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Trump has savaged the environment. The planet cannot afford a second term

Ross Barkan
Photograph: Andrew Caballero-Reynolds/AFP via Getty Images

What are the consequences of a second term of Donald Trump? To even consider the question sends the left-leaning mind into a paroxysm. Everything from nuclear war to the utter collapse of American democracy looms large in the imaginations of otherwise sober-minded people.

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In truth, the damage may be less immediately obvious. Life, in many ways, would go on. But the planet we inhabit will continue to heat up, and the most powerful government on Earth would be doing everything it can to further destabilize the environment around us. Just after the new year, the Trump administration announced it planned to radically revise the National Environmental Policy Act, a landmark measure that forced federal infrastructure projects to take into account their impact on the environment. Under the rewritten rules, builders of highways, pipelines, and other major infrastructure projects would no longer have to consider climate change when assessing their impact.

It is, without question, one of the most grievous blows Trump has inflicted since taking office three years ago. It follows more than 100 environmental rollbacks, including relaxing rules limiting emissions from coal plants and weakening protections for endangered species.

Fossil fuel projects like the Keystone XL oil pipeline would have free rein, undaunted by court challenges that ruled the Trump administration didn’t properly consider climate change when analyzing the pipeline’s impact. The new rules would dramatically narrow which projects would require environmental review, with many infrastructure initiatives sailing through the approval process without having to disclose plans to discharge waste, cut trees or increase air pollution.

The new rule would no longer require agencies to consider the “cumulative” consequences of new infrastructure, a requirement interpreted as a mandate to study the effects of ruinous greenhouse gas emission and rising sea levels. The act currently requires the federal government to prepare detailed analyses of projects that could have major environmental effects.

It was a Republican, Richard Nixon, who enacted the law in 1970 after the heavily polluted Cuyahoga River caught fire and a tanker spilled 3m gallons of crude off the coast of California. Though Nixon was a perpetual villain for leftists of the era, he created the Environmental Protection Agency, developing the crucial regulations under attack today. Even conservatives at the time acknowledged that the government had a role to play in being stewards of the environment we all share.

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We are in a new, terrifying age. Trump’s Republican party is far more savagely conservative than any version that came before it. It’s important to understand that the shredding of environmental regulations is not something that would have been unique to a Trump presidency, unlike his Twitter inanities or nonstop campaign rallies. The Koch brothers and other billionaire funders of the Republican party have been dreaming of the day they could again control the executive branch to pursue an agenda of environmental destruction.Trump presides over a party that denies the existence of climate change, that rejects science itself. There are few equivalents elsewhere. Even Boris Johnson’s Conservatives acknowledge there is a climate crisis afoot. But had Ted Cruz or Marco Rubio won the presidency in 2016, the assault on the EPA would have commenced as expeditiously as it is now. Perhaps they, like Trump, would have named a coal lobbyist to lead the agency.

Four years of damage can be undone. Eight is far more difficult. The Democrats running for president, and the millions who will go to the polls this fall, must understand the planetary stakes. A functioning EPA is essential to reversing the worst effects of climate change, which are very likely to be felt at the cataclysmic rate the planet is warming.

If Trump has eight years in power, fossil companies will have carte blanche to profit off environmental destruction for a very significant amount of time. The next Democratic president will not only have to undo Trump’s damage but rapidly play catch-up as the world races to secure a future for the human race. The doomsday clock is ticking.