The one policy area that should not be politicized in the U.S. is environmental health. A worsening environment hurts older Americans but their children and grandchildren even more, including University of Georgia students.
However, there are practical, if immoral, reasons for the right wing to downplay our environmental crisis. As President Donald Trump frequently argues, environmental regulation dampens some economic activity. In July, he said, “Punishing Americans is never the right way to produce a better environment or a better economy.”
But, is that really “punishing Americans?” Or, is appropriate regulation simply guaranteeing that younger Americans will have a decent environment when they grow older?
It’s encouraging that, despite the efforts of this Administration, 86% of Americans still have either a great deal or a considerable amount of confidence in scientists. Even 82% of Republicans feel this way.
However, 55% of GOP supporters also feel that scientists are just as likely as other people to be biased in their judgement, which in effect negates their scientific findings in the eyes of these people. Even before Trump, 84% of scientists believed that the public having limited knowledge about science to be a major problem. The Republican distrust of the science behind climate change leads to several myths that could harm the nation’s future.
Myth One – Some scientists say we have an environmental crisis, but just as many say things are just fine.
Fact – Scientists are almost uniformly of the opinion that we are facing an environmental crisis. The American Association for the Advancement of Science writes, "Based on well-established evidence, about 97% of climate scientists have concluded that human-caused climate change is happening." And, according to a study by IOP Science, expertise that a scientist has in environmental science is correlated with his/her conclusion about humans causing climate change.
Myth Two – The Trump Administration’s rolled back environmental regulations, but the environment is still cleaner than it was in 2016.
Fact – There’s currently an anti-science trend in this Administration. For example, scientific experts on the impact of soot on our health comprised the federal Particulate Matter Review Panel, which kept up with the changes in soot level. The Trump Administration abolished the panel in 2018, limiting objective reporting.
Still, the American Lung Association’s “State of the Air 2019” report shows an increase in smoke and soot from fossil fuels (oil and coal) in the past three years. For short-term political advantage (i.e. kicking a slowing economy before the 2020 election), the Trump administration has done away with many environmental rules designed to protect all Americans. Many of these are Obama-era regulations such as encouraging utilities to shut down heavily-polluting coal plants, limiting offshore drilling, cutting methane and restricting pipelines that hurt the environment.
Myth Three – Environmental regulations still on the books are being enforced.
Fact – The Trump administration has also slowed enforcement to a crawl. In fiscal year 2018, the DOJ received 166 referrals for prosecution. In 1998 under the Clinton Administration, nearly four times as many were filed.
Myth Four – Other nations are not worried about the environment, so why are we?
Fact – Trump says other countries are to blame for climate change. However, he has started the process to pull the U.S. out of the Paris climate agreement. This international landmark agreement represented a pledge by virtually all leading nations to move away from polluting fossil fuels and carbon emissions and towards cleaner forms of energy.
Ken Cook of the Environmental Working Group stated, “There has never been a president who has actively pursued an agenda so hostile to the environment and public health at the behest of polluters than Mr. Trump.” Hopefully, the situation will change, and the sooner the better because the harm to the environment is getting worse every day. Clean air, land and water will someday no longer be a partisan issue, although it may be too late for men and women who are now enrolled at UGA. Remember, it was former President Richard Nixon who began the EPA.