intensely. The islands east of the U.S, especially Puerto Rico, Barbuda, Dominica and St Martin, were hit in very short order by Irma and Maria. The devastation on some islands was near total, with deaths in the thousands. The damage to infrastructure was also so significant, relief efforts are ongoing.
Hurricane Harvey inundated Houston, Florence flooded the Carolinas, and Michael slammed into the Florida Panhandle. These serious weather events are not limited to the region around the USA, either. Climate change is exacerbating them, causing storms to be more destructive, and engendering conditions to make them happen more often. The US government’s own reports on climate change describe the direction the climate is moving in. A report by the journal Science set out how the oceans are heating up even faster than we thought, and accelerating further. These ocean changes don’t just lead to altered weather patterns, but also to increased acidification of our oceans, and a further threat to submarine ecosystems that we depend on in innumerable ways.
The California wildfires of the last couple of years have been horrific. The Camp Fire was the costliest disaster on the planet in 2018, with 86 lives lost and an entire town of Paradise wiped off the map. (64 dead have been identified.) Fires in Sonoma, Napa, around LA, and all over the state consumed thousands more homes, and climate change is making the fuel drier and the fires burn hotter.
The President rejects those assessments as well. He also has turned the relief efforts political; he has claimed he has ordered FEMA to use funds dedicated for helping those affected by fire and flood for the wall he promised during his campaign. Whether he has actual done anything besides tweet, and whether such an order would be legal, is unknown. He claims to have commanded it, and that is enough to be despicable on its own.
While the president dithers and obstructs and rolls back environmental regulation, time marches on. According to a recent study by the IPCC, we have until 2030 before climate change is irrevocable. That’s 11 years to reduce carbon emissions by approximately 45%. This massive undertaking will require coordinated action from the House (currently ready and willing), the Senate (currently subordinate to the president), and the president himself, who is currently more worried about the profit margins of the wealthy people he thinks are friends than the wellbeing of this country or its people. While Trump sells out our clean water and clean air to his industry cronies, the heat is rising and the clock is ticking.