The Trump Administration continues to eliminate EPA rules that protect the air we breathe, the water we drink, the soil we grow our crops in, and much more–all in the name of allowing corporations to have more freedom to make money. His Secretary of the Interior is currently making drastic cuts to the size of approximately 10 national monuments that protect priceless (and irreplaceable) Native American sites, rare and endangered species, and pristine land that we will never get back as it once was after it is used for mining, oil and gas development, and grazing, logging, and commercial fishing. Most of these efforts are being coordinated below the radar, with little transparency. No press briefings, Congressional hearings, etc. We have plenty of other issues (North Korea, Russia hacking our elections, health insurance, race relations, crime, etc.) to worry about, but we need to save some of our attention for our beautiful forests, grasslands, lakes, prairies, deserts, and other natural areas. Once they are gone, they are gone, no matter what corporate public relations departments tell us about reforestation and other doublespeak. I would love to take the president on a nature hike to teach him what is important in the world, and this is what I would say:
President Trump, have you ever taken a hike? Not a stroll between holes on one of your golf courses, but a real hike in which the sounds of the city are a distant memory, your phone has no reception, you can’t Tweet, there is no fast food, and the only sounds you hear are the wind rustling the leaves of the trees, birdsong, and perhaps a river racing over boulders in the distance. If not, I strongly encourage you to do so.
Did you get to the trailhead and start hiking? I hope you’ve left your handlers and Secret Service contingent at the motorcade. Just begin walking and thinking. It’s easy just to react to what you read or watch in this crazy media age, but most of what you have been listening to and reading about the environment is not real. (Let’s call it “fake news.”) Instead, listen to the sounds of your hiking boots on the leaves and rocks. Feel the sun on your face. Breathe the fresh air that Americans have come to love since the creation of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) by a Republican president in 1970. As you walk, you are gradually losing the trappings of wealth and power that give you comfort but, if you really think about it, do not offer you much contentment. They are like empty calories. But, don’t worry, a good hike in the woods will feed your soul, build your character, and fill you with wonder (…I hope). You seem like a person who may not feel comfortable being alone. But being alone in nature will help you to get your thoughts in order. Time alone in nature always makes me a better person, and I think it will do the same for you.
Let’s hope that you’re hiking amidst snow-capped mountains; a wildflower-laden meadow; near a river running wild, megafauna such as grizzly bear and buffalo in the distance; a forest of Saguaro and Organ Pipe cacti; or amidst some other natural wonder such as the Redwoods of California (you do like things big). A place where the real risk of natural danger, but also excitement, is just around the bend. This risk will make you feel alive, make you realize what is important in life, and help you to think clearly.
I hope that as you hike you will see that America is a special place. Not because we have the strongest military. Not because we are leaders in technological or health care innovation. Not because we beat other countries in trade deals. But because we are a nation that loves and protects its outdoors. A nation—of both Democrats and Republicans—that has created a set of laws and government agencies that protect what is special. A nation that has set aside tens of millions of acres of land that are unique—not because they make real estate developers and corporate shareholders wealthy, but because they harbor endangered or protected wildlife; serve as a buffer against storms, pollution, or flooding; or are just simply beautiful and a place of respite for those weary of the often frenetic, impersonal modern world. Places that refresh our spirits and make our imaginations run wild. A nation that is admired and often-visited by foreign tourists who want to experience our natural marvels (and spend their money in our towns and cities). We are a special nation because some of us realized how important the quality of our environment is to our mental and physical health and took steps to protect it. Yet the work of protection and stewardship is far from over.
You are in the process of making decisions that will affect hundreds of millions of Americans—most whom support protecting the environment. As you hike, consider the following results from recent surveys conducted by the nonpartisan Pew Research Center (PRC) and other organizations:
- 74 percent of U.S. adults said the “country should do whatever it takes to protect the environment” (PRC, 2016). Just a thought while you walk: that’s a lot of voters.
- 40 percent of U.S. adults said the term “environmentalist” described them very well (PRC, 2014). Just a thought: while you contemplate the blue sky and breathe the fresh air, that 40 percent could be the difference between a 2020 election win or loss.
- 56 percent of Americans said that protection of the environment should be given top priority, “even at the risk of curbing economic growth” (Gallup, 2016). Just a thought: while you marvel at the snow-capped mountains, realize that Americans don’t just want jobs, they want a healthy place to live. What good is a job if the air, water, and soil is so polluted that America becomes an environmental wasteland like areas of China, India, and other developing countries? We need jobs, but we also need a healthy place to live.
- “Multiple studies published in peer-reviewed scientific journals show that 97 percent or more of actively publishing climate scientists agree: Climate-warming trends over the past century are extremely likely due to human activities,” according to NASA’s Global Climate Change page. “In addition, most of the leading scientific organizations worldwide have issued public statements endorsing this position.” Just a thought: while you marvel at the bald eagle soaring overhead (a species that has recovered after the insecticide DDT was banned by the EPA), you should take to heart the research of these highly-educated scientists and science organizations who have persuasively linked global warming to adverse effects on the environment. The PRC estimates that only 20 percent of Americans deny human-created climate change. Keeping this small demographic happy by denying climate change and reversing laws and agreements meant to curtail global warming is a sure path to causing great harm to our environment and economy.
- In 2016, 43 percent of Americans believed that the quality of the environment was either “excellent” or “good.” And 45 percent considered it “fair” (Gallup). The health of the environment is not perfect, but it is far better than 40 to 50 years ago. Scientists and environmentalists say that the changes you have already made and proposed changes to environmental laws will greatly decrease the quality of air, water, and soil in our country. Are these changes worth the thousands (perhaps) of new coal jobs that might be added due to the weakening of environmental laws?
- In 2016, employment in just the wind and solar segments of the renewable energy industry reached more than 300,000, which greatly exceeded the 65,971 workers employed in the coal mining industry (U.S. Department of Energy). Mr. President, take a moment to marvel at the majesty of the buffalo, but also realize that, while it’s important to help unemployed coal miners re-train and land new jobs, times have changed and a growing number of Americans (and voters) work in the renewable energy industry. Renewable energy is a viable energy source that contributes to U.S. energy independence, as well as provides cleaner energy production and hundreds of thousands of jobs. As a businessman, it seems odd that you won’t embrace the rapid growth and economic strength of the renewable energy industry. A job is a job, right? And a clean energy job in a fast-growing industry is even better. I bet some of those coal miners would make excellent solar power and wind technicians. Job opportunities for wind turbine technicians are expected to grow by a whopping 108 percent through 2024, according to the U.S. Department of Labor. The average for all careers is 7 percent. Employment for solar photovoltaic installers is expected to grow by 24 percent through 2014. Job opportunities for coal mining equipment operators will decline by anywhere from 2 to 8 percent depending on the specialty.
Mr. President, I hope you’ll consider these facts, as well as the opinions of Americans as you finish your hike. Perhaps they’ll make you linger in thought at the next scenic overlook; or, more importantly, develop a more expansive view of the importance of a healthy environment and its role in job creation. Or, if nature hasn’t soothed and enlightened you, perhaps you need to understand that losing the votes of people who care about protecting the environment (both Republicans and Democrats) will be the difference between another four years in the White House or a quick trip back to “The Apprentice.”
Copyright (photos/text) Andrew Morkes
I frequently write about job opportunities in clean energy and environmental science in my career newsletter, the CAM Report. Click here to read a sample issue and learn more about subscribing.