American politics have always been deemed an unusual affair, as far as outsiders are concerned. From hyperbolic campaigns, to party leaders appearing on casual chat shows (as to appeal to their public, of course), the two-year run-up to the presidential election is unlike any other show on earth.
That said, the political spectrum in the states has arguably seemed a little more black-and-white on the surface once compared to other nations. While the UK consists of various shades of Labour, Conservative, and Lib Dem, for example, the dash to Washington has always been somewhat of a two-horse race. Somewhat reliably, Americans would typically choose from just two parties: the liberal, leftist views of the Democrats; or the Republicans, with their conservative, strictly constitutional way of thinking. However, the 2016 presidential election blurred those lines almost beyond recognition and, exactly one year on from the election of Donald J Trump, we’re taking a look at the ways this unorthodox president has made his mark on the world of conservation.
Donald Trump has never been one to follow rules, or to listen to the voices of those around him. Unless you’re his daughter, or made of money, or part of an adoring audience (be that at a rally or at a Miss World pageant), the odds of Mr Trump lending you an ear are rather dismal. This may fly in the world of business, hotel management, or television (for there, he is his own boss); but as the leader of the so-called Free World, the president owes it to his people to heed their calls. So why does the administration now risk dismantling the policies that had once made America great?
Since his election on November 8th, 2016, Trump’s presidency has been wrought with controversy (a majority of which we will not cover in today’s blog – there are countless other publications out there which serve that purpose.) One of the earliest issues to arise, however, was Mr Trump’s refusal to accept the impact of global warming; a topic which has clocked up no less than 115 cynical tweets from the president himself, and has now spread beyond the realms of social media, into the real world.
On Thursday 26th May, 2016, the then-nominee of the Republican party pulled no punches in his attack on the environment, pledging to ‘cancel the Paris climate agreement’, should he win the top position at the White House. In the same speech, he also backed the idea of drilling off the Atlantic coast, and said that he would allow the controversial Keystone XL pipeline to be built (all 1,179 miles of it, carrying some 830,000 barrels of oil each day from Alberta, Canada, to Steele City, Nebraska), in return for ‘a big piece of the profits’ for the American people. One of Trump’s supposed ‘best’ qualities, as far as his voters were concerned, is the fact that he is a man who knows money. Sure, he may have been born into affluence – and so what if he’s lost millions of dollars throughout his career on court cases and failed financial ventures? The general consensus (at least, at this point in the campaign) is that Trump is a man of the people. And if he thought that tearing up the environment to make way for pipelines and walls would make America a little bit of money, who would the public be to begrudge him that choice? Build the pipe! Sever relationships with the UN! What do the experts (in the USA and around the globe) know, anyway?
Over a year later, with Mr Trump’s foot firmly in the door, the president made good on his promise to the people - that said, this is one of the few commitments he’s managed to make true. On the 1st of June 2017, Donald Trump announced that the U.S would cease all participation in the Paris Agreement. His voters believe he did it for the good of the economy. His critics feel that such a choice was made out of sheer stubbornness. World leaders, scientists, and environmentalists panicked, fearing the impact that a superpower like America could have on the state of the planet, should they insist on ejecting from the deal. Such a fear, as it happens, is entirely warranted.
Hailed as a ‘historic’ step towards curbing climate change, the Paris Agreement saw almost 200 countries come together on a consensus to limit greenhouse gas emissions, and to keep global temperatures down (no higher than 2.0C above pre-industrial times.) Another factor of the agreement encourages wealthier nations to help poorer countries, providing ‘climate finance’ and therefore aiding the necessitous in their quest to switch to renewable energies. For vulnerable nations, the agreement was something of a saving grace: small islands and under-developed countries typically have the most to lose, but minimal means to take action on their own. Such a comprehensive agreement would, for the first time in history, see the world come together to work towards a better future. America should have been instrumental in this change. Their exit from the agreement, however, could be cataclysmic.
America is responsible for almost 14% of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions (only China is responsible for more, emitting around 26% of GHGs). This percentage is staggeringly high, compared to other nations in the list, and that’s even taking into account that these statistics were accumulated during the environmentally-conscious Obama era (something which, ironically, Trump was keen to compliment back in 2009.) Prior to that point, the USA and China were almost neck-and-neck for the unenviable title of ‘highest emitters of GHGs’; that said, the USA are still responsible for the highest Co2 emissions per capita. So why, after praise for Obama, is Trump so keen to dismantle his predecessor’s progress?
Some believe it’s a power-play. That said, at the time of the US's statement to exit the accord, they had become just one of three nations uninvolved with the Paris Agreement (that is, should their ejection still go ahead.) As one of just two countries outside of the agreement, Nicaragua have only stayed 'out' since the agreement does not yet do enough to combat climate change (although they have recently had a change of heart, opting to join the agreement in light of America's exit.) On the 7th of November, Syria also signed onto the agreement, leaving America isolated on the outskirts of change - even North Korea, with all of their controversy, have been able to see sense when it comes to protecting the environment, calling America's withdrawal the 'height of egotism.' According to Trump himself, however, a lot of it is to do with job losses: the president expresses concern for the coal industry and its workers, neglecting to take into account that the amount of stable jobs in solar power are on the rise, ultimately expanding 17 times as fast as the US economy overall in 2016, and outweighing the employment rate of oil, coal, and gas power industries combined. With the facts laid out and backed up so clearly, one might beg to question: why still does Trump insist on pushing out of the Paris Agreement?
Mr Trump is well-versed in the art of understanding his audience, and is certainly capable of using them for his own benefit. Already considered as a paranoid nation in the wake of the recession, immigration, terrorist events and just about everything else, it could be said that America is a nation built on fear, desperate for an answer to their problems. While the dread of natural disasters and concerns over the environment are prevalent, these concerns pale in comparison to worries about financial collapse, restrictions on firearms and, oddly, Obamacare – the latter three of these concerns are shared with Trump himself, providing a sense of relatability to the president, and a belief that the choices he makes will be in the nation’s best interests. Science and statistics have little bearing here.
