President Trump cracks down on environmental protection initiatives. Private enterprise should continue to fill the void in preserving the planet.
Standing on a protruding boulder at Glacier Point, the Republican President was taken aback by the beauty of the snow-laden Yosemite Valley. Each night, with the yellow light from the crackling cedar wood reflecting their shadows against a backdrop of sequoias, bearded naturalist John Muir spoke openly to the commander in chief of the need for environmental preservation. This brief spring encounter between Mr. Muir and the President laid the foundation for unprecedented executive action on the preservation of federal land.
This, of course, was a very different time. The actions of then-President Theodore Roosevelt seem a distant past to today's politics.
The American public was reminded of this last Tuesday when President Donald Trump signed an executive order allowing for the return of coal leasing on federal land. This, along with other components of the order roll back many Obama-era policies enacted to curb carbon emissions, protect the environment and mitigate global warming.
A day earlier, the White House Office of the Press Secretary issued a statement highlighting the President’s efforts to eliminate wasteful regulation and minimize federal bureaucracy. Titled ‘President Trump Takes Action to Get Washington Out of the Way,’ the release focused on cutting and re-evaluating government mandates the administration deems as bad for workers. Additionally, the President issued a Memorandum Monday establishing the White House Office of American Innovation, developed in part to spur job creation.
President Trump is clearly focused on creating jobs. He has little interest investing political and monetary capital into solving the long-term global issue of climate change, a phenomena whose existence he questions. Understanding the issues he was elected on, the President has opted for the short-term and tangible domestic goal of creating jobs.
In this, it is difficult to fault the President. Championing domestic manufacturing and small business during the election, President Trump is attempting to fulfill campaign promises. Even on climate change, where the President refuses to accept the scientific consensus, he is not very different from other politicians.
Democrats, for whom tackling climate change makes good rhetoric on the stump, have done little in terms of practical action on the issue. Republicans, many of which are funded by oil and gas firms, have done even less.
Part of the problem with implementing meaningful environmental protection lies in the fabric of political life. Preoccupied with winning elections, politicians are incentivized to focus on issues that have clear and tangible effects on their constituents. For elected officials, solving problems with immediate ramifications and results at home often supersedes preventing an international crisis whose effects would be felt many years from now.
Even in the international affront on climate change, meaningful action is difficult to achieve. In 2015 at the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, an unprecedented 197 countries agreed to support the Paris Agreement, which seeks to limit the increase in global temperature to below 2 degrees Celsius this century.
While treatise may be signed, that does not necessarily translate to implementation. The United Nations must rely entirely on its signatories to implement their initiatives. In the ebb and flow of national political power and public sentiment, this is nearly impossible to sustain. The climate accord preceding the Paris Agreement, the Kyoto Protocol, fell victim to this with many of its champions removing themselves from ratified obligations years after signing.
Enviromental protection and private enterprise
With domestic politicians and international institutions floundering, private enterprise and entrepreneurship have largely filled the void in preserving the environment. On March 15, just a few weeks prior to the executive order, Chile received the “largest land donation in history from a private entity to a country.”
Kristine McDivitt Tompkins, head of Tompkins Conservation and former CEO of Patagonia, donated one million acres of land in Patagonia to expand Chile’s national parks. Combined with Chilean President Michelle Bachelet’s pledge of about 10 million acres, this donation will considerably grow the country’s already vast
national park network.
According to the Tompkins Foundation, this combined donation amounts to “three times the size of Yosemite and Yellowstone National Parks combined.”
Having initially purchased the land with her late husband Douglas Tompkins, who founded The North Face and Esprit, Ms. McDivitt Tompkins follows in a tradition of firms and business leaders working towards natural conservation. Patagonia, the outdoor clothing firm renowned for its environmental activism, has a long tradition of rethinking design and supply chain processes to limit its impact on nature. Focused on using “business to inspire and implement solutions to the environmental crisis,” the firm and its leadership are vocal in protecting wildlife and preserving public lands. Patagonia founder Yvon Chouinard acted on this belief in creating 1% for the Planet, an organization whose members contribute one percent of their annual sales to causes related to the environment.
In the energy sphere, firms like Tesla and SolarCity are pioneering development in electric vehicles, energy storage and solar panels. This has contributed to growth in renewables, as a 2017 study by the US Department of Energy shows that “the solar workforce increased by 25% in 2016, while wind employment increased by 32%.” These numbers are substantial when compared to the under 5% growth of the energy industry overall. Emphasis on renewables is not unique to firms in the energy sector, as a significant number of major companies are committed to going 100% renewable in the near future. Apple, Nike and Coca-Cola are among the many firm's re-adjusting operations to move away from traditional energy and into sustainable power.
Environmental protection: the best way forward
President Trump, attempting to boost jobs with his executive order, is not doing mother nature any favors. He is wrong in believing that environmental protection and job creation are mutually exclusive. Substantially limiting the Environmental Protection Agency and allowing coal mining on federal land does not directly translate to more jobs created. With low oil prices, renewables improving efficiency and growing automation in the mining industry, the demand for coal and potential jobs from its production is likely overestimated by the administration.
If it was unclear prior, the order shows President Trump’s preference for the deconstruction of the government's’ administrative reach, particularly regarding regulating business. There is no appetite in the White House for placing a tax on carbon, implementing a cap and trade system or increasing research and development into renewables. Citizens must look elsewhere for solutions to the world’s environmental woes.
While some sections of the order can lead to poorer environmental standards (and an inability for the US to meet its obligation under the Paris Agreement), others offer an opportunity for businesses to operate and succeed with greater ease. Parts of President Trump’s initiatives, such as streamlining the “federal permitting process for domestic manufacturers,” would help boost economic output and allow small businesses to create jobs with greater ease. It is through these deregulations and eliminations of red tape that new and existing sustainable firms can compete. This should be welcomed by economically conscious firms, as expanding regulations have contributed to the increased difficulty of starting a new business in recent years.
Unlike President Roosevelt, the current President has little interest in the environment, preferring the jungle of concrete and construction. Pleads from a modern-day Mr Muir would likely fall on deaf ears.
Rather than campaigning the White House on the merits of conservation, environmentally conscious firms and citizens should take advantage of this new ecosystem of deregulation by promoting natural protection through business. To have a tangible impact, citizens must act on the fact that this President cares more about the number printed on a jobs report than preserving the natural beauty from which that paper originated. Economic success can translate into environmental preservation and potentially sway the President’s conviction. It is well worth the effort.
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