The election of Donald Trump came at a critical time in global efforts to reign in emissions from the burning of fuels like oil, gas, and coal — emissions that, among other ills, turn up the planet’s natural ability to trap the sun’s heat.
Trump, the candidate, was clear that he didn’t support promises by the Obama administration to cut the United States’ contributions of these emissions.
After his election Trump tasked Myron Ebell, a longtime critic of climate science and advocacy, to oversee the transition of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. Trump has since nominated Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt, a staunch critic of that federal agency, to lead it.
All this has Catholic and secular eco-advocates more than a little worried.
I would be happy with some other choice for the top job at the EPA. But even if Pruitt’s nomination is approved by the Senate, will the president-elect continue his hard line against past climate change policy?
Major global industries are already anticipating and building the infrastructure for a post-fossil fuel world. The benefits to businesses of tapping into renewable energy sources — like solar and wind — are already changing business as usual. If the United States wants to play ball in this new era of industry, we’ll have to move beyond old-school fuel sources like coal and oil.
My bet is that when President Trump starts looking at the numbers, he’ll want the United States to benefit from the clean-energy revolution. He’ll want us to lead the way — which is the way away from carbon-emitting fossil fuels.
Then there is the military. Last summer, the Department of Defense issued a report that summarized its concerns with how a changing climate will impact military planning around the world. Certainly the details behind all this will be part of the briefings that the president-elect is currently receiving.
And then there is, ultimately, the moral dimension to such eco issues.
As Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI noted in 2010, “[c]an we remain indifferent before the problems associated with such realities as climate change …? Humanity needs a profound cultural renewal; it needs to rediscover those values which can serve as the solid basis for building a brighter future for all. Our present crises — be they economic, food-related, environmental or social — are ultimately also moral crises, and all of them are interrelated. They require us to rethink the path which we are traveling together.”
These are words that the Trump administration, and those within it charged with protecting the great gift of God’s life-sustaining creation, would do well to heed.
Putting aside the political polarization of climate science, when major industries and military planners (not to mention popes) are anticipating a world powered by cleaner renewable energies, you know something big is going on — too big for the president-elect to deny or for his administration to ignore.
William Patenaude, M.A., KHS, is an engineer with the Rhode Island Department of Environmental Management and is a member of the Diocesan Pastoral Council. He is a parishioner of Saint Joseph Parish, West Warwick, and writes at CatholicEcology.net.