op-ed vol1:1

Saving the Planet Without the Help of Our President

Uninformed and ill-advised as it was, President Trump’s unilateral withdrawal from the Paris Agreement, is, unfortunately, only part of his administration’s broad-based effort to undermine protection of the national and global environment.

Illustration by Stephen Rockwood


December 12, 2015 was a momentous day in the history of the world, politically, diplomatically and socially, because, on that day, 194 nations plus the European Union signed the Paris Climate Agreement dealing with the global mitigation of greenhouse gas emissions. It was a stunning and unprecedented achievement of international accord in a world rife with competing national interests. The accord represents a world-wide recognition both of the dire threats that global warming and climate disruption pose to our planet, and of mankind’s responsibility to do something about it.


Citing his “America First” slogan, but lacking any facts to support his decision, President Trump announced that the United States would withdraw from the agreement, calling it a “draconian” international deal that threatened the U.S. economy and undermined our national sovereignty. Thankfully, without exception,  the other signatories to the agreement reaffirmed their commitment to it.


Immediately following the president’s announcement, the governors of California, New York and Washington announced that, notwithstanding the President’s decision, their states would remain fully committed to the goals of the agreement and to meeting or exceeding the targets of the federal Clean Power Plan initiated by President Obama. To date, ten other states and Puerto Rico have joined them, giving the now 14 members of the “U.S. Climate Alliance” an aggregate population of over 107 million with a GDP of over $7 trillion.


In addition, the day after Trump’s announcement, thirty U.S. cities, more than 80 university presidents, and over 100 major U.S. companies announced their formation of a coalition to uphold the international accord, saying in their press release: “Americans will honor and fulfill the Paris Agreement by leading from the bottom up—and there isn’t anything Washington can do to stop us.”


Uninformed and ill-advised as it was, President Trump’s unilateral withdrawal from the Paris Agreement, is, unfortunately, only part of his administration’s broad-based effort to undermine protection of the national and global environment. His proposed 2018 budget  calls for a 31% cut in EPA’s budget, including massive cuts in scientific research, personnel, and a wide range of environmental programs designed to protect our air and water. He has signed executive orders to increase commercial mining, drilling and natural gas extraction on public lands and increase offshore oil exploration and drilling; revoked a rule that prevented coal companies from dumping debris into local streams; cancelled a requirement for reporting methane emissions; rolled back limits on toxic discharge from power plants into public water ways; and approved the Dakota and Keystone XL pipelines, to cite only a few examples.


He has also called for an unprecedented review and possible modification of 27 National Monument designations by former presidents from 1996 to 2016. On August 24th, following his six-month review of the designated monuments, Interior Secretary Zinke submitted his recommendations to the White House, but those recommendations and the president’s reaction to them have not yet been made public. Our public lands are treasures of inestimable historic, scientific and cultural value that belong to the people of America, past, present and future. We must continue to protect and preserve them as the irreplaceable legacies they are to us all.


Given the Trump administration’s assault on environmental protection, the question is, what can state and local governments and we as individuals do to protect our public lands and offshore waters,  to say nothing of the water we drink and the air we breathe?


We can start by paying attention to the concerted efforts of this administration to erode and dismantle the bi-partisan environmental policies and protections of the last fifty years, and by realizing that what we say and do about it matters. Protection of our precious and amazing planet is not a liberal or conservative issue, it’s a universal human issue. Clean air and clean water are not political issues, they are the essential elements of life for all living things on earth.


Here are some of the things we, as individuals, can do, irrespective of the actions and policies of this administration: reduce our carbon footprints by buying locally whenever we can, thereby reducing the enormous carbon costs of transportation; eat a more plant rich diet and reduce our prodigious waste of food; drive fuel-efficient vehicles and carpool and use public transportation when we can; properly insulate our homes and businesses, adjust our thermostats and use energy-efficient appliances; reduce junk mail by removing our names from direct mail and catalog lists; unplug our chargers and other gadgets when we’re not using them, and use energy-efficient light bulbs in our houses. One of the most important things we can do is elect people to state, local and federal offices who care about these issues and are informed about them.


Paul Hawken, the renowned author, entrepreneur and environmentalist, wrote a   fascinating book entitled, “Drawdown – The Most Comprehensive Plan Ever Proposed to Reverse Global Warming,” in which he describes the 100 most substantive solutions to global warming, all based on sound, peer-reviewed science. The book vividly demonstrates that we can solve the climate crisis if we simply act together in sensible, determined ways. Many of the solutions – wind turbines, solar farms and roof-top solar, regenerative and conservation agriculture, afforestation, geothermal energy, managed grazing – are already widely and successfully employed and ripe for massive expansion. Others such as controlling world population by increasing awareness of family planning and by educating women and girls throughout the world generally– are less obvious but hugely important.


Edmund Burke once said, “Nobody made a greater mistake than he who did nothing because he could do only a little.” It’s good advice for us all, especially now, faced as we are with the dangerous, misguided attitudes and policies of this administration.

By Jack Watson

Jack Watson served as the White House Chief of Staff under President Jimmy Carter. He is a graduate of Vanderbilt University and received his law degree from Harvard Law School. He served in the U.S. Marine Corps as a Pathfinder and Reconnaissance Team Leader, First Force Reconnaissance Company, and left the Marine Corps with the rank of Captain. He served as head of the Carter-Mondale Policy Planning Group in 1976, and later was Director of the Transition Team during the transition of government from President Ford to President Carter. In the Carter administration from 1977 to 1981, he served as Assistant to the President for Intergovernmental Affairs and Secretary to the Cabinet. He chaired the President's Interagency Coordinating Council created by Executive Order in 1978 to coordinate implementation of the President's domestic policy.