This Presidents Day, we’d be remiss if we didn’t write a companion piece to our previous review of the best environmental U.S. presidents of all time. As the new administration takes the reins this month, the environmental movement is not in a good place. Both the president-elect himself and his primary appointees have said that neither believe climate change has a human-influenced element and have made it clear that they plan to move energy policy and pollution policy in the opposite direction. Our own vice president-elect has claimed that if we just trust in God he will heal our climate without our having to take action. We try not to be alarmist here at Postconsumers, but we’d be remiss not to acknowledge this situation and admit the alarm over it. But what we’d like to do today is to focus on the positives of the climate and environmental movement and why there is reason to not only have hope but also optimism as the new administration takes effect.
Reason for Optimism Number One: The United States is Not the World, and the World is Moving Forward with Environmental Awareness
Even the most worldly-wise of us has a tendency to get trapped in our own bubble of existence. Remember always that the United States has one of the largest carbon footprints of anywhere in the world, so the anti-environmental practices that we’re exposed to and that depress us are also exponentially larger than anywhere else in the world. But more importantly, the rest of the world is decidedly moving towards clean and renewable energy sources. There are entire countries, such as Germany and Costa Rica, that run entirely on renewable energy for days and at some points even months at a time. Even countries with high carbon footprints are making moves towards cleaner energy and climate change combatting policies. China has made it clear that it will penalize the United States if it pulls out of the recent Paris Accord agreement on climate change measures. There’s no doubt that the United States is a powerful force in world governance, but it is not the only one. And other power players and countries can influence the global direction just as much as the U.S. can. The world is moving toward cleaner energy. The United States will be hard pressed to truly ignore that trend. Of course, due to the human rebound effect (Jevons Paradox), the sufficiency question of “how much is enough” will become as important to long-term sustainability as our type of fuels.
Reason for Optimism Number Two: It’s Economics, Baby.
Here is a fact that was conveniently overlooked during the election cycle: The true reason that coal and most other fossil fuels (with the exception of very cheap natural gas) are being used less is that renewable energy has become the cheaper source of energy. It’s not simply a concern about climate that has moved many countries and larger companies to renewable energy. It’s economics. For better or for worse, money often moves the world (both literally and figuratively). As renewable energy becomes even more affordable, more countries, companies and even individual households will gravitate toward it. There are environmental policies that we can’t impact, but there are others that we can. And as the economics play in our favor as energy consumers, the change to renewable energy will happen somewhat on its own.
Reason for Optimism Number Three: Big Business and the West Coast
Despite the (somewhat justified) backlash against west coast elitism after the 2016 election, there is also a fundamental reality that the economic engine of the United States largely exists on the west coast. California itself is the sixth largest economy in the entire world and the giants of Silicon Valley and Hollywood who drive that engine have a decidedly idealistic and vested interest in reneweable and clean energy sources. Google, unquestionably one of the biggest and most influential companies in America, will move its massive data centers to 100% renewable energy in 2017. As other large energy consuming tech companies and, increasingly, Hollywood, tend to do the same, the country as a whole will no longer be able to ignore the implications of needing profitable clean energy sources.
Reason for Optimism Number Four: History
We can certainly be concerned about what the next four years will bring in the way of environmental policy. However, there is a larger picture at play here as well. The United States has a rich-history of pro-environmental policy. This isn’t just going to disappear overnight. There will continue to be people who fight for ecological protection, and the systems that are in place to protect the environment won’t just go away suddenly. The United States has long been a leader in the environmental movement. A single administration can’t simply dismantle that in four years.
Reason for Optimism Number Five: You!
Of course, this is our biggest reason for optimism. Individuals are the key to change. We all know the numbers of the election in terms of popular vote or electoral college. It may feel, in a month like this one, as though the power of individuals fighting for change is diminished. But we don’t believe that and we don’t think that you do, either. Keep fighting. Stay strong. It’s people like the people reading this who will ultimately ensure that the change comes to pass.
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