Erica Golin | SIPA Class of 2017
Trump declared in his February 20th press conference that unifying America is a goal of his, which begs the question: why not unify over combating climate change?
The answer: he does not accept evidence reached by scientific consensus that climate change is happening, and it is exacerbated by human activity.
He explicitly opposes continuing America’s funding to the United Nations. But the UN has given us the Sustainable Development Goals. Unveiled in September 2015, the SDGs replace the Millennium Development Goals in that they offer a more targeted, holistic way to achieve milestones for enhancing quality of life and environmental protection.
A criticism of the SDGs is that they are better suited to the past. Playing devil’s advocate, even if the model is obsolete, is it not beneficial to have wide-reaching goals to aspire to? Addressing climate change will prove to be our most existential and logistical challenge, so it is beneficial to have a framework for reducing its effects.
The SDGs call for “urgent action to prevent climate change and its impacts”. Climate change typically refers to disruptions in regional weather patterns (whereas global warming refers to overall planetary warming). The concept of sustainable development itself was borne out of the need for continued economic growth without disrupting the planetary balance of energy and resources.
Climate scientists like James Hansen warn this is the problem that world leaders should have worked harder to start correcting decades ago. The year is 2017, and it is egregious for the President of the United States of America to deny climate change.
Trump has called himself an environmentalist, but his actions suggest otherwise. By supporting projects such as building of the border wall and the Dakota Access Pipeline, he is against environmental protection. The border wall is not only a poor attempt at restricting the movement of people, it is a restriction of the flow of water and wildlife. What’s more, the use of concrete as a construction material generates greenhouse gas emissions. The Pipeline is not only a desecration of sacred Standing Rock Sioux Tribe land, it is an enablement of the continued use of oil.
His entire choice of Cabinet presents a threat to environmental protection, but Scott Pruitt as the new administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency is particularly troublesome. A criticism of the EPA is its guilt of regulatory overreach, but regulations have had the positive consequence of improving our quality of air and water.
Pruitt has close ties in the fossil fuel industry and therefore will not take an active role to prevent carbon emissions. Carbon emissions do not care who administers this one agency of this one country on this silly little planet; carbon emissions in our atmosphere have now reached a startling 405 parts per million.
We still need energy for our basic needs. The SDGs call for “access to affordable, reliable, sustainable and modern energy for all,” which conflicts with Trump’s allegiance to coal and oil. Fossil fuels are not affordable, since they are subsidized by the environment and human health. Fossil fuels are not reliable, since they cannot be renewed by natural processes. Fossil fuels are not sustainable, as their extraction and use contributes to warming that jeopardizes our future. Fossil fuels are not modern, they are a physical and ideological artifact of the Industrial Revolution.
Trump grandstands about national security without realizing national security and environmental protection are closely related. Addressing climate change helps to prevent the root sources of influxes of refugees and immigrants whom Republicans are so quick to attempt to repel.
Pulling the United States out of the Paris Agreement (the first international agreement to commit to keeping global warming below 2 degrees Celsius), as Trump has threatened, would be another unforgivable mistake.
Trump is hazardous to goals that include equality and healthcare, but this was a summary of just his environmental opposition. Our environment is a particularly urgent matter. If climate change wipes out everything we know and love, including ourselves, the other goals will not even have a chance of being achieved.