In a little over three years, the Trump administration has completely reversed 64 environmental regulations, and is in the process of reversing 34 more, making that an average of a little more than one every three weeks. Such regulations range from auto emissions standards to ending payments to the Green Climate Fund (a United Nations initiative to reduce pollution in developing countries). Such action not only has global implications, but leaves the U.S. and the countries it supports around the world under-prepared for the escalating effects of the anthropogenic harm that we’re causing across the Earth. The U.S. prides itself on being a global superpower, but we should be more vigilant in fighting a threat that negatively affects nearly every facet of human life, and has dire health and economic consequences for the future. “Over the past three years, we have fulfilled President Trump’s promises to provide certainty for states, tribes, and local governments,” said a spokeswoman for the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) in a statement: “[We plan on] delivering on President Trump’s commitment to return the agency to its core mission – providing cleaner air, water and land to the American people.”
However, the administration reduced federal protections afforded to U.S.waterways across the country, giving farmers, miners, and industrial plants the agency to pollute local streams and lakes without fear of punishment. While the justification may be to give states the right to regulate on their own, many bodies of water across the U.S. often come under the responsibility of multiple states, like the Mississippi River which forms the boundaries of 10 states. Federal protection not creates a unified response to those looking to take advantage of lapses in regulation, but gives support to states looking to protect their citizens from environmental harm.
But while risking the health of U.S. citizens doesn’t always lose an incumbent their votes, the economic harms of climate change in particular are already impacting the U.S. economy every day of the year. According to a study conducted by several environmental economists (Hsiang et al. 2017), the social cost of carbon is currently estimated to be around “$36 per metric ton per year,” costing the U.S. around $200 million for the 5.4 billion tons of emissions that it released in 2015. Depending on the amount of money and resources devoted to mitigation, a continuing policy of inaction may lead to a 1-10% contraction in the U.S. economy simply from greenhouse gas emissions. However, the administration has even sought to lowball the cost of carbon to a mere $5 per metric ton per year in order to justify reduced spending on mitigation, an appalling turn from the initial $36 that in of itself was an underestimate by many accounts.
Perhaps one of the more troubling aspects of the Trump administration’s war on the environment is the distortion, destruction, and dereliction of climate science. In early February of 2017, the administration embraced an “ignorance is strength” doctrine by scrubbing the White House website of information on global warming, a move that a number of internet vigilantes did their best to reverse by copying and re-publishing the information back online. Trump’s former EPA director Scott Pruitt also came under fire after he had spent less than 1% of his time meeting with environmental groups, favoring industry heads and executives. Even large businesses have protested at the excessive devotion to deregulation. In June of 2019, seventeen automakers signed a letter to the president, stating that the deregulation of tailpipe standards could potentially cut profits and promote instability.
Inaction occurs across the country from a policy perspective, and there’s only one way forward in combating the climate crisis. Voting for leaders that promote policies for a cleaner environment, and voting against leaders that do the opposite are two sides to a coin that needs to be invested in our future. Policies also need to be well thought out and well-executed. A company that is fined for every ton of carbon it emits into the air on U.S. soil may simply outsource to a foreign country, reducing pollution in America, but having no effect on the net emissions whatsoever. Innovation is another path forward, which is why the government should be garnering support from the private sector, activist groups, and legal experts to assist in the global fight against climate change. This also means investing in other countries, and contributing more to causes like the Green Climate Fund and the IMF. Until election season, we can only control our own behavior towards the environment, along with active support towards the candidates who will advocate for a more sustainable future.