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It’s no easy job to identify President Trump’s worst sin. There are too many contenders. But one offense that cries out for citizen outrage, for indignation, for righteous anger, for massive protests and other political actions is what he is doing to our environment.

trump environmental disaster

The release last week of both a detailed scientific report that contradicts Trump’s environmental views and actions and a Republican tax plan unfavorable to renewable energy, plus this week’s convening of the UN annual climate change conference in Bonn, Germany, reinforce the need to cry out once again opposing Trump’s most colossal folly.

The Union of Concerned Scientists states that the proposed tax bill “would eliminate the electric vehicle tax credit, axe the permanent 10 percent Investment Tax Credit for solar and geothermal power, and reduce the Production Tax Credit for wind power by more than a third.” But the bill would continue tax breaks for oil and gas companies.

More than a year ago, I wrote that “a Trump presidency would almost surely guarantee that we continue on a path to environmental suicide.” Trump is increasingly making that prediction a reality.

More than a year ago, I wrote that “a Trump presidency would almost surely guarantee that we continue on a path to environmental suicide.” Trump is increasingly making that prediction a reality.

Look at his cabinet and staff appointees who are determined to undo climate-control legislation. Vice President Mike Pence has been described as the fossil-fuel-tycoon Koch brothers’ “tool for years.” And former Trump chief advisor Steve Bannon was concerned that if Pence were president “he’d be a President that the Kochs would own.” In a lengthy New Yorker article, Jane Meyer furnishes these quotes and adds that

Trump began to appoint an extraordinary number of officials with ties to the Kochs and to Pence, especially in positions that affected Koch Industries financially, such as those dealing with regulatory, environmental, and fiscal policy. . . . Scott Pruitt, the militantly anti-regulatory attorney general of Oklahoma, who had been heavily supported by the Kochs, was appointed director of the Environmental Protection Agency. Pruitt, in turn, placed Patrick Traylor, a lawyer for Koch Industries and other fossil-fuel companies, in charge of the E.P.A.’s enforcement of key anti-pollution laws. As the Times has reported, a document called “A Roadmap to Repeal,” written by Koch operatives, has guided the E.P.A.’s reversal of Obama Administration clean-air and climate regulations. . . . Betsy DeVos, a billionaire heiress, who had been a major member of the Kochs’ donor network and a supporter of Pence, was named Secretary of Education. The new director of the C.I.A. was Mike Pompeo, the congressman who represented Charles Koch’s district, in Wichita, Kansas; before Pompeo ran for office, the Kochs had invested in his aerospace business. . . . A recent analysis by the Checks & Balances Project found that sixteen high-ranking officials in the Trump White House had ties to the Kochs. The pattern continued among lower-level political appointees, including in Pence’s office, which was stocked with Koch alumni.

Besides Pence, Pruitt, DeVos, and Pompeo, there is Energy Secretary Rick Perry, who still claims that “the science is out” on how much humans cause climate change. And there is Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke—the Sierra Club criticized him for “clinging to plans to mine, drill and log public lands to benefit corporate polluters, supporting dangerous and dirty projects like the Keystone XL pipeline, and opposing efforts to clean up our air—who recently supported an effort (in the words of the capitalist-friendly Forbes magazine) “to undermine existing National Monument protections, and [do] a favor to the oil and gas industries that comes at the expense of the American public.” Ironically enough, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, former chairman and CEO of ExxonMobil, which has been accused of having conducted and then suppressed global-warming research for decades, is considered more moderate on environmental issues than Pruitt, who is supposed to be Trump’s chief protector of our environment.

Look also at Trump’s many harmful environmental actions, the most egregious being his announcing (June 1, 2017) of the U.S. withdrawal from the Paris climate accord and his taking steps (October 2017) to rescind President Obama’s Clean Power Plan designed to reduce carbon emissions from power plants.

In June 2017 Mark Hertsgaard wrote in The Nation To refuse to act against global warming is to condemn thousands of people to death and suffering today and millions more tomorrow. This is murder, even if Trump’s willful ignorance of climate science prevents him from seeing it.” In September, Hertsgaard added, “That judgment grows more apt with each passing day we don’t reverse course. Knowing what we know in 2017, expanding fossil-fuel production is like Big Tobacco continuing to addict people to its cancer sticks: technically legal but, in effect, premeditated murder.”

In April 2017, Bill McKibben founder of 350.org, which has become a leading voice in the environmental movement, wrotePresident Trump’s environmental onslaught will have immediate, dangerous effects. He has vowed to reopen coal mines and moved to keep the dirtiest power plants open for many years into the future. Dirty air, the kind you get around coal-fired power plants, kills people.” McKibben predicted that the effects of Trump’s policies “will be felt . . . over decades and centuries and millenniums. More ice will melt, and that will cut the planet’s reflectivity, amplifying the warming; more permafrost will thaw, and that will push more methane into the atmosphere, trapping yet more heat. The species that go extinct as a result of the warming won’t mostly die in the next four years, but they will die. The nations that will be submerged won’t sink beneath the waves on his watch, but they will sink.”

