• Joaquín Gosálvez Castillo and Natasha Raseta

On the eve of U.S. elections: Responsible politics as a tool for addressing today's climate cris

Natasha Raseta is a Masters of Landscape Architecture student at University of Toronto’s Daniels Faculty of Architecture, and Joaquín Gosálvez Castillo is a Political and Social Sciences student at Sciences Po Paris Campus du Havre. They are participating in the Hart House Global Commons, an international dialogue initiative that supports student connection and engagement on global issues related to climate change facing youth.

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A quick glance at the official U.S. White House website portrays a wholesome Trump Administration that has made significant, ‘never-seen-before progress’ on important national issues of today. They have focused their accomplishments on reversing unemployment rates in the United States, reclaiming “more than 400,000 manufacturing jobs” since his election in 2016. This list of accomplishments boasts the fact that they “withdrew” from ”the job-killing Paris Climate Accord”, and canceled the “so-called Clean Power Plan”. Their choice of words says a lot about their political stance on today’s climate crisis, and leaves us wondering not only why environmental efforts have not been sufficient enough, but why be so quick to deliberately oppose environmental opportunities of our future at all? After a year of climate news and strikes, let us better understand the issues in the way of more meaningful political responsibility. If we analyze the current balance sheet of environmental policy decisions made by the Trump Administration, we can reflect on more effective solutions that could increase job creation, boost the economy, and tackle the urgent threat of today’s climate crisis.

It comes not as a surprise that the current U.S. Administration carries an attitude of unjustified and uninformed denial of climate change, which has manifested through a history of concerning political decision-making. Investigation of regulatory capture in regards to Trump’s Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) looked into agendas covered by political appointments, rhetoric, executive orders, and restructured science advisory boards, which favours economy and job creation over mitigating the effects of climate change. One of the first important issues of today’s climate crisis involves supporting ecosystem biodiversity. The Trump Administration’s environmental record has shown a different course of action. Many laws protecting the environment that were intended to start as an energy transition initiative have been repealed. Notable examples include: the withdrawal of Paris Agreement; the dismantling of the Clean Power Plan—aiming to reduce carbon emissions by 32% by 2030; and the deconstruction of the EPA—a key piece of legislation protecting important ecological and natural land. Trump also removed climate change from national security priorities in 2017, allowing massive logging on public land a few weeks afterwards.

There are contradictions on what the Trump Administration says they are trying to achieve versus what opportunities are actually available, which leads us to question his credibility. In July 2019, Trump mentioned that his Administration found the perfect balance between economic growth and environmental protection. However, our research reveals that they have been negligent in taking environmental protection efforts into account. An article on the Trump Administration and the Environment offers advice for dealing with reductions in evidence-based policy, the constant oppression and irrelevance of scientists in environmental policy decision-making, endangering funding cuts, environmental monitoring and protection. The main take-away is that “scientific evidence does not change when the administration changes”, that “cutting funding is certain to leave uncertainties unaddressed”, and that “it would be inappropriate and potentially disastrous to pause action on mitigation” efforts in regards to environmental quality policies.

This complicated situation opens the way towards the reflection of more appropriate solutions to balancing sufficient environmental policy as well as economic and job security. If the Trump Administration were willing to invest all the energy they have used to oppose environmental policy into the creation and implementation of a circular economy, they would achieve both economic growth, stable job opportunities, and ensure the safety and wellbeing of population health. An article on the future of sustainability explains further that “when we think differently about materials, there is an economic benefit there. If you can make things from your waste stream, that’s a wonderful economic gain”. Not to mention the multitude of jobs that could be created within this process of upcycling—“in which products are made, used, and then remade and reused”. In this case, a single material source can easily be turned into new products after the life cycle of the original product. There is also emphasis placed on the creation of local jobs, which speaks more appropriately to the U.S. Administration’s accomplishments mentioned above. Re-ratifying the Paris Agreement would allow for further measures to be taken to comply with these opportunities.

The U.S. plays a key role in the deciding factors of other influential countries, and can set a more constructive example for being able to make progress on all level of the climate crisis. There is an obligation for all of us who defend politics as a fundamental means of resolving and fighting the ecological crisis. While today’s citizens are increasingly aware of their role in favour of ecology and will respond accordingly, there is also a heightened responsibility for politicians and legislators to take this lead and unite and vocalize efforts for effective protection of the finite resources available on Earth.

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