After Donald Trump’s tremendous loss on healthcare last week, he did what any bullying narcissist does and picked on someone who couldn’t fight back to make himself feel better. The planet Earth was his target as he signed executive orders to dismantle several key environmental protection policies from the Obama Administration. Trump and his supporters claim that ending these “job-killing” regulations will create thousands of new jobs in the oil and gas industries. Scientists and environmental activists say the move will greatly hamper the campaign to stop climate change, and is likely to prevent the United States from meeting its goals under the Paris Climate Deal.
Many of the downward trends in these industries are not a result of regulations but of other factors. This is especially true for the coal industry. Coal has declined so much largely because of the success of natural gas. Fracking has allowed greater production of natural gas, which is cheaper and cleaner (although that’s a pretty low bar) than coal. Renewable energy has also been on the rise, further limiting the appeal of coal. Repealing the Clean Power Plan and other regulations may slow coal’s decline, but it would do little to stop its long term slide. In addition, while cutting regulations may help coal production it likely won’t help coal miners. Employment has been falling for decades because of automation, and these actions do nothing to fight this. Instead of helping workers this is yet another policy that benefits corporate executives.
The hard truth is: we can employ many more people by focusing on the renewable energy, without the unfortunate side effect of harming the environment. Reports have shown that renewable energy is creating jobs 12 times faster than the rest of the U.S. economy, and sustainability collectively represents 4-4.5 million jobs. This rapid growth is largely a result of significant reductions in manufacturing and installation costs, and has also been buoyed by tax incentives.
Renewable energy is an industry on the rise that can provide good jobs without the dangers present for coal miners. It causes significantly less pollution than oil and gas, and wind turbines and solar panels do not cause environmental disasters like oil spills when they have an issue. At some point in the future we will have to make a transition, because the earth’s resources are not unlimited. Instead of trying to save dying industries like coal, we should invest in renewable energy, and try to revitalize places that thrived on coal by retraining workers for jobs in sustainability that are better-paying and safer.
At the moment, these goals are unlikely to come to pass as a result of the Republican Party’s obsession with their checks from the oil and gas industry. But there are still steps that can be taken to fight these actions and preserve President Obama’s efforts to combat climate change. The Supreme Court has ruled carbon dioxide is a pollutant under the Clean Air Act, and the EPA determined in 2009 that “CO2 and other gases were responsible for contributing to climate change which results in a threat to the public health and welfare of current and future generations.”
This “endangerment finding” compels the federal government to regulate emissions of CO2. Because it is the law of the land that CO2 endangers the public health and welfare of citizens the government has to regulate it in an adequate manner, or they can be sued. There could be real danger if the administration is able to overturn the Supreme Court ruling of carbon dioxide as a pollutant, but this is seen as unlikely. Environmental groups should keep up the legal pressure on the government to take actions to limit CO2.
Nevertheless, the battle against climate change has suffered a major setback at a national level. The best thing to do now is focus on state and local levels. Petition state legislators to take stronger actions against pollution, or encourage them to invest in clean energy. Be conscious about recycling, about gas mileage on your car and about buying locally grown products. Every little bit counts, and it will take a lot of people making changes in their lives to make real progress. If everyone does their part, we still have a shot at leaving a healthy planet for future generations.
Jacob Kowalski is a weekly columnist to The Daily Campus opinion section. He can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.