The environmental community is understandably alarmed by the prospects of the imminent Trump presidency, and some of his Cabinet nominations have only increased the anxiety.
Some of the more radical groups are acting as if the world is about to end in a torrent of pollution.
Personally, I’m not terribly concerned. The country and the world have made enormous environmental progress in the last several decades and I don’t believe the positive conservation trends will be reversed.
Our air and water are cleaner than they have been for many decades, despite dramatic population growth. All of the extractive industries, along with agriculture and manufacturing, operate under rules that really do protect the environment.
Our automobiles, other machines that use fossil fuels, and electricity generation are dramatically cleaner, and we’re quickly moving to electric vehicles and clean energy. That trajectory won’t change.
We have a strong conservation ethic in this country. Generations have grown up supporting conservation and protecting the natural world. Donald Trump and his appointees aren’t going to change those dynamics. They might fiddle with the regulatory structure. They might reverse some of the Obama administration’s strict policies.
But they won’t fundamentally change direction. We’re a country that cares deeply about the environment. We’re going to continue to clean it up, not pollute it.
What’s more, if the economy picks up, more jobs are created, and citizens become wealthier, that’s good news for the environment. Poor people who have to be concerned about food and shelter aren’t able to support environmental causes as much as people who have more resources.
It is wealthy people who can afford electric vehicles, who purchase power from wind farms, who volunteer and make large contributions to environmental groups. It is wealthy foundations (many of which earned their billions in dirty industries) that fund conservation causes. It is a wealthy society that generates tax dollars for university research for new technologies that generate clean energy.
If, for example, Scott Pruitt , Trump’s pick for the Environmental Protection Agency, attempts to dismantle the Obama administration’s Clean Power Plan, it won’t matter much over the long term. The nation’s coal-fired power plants are going to close anyway. It might take a little longer, but we’re quickly moving to clean energy.
Advanced technology is as important as stringent regulations for clean air and water and reduced carbon emissions.
What is true for America is also true for the rest of the world. The fastest way to clean up the planet is for the world’s countries to become more prosperous. Prosperity means slower population growth, a stronger conservation ethic, more resources to clean up air and water. Prosperity requires abundant energy. But look at coal, oil and gas as bridge energies that will be replaced soon enough by wind, solar, hydrogen fuel cells and nuclear.
Certainly, major environmental battles are brewing in the years ahead. We don’t know how aggressive the Trump administration will be. But whatever happens, I see long-term progress, not retreat, on protecting our planet.