In general, environmentalism has been more universal than partisan, but that seems to be changing. Scott Pruitt, the new head of the EPA and a member of the Republican party, recently had an interview on CNBC’s “Squawk Box” in which he said “I think that measuring with precision human activity on the climate is something very challenging to do and there’s tremendous disagreement about the degree of impact, so no, I would not agree that [carbon dioxide is] a primary contributor to the global warming that we see.”
That’s concerning: while science is of course evidence-based and conclusions should not be made lightly, the answer on Google for “what causes global warming” from sources like NASA, National Geographic, WWF, and many other scientific organizations is almost universally
“greenhouse gases.” The EPA’s own website says, “Carbon dioxide is the primary greenhouse gas that is contributing to recent climate change.” Pruitt’s noncommittal response to something so heavily supported in the scientific community is a concerning part of the bipartisan division that will surely grow about climate change and environmentalism as a whole during the Trump Presidency.
The statistics from the American Environmental Values Survey, a widespread survey that assesses American attitudes toward the environment, climate change, and clean energy, have some interesting divisions. Support for clean energy sources stands about 80% of Americans, while support for increasing coal and oil energy stands at only around 19%. Only a minority of Americans, or 34%, think that climate change is an unimportant issue facing our nation. Lastly, 23% of Americans surveyed agreed with the statement: “I believe climate change is mostly caused by human activities (such as driving cars, burning coal, oil, and gas)”; 47% agreed with the statement: “I believe climate change is caused by both natural causes and human activities.”
However, there appears to be a downward trend, of Republicans that believe in climate change. In 2006, 63% of Republicans and 83% of Democrats believed that global warming existed. While global warming and climate change aren’t exactly synonymous, most people believe that they are approximately equivalent, so it is concerning that in 2014, only 54% of Republicans believed that climate change exists while the number of Democrats remained about the same at 82%.
The public’s beliefs about this make sense in the face of both the current President’s beliefs along with the platforms of each party. The Republican Party’s official platform seems to simultaneously support environmentalism and using coal and fossil fuels, while portraying the EPA and Democrats as the sources of unfair legislation that extend far beyond conservative values. The website states that, “Like the rest of the economy, agriculture has suffered through eight years of the Democrats’ regulatory juggernaut, particularly from the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)” and “We propose to shift responsibility for environmental regulation from the federal bureaucracy to the states and to transform the EPA into an independent bipartisan commission, similar to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, with structural safeguards against politicized science”.
While it may be true that the EPA is currently more favorable among Democrats than Republicans, it is notable that it was founded by Republican President Richard Nixon in 1970. The Clean Water Act and the Clean Air Act were the major legislation pushed and supported by the organization throughout its history. The Senate vote to pass the Clean Air Act was 73-0, completely unanimous across party lines. However, even as there is support for environmental protection, the American people will not vote based on that, and there is a divide across party lines. William K. Reilly, the administrator of the EPA during the first Bush presidency, says that the problem is “that the public essentially has concluded that there is no crisis…the kind of issues that were emergency issues that prompted the creation of the Environmental Protection Agency have been very well addressed by the Environmental Protection Agency.” Somehow, economic progress has become incompatible with strict federal environmental regulation simply because the EPA has done its job too well.
The Democratic Environment site states, “Democrats believe that climate change poses a real and urgent threat to our economy, our national security, and our children’s health and futures, and that Americans deserve the jobs and security that come from becoming the clean energy superpower of the 21st century.” The Democratic site is notably shorter and also points to Donald Trump as a danger to environmental protection and their platform of clean energy and fighting climate change as going hand-in-hand with job growth.
Job growth is important. However, the new administration’s focus on short-term economic growth fails to take into account the massive importance of the EPA and other federal legislation in regulating industry to protect future generations of Americans from the issues. The Republican Congressional and Executive branches are working together to repeal executive actions by the Obama administration to keep coal waste out of streams and methane flaring, or burning escaping methane from the ground in extracting energy sources. This is not to frame the entire GOP party as “the enemy”: this is to say that the GOP lawmakers are ignoring their constituents and the majority of Americans in favor of extreme conservatism. Further, President Trump’s plan will cut funding to the EPA by 25% and overall jobs by 19%. This will undoubtedly cripple the agency’s ability to work to protect the environment and the American people from pollution.
The Trump White House website pinpoints removing environmental regulations, favoring American sources of coal, gas, and oil, and “protecting clean air and clean water, conserving our natural habitats, and preserving our natural reserves and resources will remain a high priority. President Trump will refocus the EPA on its essential mission of protecting our air and water.” Again, these policies have been proven to be practically and scientifically incompatible. President Trump himself has proved that he will ignore scientific and historical data that goes against his own beliefs, such as in his support of interstate oil pipelines and current support of ExxonMobil.
If I am elected President I will immediately approve the Keystone XL pipeline. No impact on environment & lots of jobs for U.S.
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) August 18, 2015
Thank you to @exxonmobil for your $20 billion investment that is creating more than 45,000 manufacturing & construction jobs in the USA!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) March 7, 2017
Companies like ExxonMobil have previously given money to climate change denying groups as well as members of Congress who commit to their message. Even worse, in November of 2015 the company was subpoenaed by a New York lawyer over allegations that it misled both the public and investors about climate change data. Richard Keil, a spokesman for the company, stated that ““We unequivocally reject allegations that ExxonMobil suppressed climate change research contained in media reports that are inaccurate distortions of ExxonMobil’s nearly 40-year history of climate research that was conducted publicly in conjunction with the Department of Energy, academics and the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change”. Entrusting corporations with the power to do research into areas that will directly harm their business interests are what the Obama administration and the EPA attempted to prevent, yet President Trump’s support of this company in favor of job growth points to the fact that capitalist gains and corporate interest outweigh the risks to the environment and to the American people. President Trump has even said outright in the past that he has no problem cutting the EPA. When asked if and what federal departments he would cut, he said, “Environmental Protection, what they do is a disgrace. Every week they come out with new regulations. They’re making it impossible…we’ll be fine with the environment. “We can leave a little bit, but you can’t destroy businesses.”
Pruitt himself has been no friend of the EPA. In his career as the Oklahoma attorney general, he brought 14 separate suits against the agency. These included the EPA regulations on mercury emission levels, ozone pollution, clean air and water standards, and the clean power plan. He even continued the state of Oklahoma’s lawsuit against the determination that greenhouse gases are harmful to the public, which is a foundational aspect of the EPA. This measure was supported by mining and oil companies, showing that Pruitt is not above putting corporate interests above findings that will harm the American people.
It is much easier now than in the seventies to see the effects of human impact in the environment, but the positive influence of the EPA and environmental regulation cannot be understated. Participation in international legislation like the Montreal Protocol in 1989, which disallowed ozone-depleting gases, have had direct positive impacts and in that particular case has allowed for some repair of the ozone layer. The mentality of “America First” only works in the short term: once we allow the free market to function without environmental regulation, profit will always outweigh environmental conscientiousness. What the GOP majority in Congress and the Trump administration, at best, fail to realize or, at worst, are being paid to ignore, is that the long-term consequences of changing weather patterns, climate extremes, polluted air and water, and decreasing biodiversity will be a heavier burden on the United States than any EPA “business-killing” law.