August 26, 2020
Whatever the outcome of November’s election, Donald Trump has already made his mark on history: more carbon dioxide in the skies above Delaware, rivers more polluted than they’ve been for decades (think Flint) and wildlife reserves destroyed to make way for ever more drilling gantries. The fact is most environmental regulations dating from Obama’s era have either been abolished or fatally weakened in the last three years and with what, even for him, amounts to a depressing lack of perspective, Donald Trump justified dismantling no less than seventy key regulations by claiming they were “unnecessary and burdensome to the fossil fuel industry”. And despite the ravages of COVID 19 (with more than 176,000 deaths in the United States, by far the worst fatality figure in the World), Trump has still found sufficient time since March to scrap thirty more regulations …Thanks a lot, Donald.
So is this really the sort of freedom most Americans are yearning for?
Freedom for coal-fired power stations to start discharging mercury emissions into the atmosphere and dump mining debris in rivers; freedom for oil companies to ignore “burdensome” wildlife protection measures and liberated to drill across nine million acres of previously protected heritage land (including the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge): free to forget those tedious methane emission reports that aren’t needed anymore. And fracking can start up again on federal and Indian lands (let freedom ring); in California, farmers are free to drain rivers without worrying about killing (endangered) salmon and smelt and protected migratory birds are once again fair game: free to be to shot from the skies and their “parts” used to make novelty gifts for tourists stopping over in Juneau (I’m not making that up).
But the three years of the Trump Administration (maybe eight all told, who knows), these three years are a fleeting moment in the long life of our planet: no more profound in the greater scheme of things than the blinking of an eye, and the shocks caused by COVID 19 on existing social and environmental policymaking across the globe are likely to be around a good deal longer than Donald Trump, especially when it comes to climate policy. Because traumatic as it might have been (and is), written off and misunderstood by Trump on a weekly basis, this pandemic has presented us with a series of challenges and opportunities from which to plan a better and more focussed climate change policy in the future, policies that are capable of delivering genuine sustainable growth.
Dr Tara Shine (author of “How to Save your Planet One Object at a Time” and co-founder of the influential Change by Degrees Group) has described the Pandemic as a “restart button”, clearing the way for developments including the new EU Green Deal as well as the UK Government’s own Environmental Programme (launched in June): in her own words, “To be resilient to the next pandemic we have to build some of the same core skills and capabilities that we need to be resilient to climate change… The point is this is what societal change looks like when something changes”: traumatic, pervasive and long lasting.
In other words, Donald Trump has merely been traumatic…but the perfect storm of social and economic shocks we are experiencing at the moment might well bring pervasive and far-reaching change finally within our grasp, and that has potential to change all our lives for the better.
So much is happening to divert our attention at the moment, socially and economically, with rolling news accumulating on an increasingly pressing and hour by hour basis: it’s all too easy to lose sight of the importance of thoughtful environmental planning, not to mention the need for short and medium term policies capable of supporting sustainable growth.
And that, in a nutshell, is why we need to put Planet, People and Profit at the heart of our common vision for the future, and we need to do it now: that’s not a lesson any of us can afford to lose sight of, least of all now.
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