Words such as “sin,” “environmental suicide,” and “murder” might seem too strong, too judgmental, too religious for our secular society. But what other words can render the calamity of Trump’s despoiling? Those who today claim that such words reflect hysterical alarmism are like those who once defended slavery and later on segregation: they may come to realize that great evils necessitate strong condemnations. Condemnations like those of some of our major religious leaders.

In his 2015 encyclical on climate change Pope Francis declared that the main goal of politics, of any politician, should be furthering the common good, and he used the term more than two dozen times. In words uttered before Trump’s presidency, but which today seem more pertinent than ever, he warned that “there are too many special interests, and economic interests [that] easily end up trumping the common good and manipulating information so that their own plans will not be affected.”

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The pope also insisted that “The climate is a common good, belonging to all and meant for all”; “international negotiations cannot make significant progress due to positions taken by countries which place their national interests above the global common good”; and “the notion of the common good also extends to future generations.”

And he was not sparing in writing of our sins. “We have come to see ourselves as her lords [nature ’s] and masters, entitled to plunder her at will. The violence present in our hearts, wounded by sin, is also reflected in the symptoms of sickness evident in the soil, in the water, in the air and in all forms of life.”

He quotes the Orthodox Patriarch Bartholomew, sometimes called “the green patriarch,” who has declared: “For human beings… to destroy the biological diversity of God’s creation; for human beings to degrade the integrity of the earth by causing changes in its climate, by stripping the earth of its natural forests or destroying its wetlands; for human beings to contaminate the earth’s waters, its land, its air, and its life—these are sins.” And “to commit a crime against the natural world is a sin against ourselves and a sin against God.” Francis also praises Bartholomew for asking us “to replace consumption with sacrifice, greed with generosity, wastefulness with a spirit of sharing.”

Another spiritual leader who has decried our lack of environmental progress is Justin Welby, the archbishop of Canterbury and head of the Anglican Church. “Climate change,” he tells us, is “pushing us toward disaster. . . . As we continue to burn fossil fuels, its effects will only grow.” And he mentions various “highly populated, highly exposed coastal area[s] facing rising sea levels and storm,” like Nigeria, Bangladesh, the Philippines and other South Asian countries, and eventually, New York City, Rio de Janeiro, and London.

The Buddhist Dalai Lama has praised the pope and other religious leaders for speaking out on environmental issues and “also called for increased pressure on governments around the world to stop burning fossil fuels, end deforestation and transition to renewable energy sources.” (See also here on the Dalai Lama and the environment.)

In light of such strong condemnation by wise religious leaders, it is especially disheartening that so many religious people voted for Trump—according to exit polling for the 2016 presidential election, Trump gained the support of 81 percent of the white, born-again/Evangelical voters and 60 percent of white, Catholic voters. Despite a history of unchristian like behavior, including bragging about how he could “grab women by the crotch,” and his unbridled egoism, millions of U.S. voters who considered themselves religious people voted for perhaps the most narcissistic president in our history.

Two central conclusions can be drawn from this result:

  • For a variety of reasons, Hillary Clinton was not an appealing enough candidate to enough voters.
  • Despite the efforts of respected religious leaders like Pope Francis, not enough believers prioritized environmental issues.

Most voters thought numerous other issues more important than climate-change dangers: e.g., jobs and economic wellbeing, terrorism, immigration, foreign affairs, and morality issues like abortion and same-sex marriage. Thanks in part to the efforts of news media like Fox and the money-sway of tycoons like the Koch Brothers, too many voters still buy the fake-news line that Rick Perry recently reiterated: “The science is still out.”

It is not. The scientific evidence for human caused global warming is overwhelming. As the floods, fires, and other disasters increase, more people will probably advance from being deniers and “lukewarmers,” as conservative New York Times columnist Ross Douthat admitted to being, to accepting the crisis we face. Even Douthat admits “in actual right-wing politics [there] no serious assessment of the science and the risks” of climate change. “Instead there’s just a mix of business-class and blue-collar self-interest and a trollish, ‘If liberals are for it, we’re against it’ anti-intellectualism.” He warned other lukewarmers of “just running interference on behalf of know-nothing and do-nothingism, attacking . . . policies on behalf of a Republican Party that will never, ever advance any policies of its own.”

Yes, gradually more and more people will accept the reality of global warming. But in the meantime, how much irreparable harm will we suffer because of Trump’s sins against Mother Earth?

walter moss

Walter Moss