It doesn’t take an anthropologist to observe that the current mood in the United States is turbulent. Across the political spectrum, from left to right, there is a growing sense of a need for change — the difference, where that change comes from, and in which direction it is going, forward or back.
President Trump’s promise to, “Make America Great Again” rests on the idea of returning to some utopian past. As most of Donald Trump’s votes came from rustbelt states, it would seem that this imaginary past is rooted in the idea of the American worker. As jobs relocate to urban centers on the coasts and manufacturing jobs get shipped overseas, unemployment in the so-called “flyover states” is a serious concern (admittedly, a concern that has been ignored by most of the country including recent administrations.)
President Trump’s take on energy policy is that there are too many regulations suffocating industries such as coal mining. Some of his proposed solutions are to cut the breadth and reach of the EPA and lift regulations on dumping of toxic substances into rivers and streams. The problem is that Trump’s remedies are rested in the idea of a past that no longer exists. Our economy as a whole is shifting away from non-renewable energy like coal and towards renewables like wind and solar. Naturally this shift is mirrored by employment. This is true throughout history.
The industrial revolution brought folk away from the farm and into the factory. Today this still holds true. The Bureau of Land Management positioned wind turbine service technicians as the fastest-growing profession in the United States between 2017 and 2024. Furthermore there is a dearth of skilled employment across the country in renewables, and green industry is taking in coal miners “with open arms.” So it seems the problem is that President Trump’s attempts to “Make America Great Again” have been severely misdirected.
This is a significant problem as the stakes are extremely high. The climate science is unequivocal; in the last century sea levels have risen by 6.7 inches. Fifteen of the 16 warmest years on record have occurred since 2001, and between 36 to 60 cubic miles of arctic ice sheets have vanished.
There is no time for short sighted political moves, or smokescreens designed to appease and attract voters. Instead we need to follow existing employment trends, listen to the market, and look forward.
Europe, lead by countries such as Denmark and Germany, has gotten a significant head start. Wind farms made up half of Europe’s new energy sources in 2016 making up almost 90 percent of Europe’s new power in 2016. This is creating education and career opportunities and mitigating the effects of climate change.
By comparison, we in the United States can dispel the myth of American exceptionalism. While there has been progress in that direction in the US as well, we are falling behind and making promises to “Make America Great Again” highly unlikely. The rest of the West is capitalizing on it while we largely cling to past ideals. We need to realign our interests with the working class in new and innovative ways. After all, as the laboratory of democracy, the United States is built on experimentation.
The solutions are clear-cut and multi-faceted, and demand involvement from both sides of the aisle. There need be massive investment in infrastructure and education. There need be decentralized and diversified means of collecting energy by mostly utilizing renewables such as wind and solar. We need to hold President Trump accountable for his misguided attacks on the environment and the agencies that stand to protect it.
Specifically the 31 percent cut to EPA funding in the 2018 Budget Blueprint cannot be passed through. In addition, the Clean Water Act must be honored by the new administration. As the American people, we must demand higher from our leaders. There is no time to backtrack or get lost in smoke screens.
This is a crucial point in history. A time when the United States can take steps forward or get bogged down in rear view mirror nostalgia. What’s it going to be?
Kade Percy is a senior at UC Berkeley in the environmental science policy and management program.