President Donald Trump’s lack of leadership regarding environmental policy is dangerously inadequate and a threat to U.S. prosperity. Trump's Environmental Protection Agency appointee, Scott Pruitt, responded to the heartbreaking natural disasters in Florida and Texas in a way that emboldened a broken system of political corruption and dangerous fossil fuel dependency.
Pruitt has defied the overwhelming body of scientific research, which asserts that greenhouse gas emissions are the primary cause of global warming. In the wake of the most disastrous hurricane season in U.S. history, Pruitt says that now is not the time to discuss climate change, stating that “To use time and effort to address it at this point is very, very insensitive to the people of Florida.”
However, the conversation about climate change needs to happen now. It is no coincidence that in California, the La Tuna fire has burned with unparalleled destruction, devastating more than 7,000 acres of forests. In Southeast Asia, the ferocity of monsoon season is at an all-time high, displacing more than 40 million people. Hurricanes Harvey in Texas and Irma in Florida were two of the most violent and costly disasters in U.S. history. These are not isolated events. Humans are actively altering the chemistry of the atmosphere and this is intensifying the strength and frequency of natural disasters. In order to combat climate change, the United States needs a strong government to firmly accept this reality.
However, the current Republican administration shows no inclination of changing its view on the subject.
Trump has chosen to blindly support the interest of the dying coal industry by claiming that global warming is a hoax. This wildly misguided assertion in and of itself reveals the blaring inadequacy of his “leadership.” In another huge misstep in the delicate fight against climate change, Trump expressed his desire to withdraw from the Paris climate agreement, a comprehensive accord which sought to unite 194 countries with the objective to lower global greenhouse gases emissions.
Pruitt does not trail far behind in the stunning demonstration of policy shortsightedness. He has cozied up with the fossil fuel and agricultural industry by deciding to rollback dozens of key Obama-era environmental protection regulations.
After meeting with top oil executives, Pruitt conveniently ordered the suspension of regulations that restrict methane emissions from new oil and gas wells. He also met privately with the chief executives of the massive chemical multinational Dow Chemical Company and rejected a ban on chlorpyrifos, an industrial farming pesticide sprayed on food which previous EPA reports suggested cause interference with brain development of fetuses and infants.
These actions are all jarring examples of the Trump administration's blatant disregard for the well-being of the environment and ultimately the country.
In the face of such incompetence and the physical manifestations of the effects of climate change, it is the duty of U.S. citizens to hold the government accountable and engage in discussion.
Officials should begin by recognizing that the administration’s zealous desire to protect the fossil fuel industry is not the only faulty gear in the Republican Party’s environmentally disastrous “economic development” engine. The party’s guiding ideology renders it unable to address climate change. As environmental journalist Naomi Klein has eloquently argued, “Climate change detonates the ideological scaffolding which contemporary conservatism rests.”
The party's stubborn defiance against the physics of climate change is deeply rooted in its understanding that yielding to reality would expose the ugly underbelly of the conservative machine, which removes important environmental regulations, prevents meaningful federal intervention and stalls international collaboration. This is done with the effort to protect the special interests of the wealthy and gain political capital.
The reality is that the United States cannot wait for technology alone or the false idols of market fundamentalism to resolve the issues of climate change. Citizens must elect leadership that understands ecology and the connection between human economic activity and the biosphere’s biological systems, so that environmental adaptation and carbon mitigation strategies can be prioritized.
The United States has the capacity and ingenuity to join the efforts enacting global change. The country needs only to look for guidance in cities like Portland, Seattle and New York, where local governments are taking the initiative to combat climate change by committing to meet Paris climate agreement carbon reduction objectives, implementing energy efficiency programs and promoting sustainable urban planning.
Nations like the Netherlands, Germany and Sweden are already leading the way by showing that they can “greenify” their economies while remaining competitive.
The insensitive ones are those who continue to perpetuate a system that sides with large corporations’ interests and shamefully ignores environmental realities, for they are unwittingly undermining U.S. prosperity. Now, more than ever, is everyone’s time to act.
Nicolas Fuentes is an Environmental Sustainability major and a student leader of Baruch's Sustainability Task Force.