Environmental Issues 2018-style

Earthrise by Bill Anders, Dec. 24, 1968

There was never any doubt that when Republicans won the 2016 election setbacks were in store for parts of the environmental movement that rely on government regulations.

Conservative think tanks like the Heritage Foundation were ready with swat teams to investigate every part of the executive branch and reverse anything and everything that could be to favor business interests during the president’s first term.

The funders of these operations have plenty to celebrate going into the new year. The rest of us took a step backward.

What I’ve learned in almost 50 years of being in the environmental movement is there is no parsing the actuality of environmental degradation. A person can summarize the greenhouse effect in as few as 200 words. The impacts of global warming are available to anyone who would recognize them. There is an inevitability of climate action with the main concern being we wait until it is too late to save ourselves.

The battle over the coal industry is being fought less by environmental advocates and more by market dynamics. So many electric utilities converted to natural gas because of its current low cost and availability. Why wouldn’t a utility want a thermal energy source delivered right to their door over a mineral that had to be delivered and handled by the rail car load at greater expense? Based on the home heating conversion of coal to natural gas, ongoing when I was a child, there is no going back to coal.

Natural gas is also a problem because of greenhouse gas emissions. While solar energy installations have stalled as a result of the president’s tariff policy, the market will figure it out to use the sun and wind directly. Renewable energy will prevail in the marketplace over extraction-based energy sources. Based on the science of climate change, they have to prevail if we hope to adapt to the deteriorating environment we created.

Symbolic gestures like the Green New Deal the House of Representatives is proposing are something. However, the problem of environmental degradation won’t be solved by governments alone. We need a resurgence of green habits. It is still too easy and inexpensive for someone to hop in the car and drive 20 miles to pick up groceries to expect them to change their behavior.

Progress made on environmental issues and policy during the Obama administration was no progress at all if it could be so easily reversed by the next administration. The idea a potential Democratic president in 2021 could reverse the damage done by Republicans is a shallow hope. We have to do better than this.

As 2018 draws to a close there is much to be done to reverse the deleterious effects of a changing climate. Some of it can’t be reversed yet we can’t lose hope. Despair is a form of climate denial.

“We do not have time for despair,” Al Gore said recently. “We can’t afford the luxury of feeling discouraged. Too much is at stake.”

Inside politics and out, now is the time for climate action.