BY ANDREW MORKES, FOUNDER & AUTHOR OF NATURE IN CHICAGOLAND
The job of protecting the environment—ensuring clean air, soil, and water; protecting federal land from mining and logging, and mitigating the effects of climate change—starts at the top with President Trump, but his efforts as an environmental steward have been abysmal. In his nearly 4 years in office, President Trump has caused grave damage to our environment and the health of Americans. Our air is dirtier, our water is more polluted, and our soil is less healthy due to his actions. Let’s briefly discuss air quality as one example. Nearly 50 percent of Americans—150 million people—live in counties with unhealthy ozone or particle pollution, according to the America Lung Association’s State of the Air 2020 report. The association reports that this “represents an increase from the past three reports: it is higher than the 141.1 million in the 2019 report (covering 2015-2017), 133.9 million in the 2018 report (covering 2014-2016), and 125 million in the 2017 report (covering 2013-2015). This shows growing evidence that a changing climate is making it harder to protect human health.”
President Trump has also opened up our national monuments—some of the most beautiful and culturally historical places in the United States—to mining, logging, and oil and natural gas exploration, and the damage will only increase if he is elected to a second term. Trump views the environment as something that should be exploited for short-term gains—not a place of beauty and wonder that should be cherished and protected for future generations. Not everything in life should have a dollar figure attached to it. Many things should be valued because of their beauty and uniqueness, and for their ability to bring us peace and relaxation in an increasingly frenetic world.
In 2020, President Trump has decided to use the environment as a tool to get votes. For example, after pushing for years for new offshore drilling for oil and natural gas off America’s West and East Coasts, he recently signed a memorandum instructing the interior secretary to prohibit drilling in the waters off both Florida coasts, and off the coasts of Georgia and South Carolina for a period of 10 years. Why? Because offshore drilling is unpopular in all 3 states, and he needs votes. Yet, only 2 years ago Trump pushed to open all U.S. offshore areas to drilling despite dire warnings by environmentalists and the tourism and fishing industries regarding the dangers of drilling and its potential negative effects on tourism (the lifeblood of many states) and fishing. (See “Trump Moves to Open Nearly All Offshore Waters to Drilling” for more information.)
Since President Trump has taken office, nearly 100 of the most rigorous environmental laws and regulations (including portions of the National Environmental Policy Act of 1970, a bedrock of American environmental law) have been repealed or targeted for repeal, according to a New York Times analysis of data. For those of you who are not fans of President Obama (who created some of these regulations), I wonder if you might be more outraged if his name was removed from the equation and you could see, law by law, regulation by regulation, the damage that President Trump has inflicted on the environment and, ultimately, you and your family? Click here for a list of Trump’s nearly 100 dismantled major climate policies and rolled back rules.
As he seeks re-election, President Trump has begun to tell us that he has been a great environmental president…………………………………………Excuse me, but I had to stop typing because I was laughing so hard at his green gaslighting.
- NO ONE who removed the U.S. from the Paris Climate Accord (a global agreement to address and reduce the emission of heat-trapping greenhouse gases, which are rapidly increasing and amplifying global climate change) can call himself an environmentalist.
- NO ONE who replaced President Obama’s Clean Power Plan aimed at slashing greenhouse gas pollution from electric plants with the drastically weaker Affordable Clean Energy rule (click here to see why it’s not a good replacement) can call himself an environmentalist.
- NO ONE who allowed the Environmental Protection Agency to reject scientists’ advice to tighten air pollution standards for particulate matter, or soot, earlier this year—despite evidence that links particulate pollution to COVID-19 deaths—can call himself an environmentalist.
- NO ONE who has repealed or targeted for repeal more than 100 environmental regulations and laws in his 4 years in office can call himself an environmentalist.
NO ONE with so much power to do right by the environment has done so much to hurt the environment and, as a consequence, hurt the health of the American people.
Busting Renewable Energy Myths
President Trump links getting rid of environmental laws and regulations to more jobs (especially in the oil, natural gas and coal industries) and a better economy, but this is a false equivalency. First, Trump does not seem to realize that renewable energy is already a major component of the U.S. energy industry and the U.S. economy. Despite what he said in the recent presidential debate and at other times, renewable energy is a viable source of energy in the United States—already comprising 17 percent of total U.S. energy in 2018. Renewable, or alternative, energy is here and it is not going anywhere but up as a source of American power.
