Kenneth Worthy Ph.D.

The Green Mind

The War is ON, and Nature Will Not Lose—People Will

Will our descendants forgive us for Trump’s war on nature?

Posted Mar 23, 2017

Alfred Palmer - Library of Congress, Public Domain
Source: Alfred Palmer - Library of Congress, Public Domain

The Trump administration, barely two months in office, has all but declared war on nature. Many people alive today—but probably more so, future generations—will become the “collateral damage” of his thoughtless, needless assault. Many of our wild cousins will suffer, and the planet will be diminished.

But long into the future nature as a whole, more awe-inspiring and magnificent than our tragicomic politics can apprehend, will sigh, shed a tear, and move on. The human foibles of the late 20th and early 21st century will be a mere hiccup in the long eons of the universe.

People will pay the price—this year and for decades if not centuries.

The War

President Trump’s astoundingly near-sighted nature-disparaging acts in his first two months in office are well documented and known to most people. A climate-change denier himself (calls it a “hoax”), Trump for starters has placed a climate-change denier, Scott Pruitt, in charge of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), to the shock and dismay of sensible people around

Frank J. Aleksandrowicz, Public Domain
Source: Frank J. Aleksandrowicz, Public Domain

the world. Pruitt repeatedly sued the EPA while attorney general of Oklahoma, on behalf of the fossil fuel industry. He apparently has much disdain for the EPA’s mission and has spoken out against some of the core parts of it. Pruitt is one of several Trump agency heads who apparently would like to dismantle the agency that they lead.

The days of head-in-the-sand denial have now been tragically instituted in the core of the U.S. government. Pruitt’s EPA removed the term “science” from the mission statement of its Office of Science and Technology!!! Trump’s agenda has also removed from the EPA website all mentions of climate change, President Obama’s Climate Action Plan, carbon pollution and its link to climate change, and the U.S. commitment to U.N. climate change negotiations. Trump last week announced a rollback of fuel efficiency standards.

The climate leadership role of the United States was also removed from the U.S. Department of State's website with the new secretary of state appointed by Trump, Rex Tillerson, who was until this appointment CEO of Exxon, an energy company whose products have hugely intensified global climate change.

Climate change is not the only environmental problem that the new administration wishes to ignore. Trump’s proposed federal budget seeks to “slash the EPA’s budget by 31 percent, cut 3,200 of its 15,000 workers, cut funding for climate change research and Superfund cleanup and scrap more than 50 programs altogether.”

Make no mistake: the environmental damages documented daily, particularly those surrounding global climate disruptions, will get significantly worse as our government’s commitment to protect the environment declines. Air and water will get dirtier, contaminated soil will remain contaminated, toxicants will continue to circulate, ecosystems will go faster into decline. These damages, particularly those associated with climate change, such as lifeless seas and desertified forest areas, will be inherited by human generations deep into the future.

Nobody familiar with the state of the environment today would argue that it’s time to stop protecting the environment because “mission accomplished—time to start closing down the EPA.” So what can account for these regressive moves by the Trump administration and the cover given it by the Republican congress?

Anti-Regulation Fantasies

Trump and many other conservatives hate government regulation. The most extreme among them, such as Robert Mercer, a hedge-fund billionaire who wants to shrink government down “to the size of a pinhead,” seem to think the idea of government itself is evil.

Mercer, incidentally, helped put Trump in office. And according to a new report, his operatives virtually surround the Trump administration and guide its actions—no surprise that Trump is seeking to shrink the government down, perhaps eventually to the size of a pinhead.

But knee-jerk reactions against regulation and government are naïve and simplistic. If Robert Mercer wants a tiny, barely functioning government, he should move to one of the strife-torn nations of Africa where governments are weak and warlords reign. That’s what you get without good, stable government and effective regulation. What Mercer doesn’t get is that many of the basic conditions under which people like him make their wealth—and breath clean air and drink clean water—are created or kept intact by the legal and administrative apparatuses of governments: security, courts, market stability, money supply, an educated, trained workforce, city streets, the Internet (a government invention), and so on. Mercer would likely be a pauper without the conditions created and supported by good governance in the U.S.

The essential fantasy that Trump and other Republicans entertain when they try eliminate regulations is that private individuals and private companies will all, without coordination among them, produce the best, most wonderful society. The challenge for these people is to show us such a place that exists. Or has ever existed.

Complex societies need good governance. Which of course is not to say that all regulation is good. It’s hard to regulate effectively, and creating and enforcing good, fair rules is often messy. It’s best done with input from all stakeholders. Without rules and their enforcement, complex societies will decay. Their natural resources will dwindle. Their air, water, lands, and seas will be denuded and filthy. America was a far more toxic, less healthy place before the EPA and associated environmental laws were created in the 1960s and 70s, as the photos accompanying this post show (and as anyone alive then can tell you).

The Cuyahoga River in Cleveland used to catch fire before the U.S. government stepped in and got it cleaned up through the Clean Water Act and the regulatory apparatuses of the EPA.

Environmental regulation is not anathema to a healthy, flourishing society—it’s essential to it. The idea that protection of nature is at odds with economic prosperity is an arcane, 19th-century tale still told by many American conservatives, hell-bent on market fundamentalism. It’s equally delusional as the idea that companies, left on their own, will do the right thing. (Some will. Some won’t, as they demonstrate all the time, with their continued manufacture and marketing of cigarettes knowing how harmful they are or drilling for oil knowing how bad global climate change is damaging the planet.)

Polluted, depleted environments are a burden on people and the economy.

Cut Off From Reality

Why can people still believe that markets alone will provide clean air, water, and all the other environmental amenities that the markets themselves require? As I write in my book Invisible Nature: Healing the Destructive Divide between People and the Environment, our disconnections from lived, physical reality—nature out there—mean we can blithely adopt our favorite explanation or story regardless of what’s actually happening out there. When you think of it, it’s a nice idea to think that everything will be rosy if we just get government “off people’s backs.” It’s the faith that people and markets will do the right thing. But people have all sorts of motivations to do otherwise, particularly greed.

Being dissociated from the realities out there that affect our lives—nature and politics alike—makes it easier for “fake news” (and fake accusations of fake news by Trump) to be believed by millions of people.

The view that the markets will take care of nature for us is particularly attractive if you’ve already made it rich, like Trump, Mercer, and their cronies. They’ll still feel some of the effects of dirty air and water, but not quite as badly as people in poorer communities who can’t escape the worst of it. They and their wealthy progeny will also be insulated from most of the effects of global climate change, which will increase under their watch—that is, until shifts in food production and other ill effects begin to shake the very foundations of industrial society and the system comes crashing down on them, too.

My book: Invisible Nature

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Read more of my posts: The Green Mind

Diliff, CC BY-SA 3.0
Source: Diliff, CC BY-SA 3.0