A panel of four environmental studies professors approached the question of President-elect Donald Trump’s environmental policy Tuesday night and concluded that adjusting to climate change and population growth requires a community effort.
“I think in terms of responses, as we’re seeing in news coverage and across campuses, it’s a really loud, clear expression of dissatisfaction,” Geoffrey Dabelko, the director of the environmental studies program, said. “That social activism in the streets is important, necessary, natural and in some ways it would be great if there was more. However, I’d say it’s wholly insufficient to be productive.”
The event, titled “What’s in Store with a Trump Administration,” invited students, faculty and community members to ponder how a greater Republican presence in Washington might affect the landscape of American environmentalism.
Sarah Davis is an ecosystem ecologist with a doctoral degree in biology. Her research focuses on land use, land management and alternative energy systems, and she gestured emphatically while speaking to prove how much data exists to support climate change being real, caused by human activity and quickly accelerating.
“The Trump administration will have a man named Myron Ebell appointed to lead the transition for the Environmental Protection Agency,” Davis said, noting that the EPA is responsible for interpreting scientific information and using it to set regulations around environmental impacts. “This man has been a leader in climate change denial and I think this is important to be aware of, because he’s going to be leading this whole organization and will be responsible for translating science into meaningful regulations.”
Derek Kauneckis studies climate policy on a local, state and national scale, which is why he still sees a positive side to Trump’s controversial environmental stance.
“We’re going to see a lot more action on the local level,” Kauneckis, who holds his doctoral degree in public policy, said. “Renewables aren’t going to disappear, that’s not a market signal we’re getting from cheap solar and cheap natural gas. I’ve seen for both wind and solar that a lot of Republican districts support renewable energy sources in rural areas.”
Davis noted that President Barack Obama used executive action to ratify the Paris Agreement, a global action plan to avoid dangerous climate change that requires the nation reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 28 percent by 2025. The best policy tool to accomplish this, Davis said, is the Clean Power Plan, which allows the EPA to regulate greenhouse gas emissions from coal plants. Kauneckis added that he firmly believes the Clean Power Plan is off the table for the duration of Trump’s administration.
“There are a lot of people in our country who don’t understand these issues. Have we been talking to them? Have I been talking to them?” Davis asked. “Maybe we need to start finding the positive angle. Climate change may present opportunities for developing a new renewable energy economy. If science is rejected completely, there must be an appeal to fundamental values.”
Nancy Stevens, a professor of paleontology with a doctoral degree in anthropological sciences, relates extinction dynamics to the unprecedented rate of human growth over the past century, from 7 billion in 2012 to a projected 10 billion by the end of the century.
Even in the best of circumstances, Stevens said it takes a long time for species to recover. While the length of a presidential term is a blip in geologic time, she worries about the habitat deterioration that can occur thanks to industrial growth.
“How do you look at a community, say Athens, or any community, and propel sustainable changes through time toward a more promising future?” Stevens asked. “How can we partner with others to do that more effectively? Even before this election, what we were doing wasn’t working particularly well.”
After each professor presented their opinions and predictions on the scope of Trump’s administration, audience members relayed their own concerns.
“When I look at what’s happened, I see an authoritarian leader taking charge based on a racist ideology who is completely indifferent toward any kind of reasonable discourse,” Bernhard Debatin, an associate professor of environmental journalism, said. “These are the people who are in charge, that’s why I’m scared.”
Kauneckis cautioned onlookers not to exaggerate the limits of Trump’s presidential powers, noting that environmental policy takes decades to implement, and that the education of voters in more important in the meantime.
“It’s saying, ‘It’s not trees, dumb*ss, it’s air, it’s bridges that don’t fall down, it’s clean water, don’t you get it?’” Kauneckis said. “What’s important is finding a system that’s conducive to a high quality of life.”