ECONOMIC GROWTH: NOT ENVIRONMENTAL PROTECTION STRATEGY
With its recent executive order to gut the US federal government’s climate regulations, the Trump administration has chosen to ignore the ongoing devastating impacts and future risks of climate change while perpetuating the widely believed myth that economic growth drives prosperity. But that’s not how the administration views its action, as evidenced by some of the laughable quotes referenced in this recent CNN article:
I’d like to highlight a few of these comments to call them out as the inanities that they are.
“My action today is latest in steps to grow American jobs” and “ending the theft of prosperity.”
First off, the introduction of the term “jobs” here is about as useful (read worthless) as using GDP to measure the well-being of an economy – a metric that was in fact never intended to serve that purpose. Which jobs is Trump referring to? And how many, with what pay and benefits, in what working conditions, and at what cost to the already rapidly deteriorating environment? Sadly and unacceptably, the answers to such important questions are left to our imaginations.
Next is Trump’s myth-perpetuating reference to prosperity as a synonym for economic growth. As was mentioned in last week’s post, the Trump administration “may genuinely believe the prosperity-from-growth fairy tale. Or, they may know growth is actually destructive and unsustainable, but they spread the propaganda because their own material wealth depends on the growth and they want to keep the gravy train rolling, even if it harms the general public (and all members of future generations because it injures life-supporting ecosystems).”
Beyond such speculation, what’s clear is a severe pro-growth bias that deserves to be wholly discredited.
“[Climate change] is an issue that deserves attention. But I think the President has been very clear that he is not going to pursue climate change policies that put the US economy at risk. It is very simple.”
The irony here was not lost on me. The effects of climate change are an existential threat to human life on Earth, so ignoring such effects as a matter of public policy for the purpose of not putting the US economy at risk is quite moronic. Indeed it is very simple to see this, yet a severe pro-growth bias remains part of the prevailing worldview that must be changed.
“To the extent that the economy is strong and growing and you have prosperity, that is the best way to protect the environment.”
This one really made me cringe and was the initial inspiration for this post. After reading it I was almost speechless…almost.
Andrew Steer, the president and CEO of the World Resources Institute, may have described it most aptly when he said that the Trump administration is “taking a sledgehammer to US climate action.” Not to mention, this delusional statement from an unnamed White House official has been emphatically proven false over the last half century – the WWF’s 2016 Living Planet Report is but one noteworthy example of such evidence.
“We are going to put our coal miners back to work. They have not been treated well, but they’re going to be treated well now.”
Trump has made a pledge to coal miners and their communities along with the coal industry that he can’t keep. As this article mentions even people like Robert Murray, the CEO of Murray Energy and an outspoken climate change denier, has stated that ‘coal employment “can’t be brought back to where it was before the election of Barack Obama” because of market pressure’. And as Paul Krugman eloquently argued recently in the New York Times, more than anything coal country is a state of mind.
All in all this executive order was a giant leap backwards for the US and for the world, and it seriously calls into question the US’s adherence to its nationally determined contributions (NDCs) under the Paris Agreement. It’s important that we recognize and highlight the fact that this omnicidal action has everything to do with our absolute devotion to the pursuit of perpetual economic growth. This is unacceptable. But what is equally important to recognize is, as the wise environmental activist Alon Tal would say, “trend is not destiny”. We have a choice to acknowledge the fairy tale of perpetual growth and pursue an urgent transition to a life-sustaining society, and it’s about time we start.
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