The PLACE organization will be leading a charge to convince the Trump Administration to take action to halt the destruction of the environment and the disruption of the global climate. And while many of you may think this is a fool’s errand, there are actually many reasons for Mr. Trump to embrace such measures.
America’s 45th President has already taken several steps that suggest that the administration will seek to roll back environmental protection.
- He signed an executive order to advance the controversial Dakota Access and Keystone pipelines that gives governors the ability to hasten a project by deeming it a “national priority.” A rushed approval process would bypass more thoughtful environmental review and public input.
- A memo sent to several agencies—the Environmental Protection Agency; Departments of Health & Human Services, Transportation, Agriculture, and Interior; the National Institutes of Health—instructed all staff to halt press releases, social media, blogs, and web content, among other forms of external communication; a so-called “gag order.”
- The administration froze all hiring and contracts at the EPA.
- Mr. Trump appointed Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt to head the EPA, who participated in lawsuits against the EPA. He also appointed Governor Rick Perry to head the department of energy, who famously said he would eliminate the agency, though could not remember the name of it. The President appointed Exxon’s Rex Tillerson as Secretary of State. Exxon, under Tillerson, is under investigation by several Attorneys General for fraud for misleading the public about climate change.
Yet, we are only in the second week of the Trump Administration, and Mr. Trump is a singularly mercurial President. Predicting his next move is like trying to predict the price of oil.
For example, Mr. Trump withdrew from the Trans Pacific Partnership, an agreement negotiated behind closed doors that offered insufficient protection for the environment. He also has stated that he remains “open minded” about climate disruption.
With that in mind, I’d like to offer the following reasons for President Trump to act now to halt the destruction of our environment and our climate.
It’s the fiscally-prudent thing to do: Vice President Pence recently referred to the President as, “a businessman who knows how to sharpen his pencils.” If so, then Mr. Trump should appreciate multiple analyses that show that taking climate action now, is much more affordable than taking no action. In other words, the fiscally responsible course is to invest in reversing climate change now. Think of the climate as a fuel tank in the ground. You know it has a leak. If you dig it up and repair it, you will spend $1,000. If you do nothing, the leak will spread until you have contaminated your drinking water and despoiled your crop lands and it will cost millions to fix the problem. This isn’t simply my opinion. Sir Nicholas Stern prepared the first comprehensive economic analysis to conclude that the cost of action today (in 2006) was 1% of GDP. The cost of doing nothing would grow to between 5% of GDP and 20% of GDP forever (Source: http://bit.ly/2kBVMNF) However, I think Mr. Trump would best relate to a report entitled, Risky Business; The Economic Risks of Climate Change in the United States, (Source: http://riskybusiness.org). Mr. Trump might like that it was prepared by business leaders, including Greg Page of Cargill, Michael Bloomberg, and Secretary Henry Paulson.
It's the pro-jobs thing to do: If the President wants to create jobs, then renewable energy will produce more jobs than oil, gas and coal. According to the U.S. Bureau of Statistics, renewable energy already employs more people than oil and gas combined (Source: http://bloom.bg/2gK9EaH). And renewable energy jobs are increasing while fossil fuel jobs are decreasing. Solar energy jobs alone grew twelve times faster than overall job creation in 2015.
It’s the pro-national-security thing to do: The Pentagon is a leading voice in the call for a secure renewable energy future. The Department of Defense knows that reducing fossil fuel dependence, investing in clean energy technologies, and incorporating climate change into national security strategies are operational, tactical, and strategic imperatives. In Iraq and Afghanistan, our servicemen and women were put at great risk in order to protect fuel convoys, directly claiming the lives of over 3,000 Americans (Source: http://bit.ly/2kCnHkQ). A paper published by UC Davis estimates that were there no oil in the Persian Gulf, then US combined peacetime and wartime defense expenditures might be reduced in the long run by roughly $27–$73 billion per year (in 2004 dollars). Amory Lovins of the Rocky Mountain Institute has pointed out that we surely would not have fought two wars in The Gulf if, “they just grew broccoli.”
It's the anti-waste thing to do: Mr. Trump has said, “We are going to ask every department head in government to provide a list of wasteful spending projects that we can eliminate in my first 100 days.” The first place to start would be subsidies for fossil fuels. The fossil fuel industry is the most heavily subsidized while making historic profits, the very definition of waste. Fossil fuel subsidies cost America roughly $4.7 billion in annual revenue (Source: http://bit.ly/2ggKFZb) Without subsidies, giveaways, free military protection and the ability to pollute with impunity, the fossil fuel industry would not be able to compete with renewables.
It's the pro-life-on-earth thing to do: Species are going extinct at a rate over a 1,000 times normal. The background level of extinction, the standard rate of extinction in earth's geological and biological history before humans became a primary contributor to extinctions, is about one species per million species per year, or between 10 and 100 species per year (counting all organisms such as insects, bacteria, and fungi, not just the large vertebrates we are most familiar with). In contrast, estimates are that we may now be losing 27,000 species per year to extinction from tropical rainforests alone. (Source: http://to.pbs.org/2fCpv9D). According to the World Wildlife Federation, Earth has lost half of its wildlife in the past forty years. (Source: http://bit.ly/2jG1HRG) Let me say that amazing fact again. Half of all creatures across land, rivers and the seas have died in just four decades as humans kill them for food in unsustainable numbers, while polluting or destroying their habitats.
It’s the good-for-real-estate thing to do: If The Donald (The President refers to himself this way) knows anything, it’s real estate. Rising seas are already devaluing our most valuable real estate; coastal real estate (Source: http://nyti.ms/2k9myhr). This economic effect is estimated by economists to be equivalent in magnitude to the dot com bubble. Globally, whole island nations with all their real estate are disappearing beneath the waves—not in some distant future—now.
It’s the pro-business thing to do: In 2016, for the third year in a row, the Earth saw a new record set for the warmest year, with arctic sea ice shrinking to its smallest point on record. Sixteen of the seventeen hottest years in recorded history have all been since the year 2000 (Source: http://go.nasa.gov/2kKl9kN). The transition to a cleaner energy economy rests on three pillars: moving from fossil fuels to electricity wherever possible, generating electricity with low or zero carbon emissions, and using energy much more efficiently. This means building new sources of zero- and low-carbon energy, including wind, solar; electrifying vehicles, heating systems, and many other products and processes; and investing in making buildings, appliances, and manufacturing more energy efficient.There is a business opportunity here that has been estimated to exceed even the impact of the internet in scale. It’s already happening. In 2015 and 2016, clean energy investments exceeded those of both oil and gas. In 2015, China was the largest investor in clean energy and the U.S. was second. Will we rise to the opportunity?
- It’s the right thing to do: If this sounds like a moral argument, that’s because it is. It is morally and ethically wrong to devastate a world that belongs to future generations. Period.
While there are many more arguments, these are the eight that I believe should convince the administration to act (“should” is the operative word). These issues will not go away. And neither will we. Our cause is just. We will continue to speak out on this vital matter, especially for those who have no voice. We will continue to work for a sustainable future.
Chris Velasco is Co-founder & Executive Director of PLACE, a community builder specializing in sustainable places for the arts and economic development.