An illuminating example of environmental policy from the past decade is a July 28, 2018 environmental impact statement by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, an agency in the Department of Transportation. The purpose of this report was to justify President Trump’s proposal to remove gas mileage restrictions on new cars and trucks produced after 2020.
The report did not, however, attempt to deny climate change. It predicted over 4 degrees celsius of global warming by the end of the century, and argued this is inevitable. The report stated that avoiding such devastating warming would require “substantial increases in technology innovation and adoption,” which are “not currently technologically feasible or economically feasible.” The report uses this logic as a justification for further degrading the little environmental protections that currently exist.
Since the 2018 Special Report on Global Warming forecasting 1.5 degrees Celsius of warming by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, we have understood 1.5 degrees of warming alone to mean catastrophic heat waves, natural disasters, food shortages, sea level rises and population displacement. Warming as high as 4 degrees would mean far more apocalyptic repercussions, including billions of climate refugees and potentially total social collapse. The Trump administration, as evidenced by this report, disputes none of these consequences. They argue fatal climate change is already set in stone and we should not bother changing course.
Unmitigated climate change will make the earth uninhabitable, or at least murder billions of innocent civilians in developing countries. Can we think of a comparable historical violence? Can we reconcile with the most powerful government administration using a nihilistic and genocidal philosophy to advocate for this?
None of this is to say Trump represents a deviation from past American administrations in terms of climate policy. Nihilism lacking, President Barack Obama authored no ambitious legislation to reduce our country’s fossil fuel use, which actually increased as a proportion of total energy use during his term in office. This is indicative of a global trend: In the past decade, the global share of renewable energy as a fraction of total energy usage has grown only one percentage point.
The main global effort to address climate change (on behalf of the status quo) has been the 2015 Paris Climate agreement, which Trump withdrew the United States from without justification. And even this, with the stated goal of limiting warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels, did nearly nothing to accomplish this objective, as warned by even the U.N. Chief himself. All of its resolutions were merely suggestions for signatory states with no modicum for enforcement, and as a result they are being ignored and we are nowhere near limiting global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius.
Additionally, the world’s largest carbon sink is being sold off to agribusiness, burned and destroyed mainly by the Brazilian fascist President Jair Bolsonaro and his government. Yes, the Amazon rainforest, along with the remainder of our global ecosystem, faces a tipping point beyond which it will no longer be able to repair itself, even with our best efforts. The destruction of both would result in the collapse of global food supplies and ultimately mass human fatalities.
So what has the most recent decade revealed to us? The global ruling class has doubled down on fossil fuels and fascism, rejecting renewable energy or any parallel strategy to salvage some habitable planet. The wealthy and powerful are telling us we have literally made the end of the world comfortable for them.
We enter a new decade of increasing environmental despair and social unrest. The test of time is being put forth to popular movements around the world, the only defense against innumerable power structures all content with destroying our worldly means of reproduction. Environmental and social destruction is on the horizon, but it can only happen with our inaction and submission to those in power. Likewise, only through massive collective organization, direct action and strike can we inform those in power that they will immediately pursue environmental justice or they will lose power.
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Harrison Raskin is campus correspondent for The Daily Campus. He can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.