How Trump is Reversing the Fight Against Climate Change
KF - Writer
“If somebody who comes into office does not believe in the science of climate change, do they have the capacity and the power to dismantle everything that you’ve already worked for?”
This was the question actor, environmentalist and UN messenger of Peace Leonardo DiCaprio posed to President Obama in his 2016 documentary Before the Flood. Obama, being a President known for his more progressive environmental views, was optimistic about the future and the USA’s ability to increase its climate targets to ever ambitious levels. However, I couldn’t help but notice his answer wasn’t exactly a firm no.
“Even if somebody came in campaigning on denying climate science, reality has a way of hitting you in the nose if you’re not paying attention and I think that the public is starting to realise the science, in part because it’s indisputable.”
Ever the politician, an optimistic message that gives no solid answer. Could that have been because he was well aware just how easy it would be for the next President to dismantle almost all progress the Obama administration had made? Was he covering himself because he knew how staggeringly easy it would be to shred the current green policies and pave the way for the fossil fuel industry to boom? Or did he honestly trust the American people not to vote for a climate change denier?
Perhaps we’ll never know how aware Obama was of the fleeting nature of his good work, but one thing we can be certain of is the determination that Trump has shown in tearing it all straight down. The New York Times have produced a truly shocking article keeping a track of the rollbacks the Trump administration has made to environmental rules. By their count, as of May 2020 there have been a total of 100 rollbacks, with 66 completed and 34 still in progress. These rollbacks range across a wide variety of environment related subjects, from protected animal status to industries’ responsibility to monitor and report polluting substances. Some of the worst rollbacks include:
“Cancel[ing] a requirement for oil and gas companies to report methane emissions.” This is a truly ridiculous requirement to cancel as it not only makes it hard to track methane emissions for regulatory purposes, but also for scientific data gathering. If the scientific community does not have access to accurate emissions data, then setting realistic emissions reduction targets is nearly impossible. How can you aim to reduce and improve something which hasn’t been quantified? At its core, this rollback is Trump placing the economy over the environment at the expense of planetary and human health.
“Withdrew guidance directing federal agencies to include greenhouse gas emissions in environmental reviews. But several district courts have ruled that emissions must be included in such reviews.” This is one case of (thankfully) many where local and state governments have gone against the regulations placed by Trump and stuck to their original Obama era targets and regulations. However not all areas have done this, some are gleefully abiding by the new inferior regulations. This is essentially telling a baker they must list all potential allergens in their ingredients but letting them leave nuts off the list if they don’t feel like telling anyone they’re in there.
“Withdrew a requirement that Gulf oil rig owners prove they can cover the costs of removing rigs once they stop producing.” If oil rig owners cannot prove they have the funds to remove their equipment once production is over it sends a dangerous message that the Trump administration doesn't really care about the clean-up operation. This allows a dirty, environmentally damaging activity to extend the damage that it does indefinitely. This could also set a precedent for other projects that currently require cleanup as part of their contracts.
“Eliminated the use of an Obama-era planning system designed to minimize harm from oil and gas activity on sensitive landscapes, such as national parks.” All oil and gas industrial activity in or near sensitive areas will cause harm. By removing the existing protection the administration is openly placing the economy over the less monetary values of these vulnerable landscapes.
Environmental protection protects human health. It protects the economy in the long term rather than the short term ‘get rich quick’ industries that Trump vocally favours. One of the 34 rollbacks currently in progress is a proposal “exempting certain types of power plants from parts of an E.P.A. rule limiting toxic discharge from power plants into public waterways.” Currently “95 percent of coal ash ponds are unlined”, which means there is no barrier between this toxic waste product of the coal industry and the groundwater that sustains local communities. In the wake of the 2014 Flint water scandal it seems unfathomable that any administration could be taking steps to reduce the protection for public waterways. Interestingly these industrial ‘dumping grounds’ are rarely found in affluent or predominantly white areas. Environmental degradation overwhelmingly impacts low income communities with higher proportions of non-white inhabitants.
Against the backdrop of the Black Lives Matter movement it becomes even more important to protect our environment as its degradation disproportionately impacts BAME communities. This will be explored further in another article, building on the above discussion. For now, however, we must hold out a wary hope that the progress made by the Obama and previous progressive administrations could be rebuilt as quickly as it has been torn down. Unfortunately we must hold this hope with the knowledge that damage done to the environment can rarely be fixed as easily as it can be carried out.