In case you’ve forgotten, and it seems many have, in the midst of an unprecedented presidency, President Trump pulled out of the Paris Agreement, citing the agreement’s supposed economic detriments and unfairness to the United States. In his announcement, he stated that his job is to represent Americans, and Americans only.
Religion and politics seem to be the two factors informing opposition of climate change efforts. Much of the Christian Right argue that humanity couldn’t possibly have such power over God’s earth, or that faith in Jesus is sufficient to combat the destruction caused by climate change. Interestingly, political party affiliation may play an even bigger role in opposition stances. With the Republican party’s trend of opposing climate change efforts, its supporters will follow.
Undermining every single one of Trump’s statements about the non-existence or negligible impact of climate change is a waste of time at this point, at least in the sense of making progress in environmental issues. It was easy to foresee Trump’s decision; in fact, I started writing this article a few days before he even made the announcement. What is needed at this time is a practical way to move forward, despite this setback.
Tweeting about how disappointed we are in the decision is easy. Trump sits around on Twitter and tweets disappointment all the time. So instead of that, here are three things that you (yes, you) can do to work toward moving forward.
And no, “call your congressman” isn’t on the list. Though that wouldn’t hurt as well.
1. Actually do something.
I’m putting this one first because it’s necessary for the next two.
“Slacktivism,” or Internet activism that requires minimal effort or involvement, such as tweeting concern or signing a petition, is easy. Trump does something, we express anger. He tweets, we retweet and call him an idiot. And then we move on with our lives. I’m guilty of this myself. I’m also guilty of feeling really fired up after yet another development from the White House, reading an article like this one, and then not actually doing anything once the buzz dies down. This is the problem. If progress isn’t happening in government, we either don’t feel like we can do anything about it, or we’re too busy and caught up in our own lives to make an effort.
People underestimate the power of local change, and the vast majority of the population can actually have a tremendous influence in this area. We just think that these problems are too big, throw our hands up, and lament at the state of our country.
This is where the attitude needs to shift. There are things that we can do. Things that aren’t as hard and time consuming as grassroots organizing, but do require a higher level of caring and effort than slacktivism. The next two items are not that hard. They can be worked into everyday life. But before we even start making change, we need to want to and think that we can.
2. Stop talking about climate change and start talking about sustainability.
With most issues in our country, such as terrorism, corporate tax rates, etc., it’s established that there is in fact a problem. The disagreement between parties is over the solution to that problem. With climate change, it hasn’t even been established as a real problem, at least in political discourse. An article in Business Insider referenced Trump’s claim that climate change is “an expensive hoax,” with a link to this tweet Trump posted on January 28, 2014:
While disbelief in clear scientific evidence may be a problem in itself, with our current president, it seems that better change will occur when framing the problem in a different way. A Nature article from 2012 supports this. Instead of trying to convince naysayers that climate change exists, especially in local contexts like the ones you and I might find ourselves in, start talking about the benefits of sustainability. This election proved that rhetoric is important, and articulating the issue in terms of the values of the other side may help. This isn’t a novel idea; we just haven’t fully done it with climate change yet.
Our biggest obstacle is not climate change denial. It’s refusal to undertake sustainability efforts.
Sustainability doesn’t have to be about climate change, especially at the local level where the vast majority of people have influence. Conservatives have cited loss of industry and economic prosperity as an effect of environmentalist policies. Cal Beisner, spokesman for the Cornwall Alliance for the Stewardship of Creation, a group that argues that the effects of climate change have been exaggerated, has stated that the reduction in global temperature resulting from the Paris Agreement is negligible compared to its cost.
So we should start talking more about sustainability’s effect on the economy and jobs. It has benefits in business, such as in economic growth, employee retention, and access to investment capital. The clean energy industry also offers benefits, such as increasing job opportunities (75,000 employees in the wind energy industry; 100,000 in solar energy; 250,000 in hydroelectric power — compared to 76,000 currently in coal mining). Business Insider, The Huffington Post, and The Union of Concerned Scientists have all written about benefits to sustainability that don’t relate directly to the climate.
Reverend Mitch Hescox, president of the Evangelical Environment Network, is working on showing conservatives the advantages of sustainability in terms of their values. The Network frames sustainability as a pro-life endeavor and emphasizing individual rather than government responsibility in adopting conservation practices. These both fall within conservative rhetoric, and with the problem articulated in this way, more evangelicals are seeing clean energy as an economy booster and important issue.
3. Support public education.
Of course, we shouldn’t ignore the issue of climate change denial. It’s just much more complex and much harder to tackle. One of the best ways to deal with it is through education. Of course, the argument has been made that education doesn’t make a difference. We’ve given deniers information, they’ve seen the facts, and they still aren’t convinced. A Pew Research Center study from 2016 shows that surprisingly, a person’s level of scientific knowledge does not have that much of an effect on his or her opinions on climate change, especially for Republicans. While a more scientifically literate Democrat is more likely to believe in human-caused global warming than a non-scientifically literate Democrat, beliefs are flat on both ends of the scientific literacy scale for Republicans.
With this in mind, scientific knowledge is not what is needed. It is substantial education from early childhood in all fields. Children will inherit climate change, and they will face even bigger consequences of it than we will.
In northern Idaho, skepticism about human-caused climate change is common, despite its effects becoming increasingly evident in the surrounding wilderness. Jamie Esler, a science teacher in the area, uses innovative teaching strategies to spark motivation and curiosity in his students about the changing environment. He brings his students out into the surrounding mountains and parks and has them perform their own experiments, such as having them measure the amount of carbon a tree pulls out of the air through photosynthesis. There’s a “tangible connection,” Esler says. “I hope it makes them think about what happens to that carbon when it comes out of their tail pipe.” Because of his teaching, many of his students have spearheaded environmental initiatives in the community and engaged in discussions with their often skeptical parents.
Supporting public education to give teachers like Jamie Esler the resources they need is becoming increasingly difficult in Betsy DeVos’s era. But working at the state and local level, there is still much that can be done. A few states allow donations to public and charter schools to count as a charitable deduction on yearly income tax returns (more specifics can be found here). Serving on a school board or discussing education issues at school district meetings can also help. Improving education will have slow but ultimately drastic benefits on American society overall, and climate change legislation is no exception.
This is by no means an exhaustive list. Not even close. But it’s surprisingly hard to even get past the first bullet point. I’ll be interested in hearing how many actually do something with what I’ve written here. When our federal government doesn’t step up, local, private, and state level powers have to. And we have influence there. We just need to actually get off of Twitter and do something.