Since the primordial cook fires of our ancestors first released carbon into the atmosphere, humans have made changes to their environment. Our surroundings, after all, are our vehicle for advancement: We learned breeding and farming to supply a steady food supply, cut trees from the forests for shelter, and burned whatever we could for heat and light. The Earth provides what we consume, fueling our collective forward motion.
Consumption and modification of the environment seat us at the forefront of all other species and allows us the luxury of meteoric advancement — often at the cost of our surroundings. Our progress has finally reached a terminal point where we, as a species, become aware of our unsustainable lifestyles. We may still use the Earth as elastic for the evolutionary slingshot of the human race, but our future seeks better propulsion by sustainable means.
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Reasons for Current and Continued Fossil Fuel Reliance
Both politics and economics play into our entrenched use of fossil fuels.
What is good for the short-term economy is seldom good for the environment. Fossil fuels are an excellent example of this: They are plentiful, simple to use, and reasonably cheap to extract and refine. Oil and natural gas are also used in primary life functions, from transportation to heating, making them a cornerstone of modern life and a significant portion of many national economies. A country can grow massively wealthy from the discovery and sale of oil or natural gas reserves.
Likewise, many jobs stay tied to extraction, refinement and sale of these fuels. When jobs are at stake, people tend to vote. Thus, the right’s alignment with traditional energy industries — and its opposition to green energy — makes some sense. President Trump carried most regions reliant on jobs tied to mining, drilling and fracking. When votes are cast along these lines, it is no surprise Republican candidates advocate for the continued reliance on carbon-emitting energy sources.
Obama’s Environmental Legacy
Where Trump’s campaign leaned on expanding the existing coal, oil and natural gas industries, his predecessor trod clearly in the opposite direction. President Obama aided legislation intended to preserve the environment: laws and orders ranging from the high-profile rejection of the Keystone XL pipeline to the long-term official goal of increasing fuel efficiency for personal vehicles. He also expanded existing wildlife refuges and national monuments and established new ones.
He also advocated for the expansion of renewable energy sources. In his infamous bailout bill, signed into law during the height of the economic recession, provisions included some $90 million earmarked for green energy subsidies.
In separate legislation, Obama also established massive tax credits for individual households interested in pursuing renewable energy. Individuals claimed these by contributing solar power to the grid, driving an electric car or even insulating their homes better, so as to decrease carbon wastefulness. Thousands of Americans felt incentivized to hop on board. Obama also funded continued research into the science behind renewable energy, rendering facilitators like turbines and panels more efficient.
Trump’s Environmental Legacy
It is hard to imagine a sharper about-face from the Obama-era legislation than the claims and tangible movement of the Trump team. During his campaign, Trump promised to entirely eradicate the EPA, a claim he since stepped back from, but whose specter continues to loom in the White House. He has settled for a 31 percent decrease in the agency’s budget and laying off several thousand associated jobs.
His pick for the agency head — Scott Pruitt — is a public climate change denier, and the EPA removed its climate change page in April. Trump has himself claimed climate science is a hoax and that any related action will cost America jobs and worsen economic suffering. Indeed, he recently signed an executive order in the midst of a team of miners, an act that would loosen mining restrictions on federal lands.
Lesser Trump legislation includes abolishing restrictions on big-game trophy hunting and tossing out the Clean Water Rule — a dangerous move that will open loopholes and ambiguity within the law. These are only two examples of a wide-ranging pattern of attacks on conservation norms.
For all the political maneuvering and supposed protection of jobs in traditional energy sectors, the numbers tell a different story. The U.S. employs roughly 200,000 workers across all fossil fuel industries — which include oil, natural gas and coal. These numbers pale in comparison to the budding renewable energy industry, which claimed over 1 million workers in 2016. Further, job opportunities for renewable applications are on the rise. Wind energy boasted a 32 percent growth in employment between 2015 and 2016.
Conversely, oil and gas jobs have dwindled in recent years. Logic dictates that when one industry grows, the other will shrink, and there seems to be a bleak future for those involved in fossil fuels around the world. While some have proposed legislation allowing traditional fuel workers the chance to train for renewable energy jobs, little tangible action has been taken by the Trump administration.
Renewable energy marches on, in spite of the best efforts from the current administration. Thus, we find ourselves in a strange time: a government in denial of basic scientific fact, and a flourishing new industry replacing the wasteful and traditional energy sources. History cannot look kindly on this president.