If there’s one thing that Trump is known for, it’s saying one thing while, in reality, meaning another. Granted, all politicians are guilty of it to some extent (although let’s bear in mind, he’s not actually a politician) but I can think of no other president who has amassed such loyal, dedicated supporters, despite his endless stream of inflammatory remarks and unintelligible twitterings. Worse still, his unwavering commitment to drive policies in favor of environmental destruction.
A new index compiled by Yale and Columbia universities has ranked the industrialized nations of the world based on environmental performance. It’ll come as no surprise to you, I’m sure, that Denmark was ranked first place (is there anything the Danes can’t do?). Following in second and third are Luxembourg and Switzerland respectively, with the U.K. in fourth (proud British person, over here!). Dragging its feet way in the back, however, is the U.S. in a tragic 24th place. Twenty-fourth—let that sink in for a moment. A nation (supposedly) being led (I’d use that term loosely) by a president who consistently proclaims how utterly incredible it (he) is trailing along in a rather embarrassing 24th place.
The Environmental Performance Index ranks 180 countries based on 32 performance indicators across 11 different categories spanning environmental health and ecosystem vitality. The U.S. scored particularly poorly on protecting water resources and waste management. Looking at my local mountains in Tucson, Arizona, currently experiencing a wildfire, and being a person who lives in the desert and is always thinking about staying hydrated, this concerns me.
The water scores took a hit due the volume of wastewater across the nation that is not properly treated before being released into the environment, along with the significant chunk of the country not currently hooked up to a sewage system. That’s right—America: the land of the great, not even bothering to ensure all its citizens have running water. A report released at the end of 2019 found that at least 2 million Americans don’t have access to running water or a toilet inside their homes. These households are twice as likely to be home to black or Latinx families and a staggering 19 times more likely to be Native American. Did you also know that federal funding for water is now just 14% of what it was in 1977? Areas struggling, in particular, include the Navajo Nation in the Southwest, along with Alabama, Mississippi, and Texas.
If we turn to look at the waste management side of things, you can see here that the figures are particularly dire, with the US coming in 71st of 180 countries. This measurement is based on the ability to track the final destination of waste materials, as well as the impact on public health. The U.S. produces far more garbage than the majority of the developed world. Although making up only 4% of the world’s population, the U.S. produces a horrifying 12% of its waste. A lot of this is plastic, of course, driving the growing concern around microplastic fragments being found in our water and soil. A Science report published just last month found that over 1,000 metric tons of plastic rain down on U.S. National Parks and other protected areas every year—a figure that will only increase the longer that extra hygiene measures are in place amidst the COVID-19 crisis.
I will point out that the U.S. ranked better for air quality, coming in at number 16. Still far from being “the best” as some might be inclined to (wrongly) suggest, this might give you hope. However, I must—unfortunately—burst your bubble by pointing out that the U.S. is currently the second biggest contributor to climate change after China. From withdrawing from the Paris agreement to exploiting public lands and waters for the drilling of fossil fuels, Trump has consistently placed profits above all else. Only, he has the most important job in America and effective policy must encompass more than simply how much money can be made. Like, say, health and wellbeing, for a start?
He has denied climate change time and time again, which means very little, being a person with no scientific background himself. He also (predictably) appointed cabinet members with non-science backgrounds to fulfill critical roles. Take Andrew Wheeler, for example, who became Administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency after a career as an attorney. He’s also a former coal lobbyist. Then there’s another attorney, William Perry Pendley. He’s Director of the Bureau of Land Management, in charge of over 240 million acres of publically-owned U.S. land and responsible, in part, for Trump’s rolling back of the Endangered Species Act. In case you’re not already fuming, take a read of this 2016 article written by Pendley, expressing his opinion of why the federal government should sell all its land (thereby taking all of it away from the American public.)
These people aren’t scientists. But worse than that, these appointed individuals are not qualified to be in positions of authority. How can you fairly manage and protect the land upon which Americans live and work when there exists no system of checks and balances? When your biased opinion pigeonholes you based on the elitist idea of what America is and should be for the microscopic fraction who naively think that enough money will save us from anything? These men are doing nothing to ensure the survival of future generations and we’re letting them get away with it.
Every decision I’ve made in my scientific career to date has been based on data. I’ve been trained to question everything and trust the decades of scientific literature that have built a picture of what it is that life on this planet needs in order to survive. Trump’s ignorance is almost laughable, except we’re dying as a result. How did we get here? It’s complicated and we don’t have time right now to get to the bottom of it. What’s more important is how we can get back on track as quickly as possible. I hope you’ll join me in trusting the science and demanding better.
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Photo: Robson Hatsukami Morgan via Unsplash