Among President Donald Trump’s horrible executive orders is the announcement last week that the administration would roll back relics of Obama-era environmental policy. In a last-ditch effort to save the dying coal industry — in the name of preserving working-class jobs — Trump promised to cut the red tape around carbon emissions and the obligation to consider environmental impact in congressional decisions. In January, over two years of protest against the Dakota Access Pipeline was put to a decided end — voices that had been screaming for recognition were suddenly and undemocratically silenced. Outrage is bubbling as Trump continues to slam the door on people’s dreams for a more environmentally progressive attitude in Washington — and with it — years of progress is unwound.
In the coming years, we can expect to see the fruits of the administration’s current environmental attitude. Already the head of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), Scott Pruitt, an admitted denier of human-caused climate change, reversed the EPA’s position on the use of verifiably harmful pesticides. In other areas, the administration is now focusing on traditional energy methods — coal, oil and natural gas — seeing these as more economically incentivized industries than green energy initiatives, which require substantial government subsidy to take off. We can expect to see a greater federal investment in — and therefore reliance — on industries and techniques that are increasingly unsustainable, as the rest of the world leans more heavily on windmills, hydroelectric, solar farms and other sustainable initiatives as their primary energy producers.
Implications of environmental and energy policy, of course, extend beyond our own borders. The greatest rival of the U.S., China, is already the world’s biggest investor in sustainable energy, coughing up $102.9 billion in 2015 compared to our $44.1 billion. China has also pledged to invest $360 billion in sustainable energy, positioning the country to take advantage of the void left by the U.S. and remain the world’s leader in sustainable energy development.
Countries across Europe are divesting from dirty energy and putting their stake in green initiatives that are more economically viable, more palatable to public opinion and better for the environment. Without a strong presence from the U.S., China will not have to compete with any nation for supremacy of the sustainable energy market, giving it an extremely influential position in environmental politics and worldwide energy initiatives.
Perhaps most alarming is not the reality of these changes, but that Trump’s presidency has come at the most precarious moment in environmental history to date. Scientists believe that even if we were to gut all our greenhouse gas-emitting activities right now, global temperatures would still rise to dangerous levels. The Paris Agreement of 2016 was a sign of progress, garnering the endorsement of 141 nations, but Trump has hinted that the U.S. may turn its back on the accord. In any case, immediate action would merely serve to lessen the effects of environmental degradation and climate change. But this is a far better alternative than blindfolding ourselves so we may ignorantly go down with the ship.
Energy and environmental policy always go hand in hand. A setback for one is a setback for the other. In this administration, Trump has somehow managed to simultaneously deter both, intensifying the effects of unsustainable and harmful policies. In a world in which green energy is becoming more economically feasible, the U.S. is only disadvantaged by allowing its reliance on established industries to override all other interests. The reality is that failing to acknowledge the severity of human action in climate change is not only unpopular, but extremely harmful to U.S. interests in the long run. If our administration really wanted to maintain American dominance in the world economy, it would establish a more progressive enviro-energy agenda.