With Trump’s inauguration officially beginning his first term as President, many of his first actions in the new role have sparked controversy on a global scale. However, the potential threat to the environment posed by his stated views on the subject has largely been overlooked. Having famously stated that climate change is a “hoax” and “bullsh*t”, it is hardly a surprise that environmentalists are looking at the next four years with worry.
As with most transnational issues, it is key to get America on the right side of the fight against global warming for any change to be implemented and effective on a global scale. Unsurprisingly, the United States is one of the largest emitters of greenhouse gases in the world, producing around 15% of the global share of carbon dioxide emissions in 2017. During the Obama administration in particular, the nation has tried to reduce these high emissions through passing various legislation and joining international treaties; it is predicted that America is set to achieve its 2009 pledge to cut carbon dioxide emissions by 17% from 2005 to 2020.
However, Trump’s stated stance on environmental issues could hugely threaten progress and dismantle Obama’s climate change legacy. It is clear that environmentalism is far from a priority on Trump’s presidential agenda, as he instead prioritises the creation of American jobs and increasing energy production. Although these goals are important to sustain and improve the social wellbeing of many communities across the States as well as international businesses, does this excuse the harm Trump’s actions could do to the environment? Ultimately, it begs the question of whether his priorities are right.
Since Trump’s inauguration, physical changes implemented by the new President merely put his anti-environmental rhetoric into action. His cabinet is hugely imbalanced as it massively favours those with interests in the energy sector. He nominated the chief executive of ExxonMobil for Secretary of State, and Scott Pruitt (a climate change sceptic and ally of the fossil fuel industry) to run the US Environmental Protection Agency. Promoting the irony in this, Pruitt stated that he does not believe that climate change is caused by the emission of carbon dioxide as a result of the burning of fossil fuels – a claim which is widely embraced by scientists across the world. Furthermore, the new President has issued executive orders regarding the environment, including one to ‘review’ the Clean Water Act, one of Obama’s biggest environmental legacies. This Act gave the federal government authority to limit pollution in lakes, rivers, et cetera. All this gives a bigger advantage to the key players in the energy sector (especially those who now hold important government roles, like Pruitt), and lets them act in their own self-interest regardless of environmental wellbeing. This makes the entire Trump administration a momentous threat to the environment.
It is impossible to talk about Trump and the environment without discussing the controversies surrounding the revival of the construction of various oil pipeline projects. In January 2017, Trump signed executive orders to allow the continuation of construction of the Dakota Access and Keystone XL pipelines, even though both projects had previously been blocked by Obama over environmental concerns. The Dakota Access Pipeline is an underground oil pipeline project, stretching over 1,100 miles long, from northwest North Dakota to southern Illinois. Similarly, the Keystone XL Pipeline will span nearly 1,200 miles across six states. Trump argues that the building of these pipelines are all about increasing the US’ domestic energy supply and creating much-needed jobs for unemployed citizens. Of course this would be very beneficial, yet while the Trump administration states that the renewed construction will bring 28,000 jobs, it is thought that the majority of these jobs will only be temporary, with the number of long-term jobs created being a mere 50. Nevertheless, it is hard to predict objectively whether the projects will create lasting benefits, which could outweigh the concerns expressed over them.
Trump’s actions could also risk breaking down international agreements aimed at tackling climate change. In December 2015, when Obama attended negotiations for the Paris Agreement (organised and funded by the UNFCCC), Trump spoke publicly about how he viewed the Agreement as a “waste of time”, “a horrible [financial] transaction” and was “not the biggest problem” for America at the time. Today it is unclear what Trump is going to do next in regards to this deal. Recently, he has stated that he has an ‘open mind’ about international climate change agreements, but there is still real fear that he will be reluctant to contribute or, in the worst case scenario, pull America out of the deal all together. With America being one of the largest contributors to global warming, without their active involvement in international treaties to tackle such a transnational issue, there is little hope that any change will be significant.
Overall, reducing America’s contributions to climate change is clearly not a priority on Trump’s agenda. However, there is an upside to Trump’s actions; citizen activism against Trump’s rhetoric and actions with regard to environmentalism has surged momentously, and really caught the media’s eye. Because of this, there is more and more pressure being put on Trump to consider the environment when implementing his new policies. Nevertheless, Trump appears to be a very stubborn man, and the likelihood of him completely transforming his stance on the environment and his political priorities is low. We now need to hope that Trump can learn to take environmental wellbeing into consideration when focusing on his domestic policy priorities over the next four years.
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