Forty-six years ago, the Environmental Protection Agency was founded by Republican President Richard M. Nixon, becoming a revered, bipartisan accomplishment. It now finds itself under siege—and by consequence, putting our air, food, and water under siege as well.
We are now four weeks into Donald Trump’s presidency, and it is already clear that he was not overstating his antipathy for combating pollution and global warming. During this time, his administration has already had more than $800 million in budget cuts planned for the agency, which seriously impedes its ability to function. To head the EPA, Trump has nominated Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt, an avid defender of the fossil-fuel industry and a bitter opponent of EPA regulation. What’s more, Trump has signed an executive order to eliminate two EPA regulations for every new one adopted, has announced plans to pull out of the Paris Climate Agreement, and has hinted at a possible reduction of about two-thirds of the agency’s 15,000-person staff. It is clear that the common goal of these measures will culminate in the eventual elimination of the EPA.
While 97 percent of environmental scientists agree that climate change is man-made, climate change has become an increasingly polarized issue in recent years. Given the news of these harsh policies against the EPA, one must ask: What is this controversy about? We often refer to “the environment” as if it were a separate entity from the world in which we live our day-to-day lives. In fact, contrary to this, it is our environment; not one that we own per se, but one that we coexist with and depend on.Indeed, the EPA’s stated mission is to protect human health and the environment. In order for the EPA to pursue the protection of human health, it is vital that the environment be protected as well. How can we be healthy when the air we breathe is polluted with harmful chemicals, when our water is contaminated with lead, and when your soil cannot support the food we want to grow? It is strange, then, that the EPA has become such a controversial body. How can we disagree when it comes to breathing clean air, drinking clean water, and securing our nourishment?
The window of opportunity for acting effectively is closing quickly. The actions we take now determine what happens years—even decades—from now. The fact that we will not immediately feel the consequences of inaction does not make these issues any less important, but it unfortunately does make our policymakers slower to address them. Avoiding action now will inevitably make problems worse in the future. Unfortunately, in our government, this usually comes down to partisan politics and policy-making that is informed not by scientific research and evidence, but by ideology, partisanship, and powerful donors.
So what then, given these new role models in the White House, are we, as students of PHS, supposed to think and do? We are told to pursue accuracy—to make sure our statements are well-founded and to form our opinions based on evidence, not personal bias and first instinct. But, as we look up to the individuals at the top of our U.S. government today, they contradict what we have been taught in school. The necessities of being good citizens and protecting our country, our world, and our own lives, are tied to our capacity to accumulate and apply useful knowledge. Thus, I encourage us, as students, to not only follow the actions of this presidency closely, but to also reflect on what these actions mean for our air, food, and water—both now and in the future—and what we can do about it.
One purpose of education is to allow each learner to use his or her knowledge to live well morally, creatively, and productively in society. The “independent” think tanks and political figures that currently and historically have questioned climate change and its regulation and action have been funded by fossil fuel companies. During a time when too many people in government fit this description, it is crucial that we stay informed, consult reliable sources about the environment and climate change, and teach other people about the risks of deregulation.
As high schoolers, we are at an important turning point for looking forward into our own futures. And, as time goes on, it seems as though the younger generations will have worse futures ahead of them. Although denying this danger may be seemingly politically popular, our future should not be sacrificed to political expediency.
But it can also be the time for taking on the challenge of the future. Right now, many of us are not so lucky as to be able to vote and have more of a voice in policies which will directly affect us. Presidential elections are not the only ones that matter, however. State and local elections, in fact, are supremely important and have an immeasurably greater impact on our day-to-day lives. When we are able to vote, we will have yet another way to participate, though even before our 18th birthday, we can still have a productive and valuable impact by educating ourselves and taking action in any way we can. Signing petitions, canvassing, protesting, calling your representatives, sharing our thoughts by writing articles like this are just some of the countless ways you can try to improve our world. Odds are, your voice will be heard.