Thoughts on environmental activism in a Trump presidency

Yesterday I looked at the potential environmental policy direction of the Trump Administration. Today I offer some additional thoughts about what this might mean for political action.

Republicans own climate change
Conservative Republicans now own climate change, with all its consequences.

 Over the years they have sold their party out to climate denialism in a flood of money from the Koch Brothers and the oil and gas industry. It has become an unquestioned aspect of Republican orthodoxy to deny or question whether climate change is occurring, or whether it has human causes, or, if it does, whether we can possibly consider any policy that would have an impact on jobs in the fossil fuel energy sector.

The Obama Administration was late to the game on climate change, but they have made significant positive actions to take global leadership for action to reduce the impacts of warming.

The Republicans now have the power to wipe out all of that if they choose to. They can gut the EPA, take us out of the Paris Climate Agreement, open public lands to fossil fuel development and transport, scrap the Clean Power Plan, and open the doors to the frackers to exploit the land and foul water and air in the name of economic growth.

Yes, it is a bleak picture.

It is scant comfort that what they have taken possession of is a ticking time bomb that will eventually be their undoing. Their aggressive neglect will not only accelerate the process of warming, but the lack of US leadership will empower other nations to be neglectful as well. No matter what Republicans cynically believe, the climate is warming, arctic ice is disappearing, the ocean is rising, drought and extreme weather are intensifying. In the not-too-distant future, it will be clear to all that they have ruined the only planet we have.

Photo: Spencer Platt, Getty Images

Photo: Spencer Platt, Getty Images

Attitudes are changing
But there is potential positive news here.

The Republican Party is out of step with the American people on this issue. According to a recent study by the Environmental and Energy Study Institute, 70% of Americans now believe that global warming is occurring and public opinion is changing fairly rapidly toward acceptance. What’s more, even though there is uncertainty about whether global warming is human-caused, Americans interest in climate action outpaces their agreement that climate change exists.

Conservative Republican attitudes are changing more rapidly than the general public.

  • The share of conservative Republicans who say global warming is happening has risen from 28 to 47 percent over the last two years.
  • As a whole, 56 percent of Republicans say global warming is happening, up from 40 percent two years ago

What’s more, even though there is uncertainty about whether global warming is human-caused, interest in climate action outpaces agreement that climate change exists.

  • 84 percent of registered voters support more funding for renewable energy research (91 percent of Democrats and 75 percent of Republicans).
  • 81 percent support tax rebates for people who purchase energy-efficient vehicles or solar panels (91 percent of Democrats and 70 percent of Republicans).
  • 75 percent support regulating carbon dioxide emissions (88 percent of Democrats and 61 percent of Republicans).
  • A large majority (70 percent) of registered voters support setting strict carbon emission limits on existing coal power plants. But only 37 percent of conservative Republicans support such action (as opposed to 67 percent of liberal/moderate Republicans and 67 percent of Independents).

Changes in attitude present opportunities for unusual political alliances. 3 in 10 registered voters say they are ready to join a campaign to convince their elected representatives to take action to combat climate change. More education is badly needed to separate public attitudes from political orthodoxy. More experience with extreme events will continue to change attitudes.

Here is a one-hour presentation of the findings of this study.

Other developments moving us forward
What’s more, other developments can move us forward in taking climate action. Vox lists some of these:

  • States like California and New York are still pursuing their own ambitious climate policies, and it’s possible those efforts could be so successful that other states decide to follow suit.
  • Likewise, wind power, solar power, and electric cars will keep getting cheaper — it’s possible they’ll acquire a self-sustaining momentum, even without support from the US government. Or maybe some other new low-carbon technologies will emerge to shake up climate politics. (Small modular reactors, anyone?)
  • Climate activists will continue to push for action at local levels — much as they did during the George W. Bush years, when the Sierra Club began blocking a major planned expansion of coal power. It’s possible that opposition to Trump will galvanize a new generation of climate activists who find creative ways to address global warming.
  • Individuals and local communities are taking action. Recent protests regarding the Dakota Pipeline have galvanized support, and, in California, Monterey County became the first local government with a significant oil industry to ban fracking when voters took action on Tuesday.
  • Other countries still have their own reasons for tackling climate change, even China and India (which, note, is choking on deadly levels of air pollution in Delhi right now). It’s possible that Trump’s recalcitrance on climate change could motivate the rest of the world to redouble their efforts at curtailing emissions without us.
  • It’s even possible that Trump and the GOP could have a change of heart and decide that global warming is a real issue that needs to be taken seriously. It’s possible that Republicans could balk at repealing all these pollution regulations, realizing that they’re actually quite popular. Stranger things have happened.

Last, four years is not the end of time. It is critical to step up action at the local level. It is not a time to sit back and let things happen. Step up, get active, and fight for your planet.

Shutterstock images

Shutterstock images

About davidjkatz

The Moses family has lived on the Stillwater River since 1974, when George and Lucile Moses retired and moved to the Beehive from the Twin Cities. They’re gone now, but their four daughters (pictured at left, on the Beehive) and their families continue to spend time there, and have grown to love the area. This blog started as an email chain to keep the family informed about the threat of increased fracking activity in the area, but the desire to inform and get involved led to the creation of this blog.
This entry was posted in Climate change, Politics and History and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink.

One Response to Thoughts on environmental activism in a Trump presidency

  1. Bob Kiesling says:

    Your latest blog on environmental activism in the age of Trump is instructive (and activating, as intended). I was struck by how many of the examples of activism you cite are regional, state, or local, or specific-campaign generated and driven. They are not, in the aggregate, aimed at the national Congress or Presidential administration of the times. They are pegged to specific, egregious, and more narrow-than-national environmental affronts that flow from hydrocarbon addictions. They have, by and large, succeeded.

    These activist phenomena strike me as instructive because they target real problems around which citizens can galvanize.

    Now, post-2016 national election outcomes, is a good time to encourage state and local initiatives. We tend to posit disproportionate importance on Congress and the reigning Administration. While it is important to keep the heat on those institutions, it is far more likely that we’ll make advances that are right-but-contrary to the entrenched and dysfunctional national body politic than we’ll be able to make via smart, well-targeted more local campaigns.

    Like many of your readers, I am exhausted by investing personal energy and dollar expenditures in conventional politics. I’d rather think about and devote resources to alternative means of weaning from the hydro carbon tit.

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