February 15th, 2018
It goes without saying that Donald Trump is notorious for his controversial statements. This is also true for his record on environmental issues.
For example, he recently claimed – of course, contrary to all scientific evidence – that sea ice is at a record high.
Climate change is a serious global issue and the US – as one of the leading emitters – has an important role to play in our attempts to tackle its impacts.
The Donald, however, is steering American policy into treacherous waters that could result in major consequences for the entire planet.
American history is dotted with positive examples of nature conversation, dating as far back as the nineteenth century with the opening of Yellowstone – the world’s first National Park – in 1874.
In the 1960s, a US citizen was largely responsible for alerting the general public to environmental issues in the country. Rachel Carson, a marine biologist, released her book “Silent Spring” in 1962, portraying a world in which no birds sing their tunes due to anthropogenic misdoings.
The release of the book caused uproar across society, leading to calls for politicians to address these problems.
But the era of America as a forerunner on fighting environmental issues are long gone. George W. Bush slashed environmental protection during his Presidency and even Barack Obama, generally seen as environmentally progressive, made controversial decisions, such as allowing for arctic drilling.
However, such moves appear to be just the tip of an iceberg, melting fast under the decisions of the Trump administration.
The Global Warming ‘Hoax’
President Trump called climate change, one of the most pressing issues of our times, a hoax long before becoming the “stable genius” that he is today in control of the most powerful country in the world.
He continued to express this notion during the campaign trail in 2016, voicing doubt about climate change and the large amounts of evidence produced by “the so-called “scientists”.
Any hope that he would change his rhetoric once presented with the facts by his staff in the Oval Office quickly went away as he continues his tirades against climate science.
In a recent interview, President Trump explained: “There is a cooling and there is a heating,” implying that climate change is not really happening, despite the weight of scientific evidence on the effects of climate change.
From Sea to Rising Sea
The issue of climate change is growing ever more concerning. NASA reported just last month that 2017 was the second hottest year on record. A Chinese study also recently found that 2017 was the hottest year for our oceans. The same study revealed that global sea levels rose by 1.7 mm last year alone.
We are seeing more frequent natural disasters and extreme weather events across the globe, and the US is not immune. It has, in fact, been shaken badly by the impacts of climate change in the past few years.
The Climate Science Report released by the U.S. Global Change Research Program last year evaluated the impacts. Sea-level rise, heavier rainfall, and more frequent heatwaves have all been observable in recent years and will only increase in the future, according to the report.
The report also states that, without major reductions in emissions, the increase in temperature could surpass five degrees Celsius by 2100 with potentially devastating consequences.
To address the issue of emissions, an international accord has been put in place: The Paris Agreement. The goal is to reduce worldwide greenhouse gas emissions and limit global warming to, at most, two degrees Celsius by 2100.
As the US is one of the biggest polluters in the world, spewing out more than 6.5 million tons of greenhouse gases in 2015 alone, the US government clearly has a responsibility to lead in the global fight against climate change.
President Trump, however, has a different opinion, pulling the USA out of the Agreement , arguing that it was unfair and imposed too much financial pressure on the US.
The last remaining laggard, Syria, joined the Paris Agreement late in 2017, making the United States the only country in the world that is not participating in the Paris Agreement.
Economy ‘Trumps’ the Environment
On a domestic front, the current US administration has shown a similar lack of care for the environment and the fight against climate change.
In March 2017, the President signed an Executive Order with the goal of avoiding “regulatory burdens that unnecessarily encumber energy production, constrain economic growth, and prevent job creation”.
Since then, a number of additional environmentally questionable decisions have been made by the White House. Last year, for example, the Government reduced the size of some national parks, in part to allow coal mining, proposed to extend oil drillings and repealed carbon emission guidelines.
Furthermore, an upcoming infrastructure plan looks set to include a proposal to significantly cut back environmental impact assessments, sacrificing environmental protection for faster and cheaper realisation of new projects, according to The Washington Post.
Donald and the Walls
One of the most recent missteps against the environment relates to arguably the most controversial plan of Donald Trump’s tenure as the leader of the free world: The border wall with Mexico.
There are vivid discussions about the social implications of such a wall, but the environmental consequences may be equally impactful.
The wall itself would pose a barrier, not only to humans attempting to cross into America, but also to migrating animals.
The US has a number of environmental protection laws to prevent major irreversible damage to the environment, currently requiring the evaluation of major infrastructure projects like the border wall.
But the Secretary of Homeland Security recently issued a government notice which appears to give the Trump administration a way around this wall of environmental legislation, waiving a total of 26 laws to clear the way for the construction of the President’s pet project.
A love for walls may have also influenced President Trump’s move to protect his precious golf resort in Doonbeg, Co Clare, which is, ironically enough, feeling the impact of sea level rise.
Unfortunately for the Donald, the golf course lies next to and partly within a special area of conservation, identified as especially important to the country and worthy of special protection. Despite these restrictions, the wall was approved last December.
We the People
Irish environmentalist groups, particularly An Taisce, are fighting the decision on the Doonbeg wall, while President Trump also experiences a lot of fightback in the US.
The decisions of the Trump administration clearly pose a danger ftothe environment on many levels.
Condemning climate science as “fake news” is shaking the US public’s trust in the scientific community, and his lack of participation in international efforts to tackle climate change could have serious consequences for the future of the entire planet.
We can but hope that, in 2020, the American people will vote someone into office that takes the issue of climate change seriously and bring down the current administration’s wall blocking out lasting environmental protection.