Second, Trump does not seem to understand that there are now more renewable energy jobs than there are fossil fuel jobs. 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. In 2019, employment in just the wind and solar segments of the renewable energy industry reached nearly 450,000, which greatly exceeded the 211,000 workers employed in coal mining and other fossil fuel sectors, according to E2’s Clean Jobs America report. Job opportunities for wind turbine technicians are expected to increase by a whopping 61 percent through 2029, according to the U.S. Department of Labor. Employment for solar photovoltaic installers is expected to grow by 51 percent through 2029. The average level of growth for all careers through 2029 is 4 percent. The career of wind turbine technician is the fastest-growing job in the United States, and the occupation of solar installer ranks third.
There were approximately 11 million renewable energy jobs worldwide in 2018. The International Renewable Energy Agency predicts that up to 28 million new jobs could be created worldwide by 2050 if businesses and governments continue to transition from fossil fuels to renewable energy.
Despite what President Trump says, the majority of Americans support the use of renewable energy. In fact, 79 percent of Americans surveyed by the Pew Research Center in 2020 said that the federal government should prioritize developing alternative energy resources.
Jobs AND a Healthy Environment
We need jobs and a strong economy, but we also need healthy bodies and healthy neighborhoods. A booming economy matters not one iota unless we can breathe fresh air, drink clean water, plant crops in unpolluted soil, and visit untouched landscapes that recharge our souls and that provide an escape from screens and stores, highways and concrete, and Twitter wars and trolls. It’s not just enough to live—and have a few extra dollars in our wallets. It’s better to live a healthy life in which the needs of businesses and the relentless push of capitalism are leavened by concerns for a healthy environment.
We need to get past the idea that protecting the environment is a Democratic, Green, or Republican issue, but a human issue that affects us whether we support or oppose raising taxes, blocking or severely limiting immigration, building a wall, bringing our soldiers home from Syria or Afghanistan, etc. Despite our political differences, it seems that the majority of American agree on one thing. A 2020 survey by the nonpartisan Pew Research Center (PRC) found that nearly as many Americans say protecting the environment should be a top policy priority (64 percent) as whom say it should be strengthening the economy (67 percent). Sixty-five percent of Americans surveyed by the PRC in 2020 said that the federal government was not doing enough to reduce the effects of climate change.
American capitalism doesn’t need to be a “winner takes all” game in which the success of companies and the strength of the economy takes precedence over every other concern. Americans don’t just want jobs, they also 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 in China, India, and other developing countries? What good is a job if global climate change-fueled wildfires, coastal flooding, and superstorms destroy our homes and neighborhoods?
We are constantly told that protecting the environment causes job losses. While some jobs are lost due to the implementation of environmental laws and the use of renewable energy, there is actually a net-increase of jobs when the environment is protected. (Unfortunately, these net gains are not distributed evenly across the country, so states such as West Virginia that have major coal mining operations suffer job losses.) But there’s a solution to some of the job losses: those involved in technical positions in the coal and oil extraction industries are excellent candidates to work as solar, wind power, and energy efficiency technicians.
Americans Must Fight to Protect the Environment
In 1983, the great nature photographer and environmentalist Ansel Adams said that “It is horrifying that we have to fight our own government to save our environment.” Unfortunately, we’re in this position again today because President Trump’s nearly 4 years in office have been a disaster for environmental protections. In the end, saving our planet is up to us. Democratic and Green party politicians, and the small percentage of ecofriendly Republicans in office, may be able to help stem the tide, but we as Americans need to do the hard work to take back our environmental future from President Trump and others who just don’t seem to understand the importance of protecting the environment. Because:
- once our beautiful forests, grasslands, lakes, prairies, deserts, and other natural areas are destroyed, they are gone, no matter what members of the administration and corporate public relations departments tell us about reforestation and other doublespeak;
- once our air, soil, and water becomes even more polluted, it will be that much harder to get our pre-Trump environment back; and
- once the word spreads abroad that our natural places have been despoiled and our national monuments have been vastly reduced in size, tourist dollars will stop flowing to America.
And if we continue to keep our heads in the sand about the dangers of global warming, environmental catastrophes of epic proportions will become commonplace and, at some point, this problem may be irreversible. Seems like a bad trade for a few thousand extra coal mining and fracking jobs.
Let’s Make America Great Again (Not the Trump Version)
America can once again become a great (and special) place once we vote out the moral abberation that currently inhabits our highest office. America remains a great place in many ways, but it has been wounded by hate, corruption, incompetence, racism, a rejection of science, and countless other small and deep cuts for the last 4 years. Racism, discrimination, and anti-science viewpoints have existed throughout the history of the United States, but have been supercharged by President Trump’s words and deeds. But, despite Trump, the core of what America stands for is great. We have been a great country not because we have the strongest military. Not because we are leaders in technology or health care innovation. But because we are a democracy, where change can still be made through the ballot box (despite efforts to suppress the vote and gerrymander election outcomes).
