A delightful surprise to some, and a terrifying, now-realistic fever dream to many others, Donald J. Trump will be the 45th President of the U.S. Though he failed to earn the popular vote, the U.S. nonetheless voted for a man who, on the surface, embodies the populist ideals white, working-class U.S. citizens feel necessary to re-establish their dominance in an ever-changing country. For minorities, including women, the next four years—or at least, the next two years before the next round of Senate seats are up for election— could be difficult. For the environment, the changes that a virtually unchecked Trump presidency could make to environmental policy could be detrimental, ultimately affecting the health of the environment, the population, the economy and the ties the U.S. has built with foreign countries in the U.N. regarding climate change measures.
Among the most disturbing aspects of a Trump presidency is the possibility that the Republican Party can choose not to exercise the checks and balances that help legitimize the democratic ideals of the U.S. governmental system. With two branches of the government Republican, and the third likely to follow with the appointment of a conservative justice of Trump’s choosing, the Republican Party will have to choose between partisan politics and their moral attitude towards their respective elected positions. Regardless, there is a real threat to the legitimacy of the U.S. government, and should the proposals on Trump’s 100-day plan for his first months in office come to fruition with minor checks or balances, the environment, at the very least, could be in serious trouble.
In his first 100 days as president, President-elect Trump has promised to make significant changes to environmental policy. First, he plans to “lift the restrictions on the production of . . . American energy reserves, including shale, oil, natural gas, and clean coal.” While Trump wishes to do this in the interest of creating jobs, this is also indicative that government investment in renewable, clean energy is ending—at least for a short while. This is undoubtedly a step backwards. The U.S. has a civic duty to the international community to cut its carbon emissions—not to increase them. In addition, according to Trump’s 100-day plan, he intends to clear all roadblocks blocking “vital energy infrastructure projects,” such as the Dakota Access Pipeline. Again, Trump believes building up fossil fuel infrastructure will create jobs, and he is not incorrect. However, these jobs will only be temporary, and the economic benefit of these jobs is unlikely to surpass the economic consequences of lessening or eliminating restrictions on fossil fuel production and transportation.
His final mention of the environment in his 100-day plan promises to withdraw the U.S. from U.N. climate change programs, most notably the Paris Agreement of 2015, and use the alleged “billions” of dollars saved to “fix America’s water and environmental infrastructure.” This last clause is as concerning as it is vague. By backing out of international agreements that are designed to tackle the worst effects of climate change, Trump will send a message about the U.S.’s values to the rest of the world. Withdrawing from imperative climate change agreements will send the message that the U.S. staunchly defies actions to lessen its already enormous environmental footprint. Further, through the defunding of clean, renewable energy sources and the increase in polluting fossil fuels, the U.S. is sending the message to other countries that are already experiencing the negative effects of climate change that the health of those countries are fundamentally of lesser importance than the short-term economic benefit the U.S. could glean from increased fossil fuel usage. The U.S. would be spitting in the face of the civic duty it has to the rest of the world to decrease carbon emissions in proportion to its footprint.
Nowadays, it is more important than ever for the government to be pro-science. It is important that blatant lies regarding various aspects of environmental policies perpetuated by the President-elect are acknowledged. Ultimately, it is important that the Republican-dominated legislative branch and the soon to be conservative judicial branch appeal to a moral code that encompasses empirical fact over hearsay rather than treating the U.S. government as a game to be won along partisan lines. In the end, no one wins once we reach a point of no return in the degrading of the environment.
Sarah Liebig is a senior studying English Writing and Global Studies: Worlds in Dialogue. Liebig’s principal interests lie in social justice and environmental concerns. Upon graduation, she intends to study law. Liebig is originally from Lincoln, NE and is the only child of two soil scientists. She shares permanent residence with two cats, Oscar and Ophelia.