Killing Us Bigly – Trump Environment Policy
Surely Neil DeGrasse Tyson is one of the smartest, and I think also the funniest, humans on Earth.
In Death by Black Hole (2007) he devoted the first chapter, “Coming to Our Senses,” to the reality that the five senses humans enjoy, while robust for many purposes, are insufficient to help us understand the world and the universe. He wrote this:
“Consider that the human machine, while good at decoding the basics of our immediate environment – like when its day or night or when a creature is about to eat us – has very little talent for decoding how the rest of nature works without the tools of science. If we want to know what’s out there then we require detectors other than the ones we are born with. In nearly every case, the job of a scientific apparatus is to transcend the breadth and depth of our senses.” [Death by Black Hole at 26]
He expanded that idea by noting that the development of our senses as we grow up helps us make sense of the world but almost no scientific discoveries in the past hundred years were accomplished by relying just on our senses. Instead, they came through the use of mathematics and human-created hardware. Id. at 29.
And finally Tyson made this powerful point:
“Our five senses even interfere with sensible answers to stupid metaphysical questions like, “If a tree falls in the forest and nobody is around to hear it, does it make a sound?”” My best answer is, “How do you know it fell?” But that just gets people angry. So I offer a senseless analogy, “Q: If you can’t smell the carbon monoxide, then how do you know it’s there? A: You drop dead.” In modern times, if the sole measure of what’s out there flows from your five senses then a precarious life awaits you.” [Id. at 30]
That brings me to the environment “agenda” of Not-My-President Trump. His proposed budget, which is subject to review and adoption by Congress, seeks to lay off 25 percent of the Environmental Protection Agency staff, terminate 56 programs involving restoration of some of America’s largest and dangerously polluted bodies of water (the Great Lakes and the Chesapeake Bay). See details at http://wapo.st/2nJy9FX.
To the extent that there is any solace in these proposals, some funding would be directed at the states who would, in theory, act to protect the environment in lieu of the federal government. However, at the root of this view is the inevitability that the influence of the large polluters on state regulators is likely to be significantly greater than they have been able to exercise at the federal level. The threat to “move our assets, and jobs, elsewhere” is powerful lever against aggressive environmental regulation by states and localities, creating a “race to the bottom” among the states to show the big polluters that they are a “coal friendly” or “farmer friendly” state where regulation in the name of the environment is nothing to be feared.
In addition to the possibility, however remote, that the Republican-dominated Congress will reject those drastic cuts, coalitions of environmental groups are using the courts to challenge Trump’s effort to turn environmental protection over to the polluters. See http://wapo.st/2nMn7B6. These actions portend a long fight to protect the country and the world from the Trump agenda to reduce or eliminate regulation of corporate behavior in the interest of the biosphere.
Trump’s approach to the environment is not a “conservative” program. It more closely resembles something an anarchist would propose. Not surprising, perhaps, considering the prominent position at Trump’s right and left hands of Steve Bannon who has vowed to “deconstruct the administrative state.”
There can be no reasonable doubt that the implementation of Trump’s plans will result in many deaths, not only of animals and their habitat, but of humans as well. I haven’t seen any estimates, partly, I think, because Trump’s proposals are in a state of flux and get more draconian with each iteration. But deaths will surely result, along with more black lung disease, cancer and other avoidable ailments arising from lack of care for the environment.
The number and quality of “new jobs” created due to the removal of environmental protections will be miniscule compared to the costs to humans and the planet. All of the regulations that Trump is now sweeping away through Executive Orders and budget hatchet jobs were carefully evaluated, before adoption, for costs and benefits as required by federal law. The destruction of the environmental safety net is not being accompanied by a similar demonstration of costs and benefits.
The ensuing damage to the biosphere and the deaths of animal and human life that will inevitably result from Trump’s policies will be laid by history at Trump’s feet. The blood will be on his hands and on the hands of his enablers in Congress. But the pain and suffering will be felt by others.
Disturbingly, in my view, a contrary view was set out in the Washington Post on Sunday, April 2 at B1 (not posted on WaPo website). The article by Ben Adler, a New York journalist, is entitled “Trump can’t do much to worsen climate change.” As I understand it, Adler’s basic point is that Trump’s anti-environmental policies in the U.S. cannot by themselves do much to worsen global warming and, in any event, other countries will likely step up their game to offset the negative contributions of the United States.
That, I suggest, is wishful thinking of the worst kind. The United States has been a leading force in bringing about the Paris Agreement under the auspices of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change. The Paris treaty went into effect in the United States just days before the last presidential election. http://unfccc.int/paris_agreement/items/9485.php.
There are no guarantees that other countries will not lose their resolve in the wake of the United States’ retreat from its commitments as the Trump administration appears intent to do. Moreover, whatever other countries may do in the way of offsets on a global scale will do nothing to resolve the air and water pollution and habitat destruction that Trump’s no-nothing approach to the environment will impose directly on the United States.
If you have young children, or grandchildren, you no doubt understand already the harsh future that Trump’s policies will yield. If so, you should immediately engage with the Resistance to oppose what the administration is trying to do. It is not enough now to wring your hands and hope for better days after the mid-term elections. The damage will have been done by then. It is time now to join actively with the Resistance by connecting with MoveOn.org, PeoplePower.org, the ACLU, Indivisible, the Sierra Club and any of the many other organizations actively working right now to stop the desecration of the planet which is the only home the human race is going to have in any time frame that matters. Just ask Neil deGrasse Tyson.