We are also special because we are nation that loves and protects its outdoors. A nation—of Democrats, Republicans, Greens, and those with no party affiliation—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 protect 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 chaotic, soul-sucking modern world. Places that refresh our spirits and make our imaginations run wild. We are 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. You can see this in our national parks and other National Park Service properties, and, at the local level, in the Forest Preserve District of Cook County, which protects 70,000 acres of natural areas that would mostly be roads, subdivisions, and shopping malls if wise visionaries had not stepped in. The idea of my beloved Cap Sauers Holding turned into a Wal-Mart or Amazon distribution plant sends shivers up my spine.
Vote for Joe Biden if You Want Clean Air, Water, and Soil—and Our Nation’s Natural Treasures Protected
Joe Biden is the polar opposite of President Trump. He is a man of character, collegiality, kindness, and experience who will right the trump Titanic that is currently America. Biden will also seek to assist minority communities that often bear the brunt of the worst environmental issues in the United States. I’ve already cast my vote for Joe Biden as the first step to denying President Trump a second term. I don’t agree with Joe Biden on every environmental-related issue, but his views are much more in step with my views than President Trump’s. Joe Biden is not perfect, but who is? But if you add up all of his good qualities, they vastly outweigh any perceived imperfections. At this point, we need a healer, a bridge builder, a person of competence and gravitas, someone who respects science and reason, and someone who will help turn the tide against the COVID-19 pandemic. There is NO reason that our great country should be swarming with COVID infections and have lost more than 225,000 souls. President Trump has failed to protect the American people and he has caused the American people to suffer and lose their loved ones. The pandemic is not his fault, but if he had acted earlier to stem its effects, we would have had less suffering, less illness, fewer deaths, and fewer politicized battles about masks and closings. A mask is a simple piece of fabric that is an inanimate object that has no super powers to take away your rights as an American.
Vote National and Local
Given the high stakes of the presidential election, it’s easy to overlook elections for local offices [such as the Board of the Metropolitan Water Reclamation District (MWRD) of Greater Chicago] and other lower-profile offices. But that’s a big mistake. Our votes—especially at the local level—make a huge difference. It behooves Chicagoland voters to learn as much as they can about the 6 MWRD candidates so that they can make informed decisions on election day. Click here to access my interviews with 3 MWRD candidates: Kimberly Neely DuBuclet, Eira Corral Sepúlveda, and Cam Davis. An informed electorate is the key way to protect the environment and preserve our democracy. I hope that you’ll do the work to make educated decisions in this challenging time. Our votes will help us to return to a more environmentally sound and kinder, fact-based nation.
Copyright (text) Andrew Morkes, Nature in Chicagoland
Copyright (photos) Shutterstock
2021 BOOK ANNOUNCEMENT
Looking for more great nature destinations in Chicagoland? If so, I just published Nature in Chicagoland: More Than 120 Fantastic Nature Destinations That You Must Visit. It features amazing destinations in Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, and Wisconsin. Click on the title to learn more.
ABOUT ANDREW MORKES
I have been a writer and editor for more than twenty-five years. I’m the founder of College & Career Press (2002); the editorial director of the CAM Report career newsletter and College Spotlight newsletter; the author and publisher of “The Morkes Report: College and Career Planning Trends” blog; and the author and publisher of Hot Health Care Careers: 30 Occupations With Fast Growth and Many New Job Openings; Nontraditional Careers for Women and Men: More Than 30 Great Jobs for Women and Men With Apprenticeships Through PhDs; They Teach That in College!?: A Resource Guide to More Than 100 Interesting College Majors, which was selected as one of the best books of the year by the library journal Voice of Youth Advocates; and other titles. They Teach That in College!? provides more information on environmental- and sustainability-related majors such as Ecotourism, Range Management, Renewable Energy, Sustainability and the Built Environment, Sustainability Studies, and Sustainable Agriculture/Organic Farming. I’m also a member of the parent advisory board at my son’s school.
In addition to these publications, I’ve written more than 40 books about careers for other publishing and media companies. I’ve written and edited many books for Infobase including the venerable Encyclopedia of Careers & Vocational Guidance, the Vault Career Guide to Accounting, and many volumes in the Careers in Focus, Discovering Careers, What Can I Do Now?!, and Career Skills Library series.