It is arguable that Trump’s reign is directly linked to (and, in some way, consequent of) his ability to manipulate the minds of his voters: those so concerned with the hyperbole of the Western media, that they’re willing to fall into the arms of the one person who really seems to ‘get’ them. But this is the genius of Donald Trump. He knows his audience. He knows how to speak to them. While the rest of the world stands by, shaking their heads in despair at the insanity of a criminally-accused reality tv star taking office, the American public can’t get enough of him. They have elected a leader to whom they feel they can relate – though by allowing Trump into the White House, they have elected an unfathomably rich megalomaniac – an individual who, in reality, shares few common interests with those casting their ballots.
Nobody claims that the Obama administration was perfect, but that particular presidency was, in many ways, a great success. In many ways, Barack Obama’s government had given the country what they wanted: unemployment rates plummeted; the war in Iraq drew to a close; and, critically, his achievements in conservation efforts were groundbreaking. Obama saw the creation of the largest marine national park on Earth (490,000 square miles of the Pacific Ocean were designated, protecting coral reefs and unique ecosystems.) He raised fuel-efficiency standards. He established the Great Outdoors Initiative. These points, and many more, made Barack Obama possibly the most eco-friendly President in history. The same cannot be said for Donald Trump – and a withdrawal from the Paris Agreement is just the tip of the iceberg.
‘Nature’s Enemy Number 1’ is perhaps a better nickname for Donald Trump. With an affinity for fur (both as gifts to and from the president himself), this should come as no surprise. His children have grown up to be trophy hunters (an activity Trump claims is barely different to playing golf); it is perplexing, then, for Donald Trump Jr to volunteer an influence on wildlife policies. This is the same man who spent Earth Day hunting prairie dogs; the very same person who refers to scientific evidence as pedalled by ‘radical environmentalists.’ We’ll leave you to draw your own conclusions on this.
The audacity to suggest that somebody who kills for fun somehow knows more about the environment than, say, scientists, is laughable at best. But similarly, isn’t the whole Trump presidency a bit of a joke? Prior to the 2016 election, Americans could feel proud of their position as a gamechanger in the world of conservation. The USA stood a chance to make a real difference to the state of the planet and its wildlife. But Donald Trump, with his famous ‘Make America Great Again’ catchphrase, is doing quite the opposite of that very claim – certainly in the sense of conservation.
From the needless reversal of hunting bans to the abolishment of national monuments, there are a number of ways in which the Trump administration could leave a profound effect on the American environment; one which should not be applauded, or revered throughout the passing of time. Somewhat understandably, the impact of the current administration’s attitude towards wildlife and the environment has struggled to gain notice as a pressing issue: matters such as racism, sexism, and the notion of an accused predator sitting in the highest office, are all matters worthy of making the headlines. That said, we can no longer sit and laugh as Mr Trump spouts the same old rhetoric about his commitments, when one that seems as flimsy as ‘The Wall’ could, in fact, prove devastating to animals, their ecosystems, and the environment overall.
Some people have praised ‘The Wall’; others can’t help but snigger at the implausibility of it all. The ex-president of Mexico, Vicente Fox Quesada, has on more than one occasion blasted Trump with some no-holds-barred, expletive-ridden critiques; rightfully, he points out the sense of racism in the president’s plan, but there is another point that is consistently being missed. Nobody seems to be shedding any light on the ecological damage that could be committed.
Should Trump get his way, The Wall will not only add to the previously mentioned, excessive green-house gasses already emitted by the United States (the amount of cement necessary will add to pollution levels.) The Wall will overlap four wildlife refuges, which will in turn affect natural migratory paths, disallowing animals the ability to find a mate. They will struggle to hunt, and the search for water during drought season will become even more of a laborious task. A lack of sustenance will impact these creatures in their attempts to raise their young, and we may see recently re-emerging species pushed back to the brink of extinction. This, alongside the 830,000 barrels of oil that could be carried between Canada and the USA per day (in line with the controversial Keystone XL project), the president’s insistence to scrap the Clean Power Plan, and countless other commitments, could spell doom for the environment.
And it gets worse. For the first time in years, the Republicans have been the sole party to have control over not only the White House, but both houses of Congress, too. This means that they have boundless opportunity to do as they please, be that readdressing environmental laws, altering them, or erasing them altogether. Additionally, Mr Trump continues to place cynics in positions they could not possibly serve with genuine, meaningful effect: just last week, the president nominated Kathleen Hartnett White to lead the Council on Environmental Quality, despite the fact that she believes – this is a direct quote – that climate change advocates are ‘alarmists’, and part of an ‘apocalyptic anthropogenic global warming cult.’ She may find herself in similar ranks to the EPA administrator Scott Pruitt who, ludicrously, is a critic of the very organisation he leads. This internal sabotage is typical of the Trump administration – but it certainly isn’t funny. Not anymore.
The suggestion of Donald Trump as the leader of the Republican party back in 2015 could have been passed off as a joke. Even as he made it to the position as the party’s presumptive nominee (2016), the odds of him making it to the White House were considered dubious. But somewhere between his official nomination on the 19th of July 2016, right through to the night of the election (exactly one year ago today), we stopped laughing. Instead of shrugging our shoulders, we held our heads in our hands, forlorn towards the sudden reality of this man becoming the most powerful person in the world. And unless he reconsiders his stance on the environment (and the changes that go with it), we are condemned to at least four years of his reign, watching helplessly as progress is retracted and the world around us begins to change – most likely - for the worst.
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