No less an arch conservative than President Richard Nixon signed a bill into law in 1973 ensuring that bald eagles and other endangered species could soar for generations to come. The bald eagle above, photographed last Saturday at the Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge, is one of thousands that were able to hatch and mature thanks to the 1973 Endangered Species Act, the most enduring legacy of Nixon’s reluctant foray into environmental protection. Nixon was no green activist; in private he derided environmental protection advocates. But even he understood that the rapid decline of species and rise of environmental dangers posed a threat to human life and economic prosperity.
Not so with President Donald Trump, whose denial of the facts of climate change are appalling, particularly in the face of the extreme weather patterns that have devastated parts of this country and other parts of the world. President Trump’s decision to withdraw the United States from the Paris Climate Accord is just one of numerous actions he has taken to demonstrate his utter contempt for the science of climate change and environmental protection. A September 2019 New York Times report listed 85 environmental protection rules that the Trump Administration has rolled back or sought to diminish, largely at the behest of corporations who find environmental regulations troublesome.
In a speech this past Saturday opening the International Climate Conference in Madrid, U.N. Secretary General Antonio Guterres stated bluntly that the world is fast approaching “the point of no return” in taking action to slow climate change. He went on to say that we have the scientific and technical know-how to address the issues effectively; what is lacking is “political will.”
Political cowardice is more like it. The United States is currently in the grip of an extraordinary period of popular denial of the real harm that political demagoguery is doing not only to the purpose of government in our Democracy, but also to the health and vitality of the planet. Members of Congress, particularly members of the Senate, have steadfastly refused to exercise their Constitutional obligation to ensure that the legislature operates as a check and balance on executive authority. Rather than cravenly bowing to the immensely harmful self-serving demands of one man, the Senate should be working with the House to enact appropriate legislation to redress the many harms committed through unchecked executive orders.
Some political leaders are certainly trying to do the right thing for environmental protection. Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (Trinity ’62) is leading a Congressional delegation to the UN Madrid Climate Conference(called COP25) this week. In a statement on her website Speaker Pelosi says, “Taking action to protect our planet is a public health decision for clean air and clean water for our children, an economic decision for creating the green, good-paying jobs of the future, a national security decision to address resource competition and climate migration and also a moral decision to be good stewards of God’s creation and pass a sustainable, healthy planet to the next generation,” Speaker Pelosi continued. “On behalf of the U.S. Congress, I am proud to travel to COP25 to reaffirm the commitment of the American people to combating the climate crisis.”
Unfortunately, not a single Republican is participating in the Congressional delegation to the Madrid Climate Conference. The rigid partisanship exerted by Republican leaders is debilitating a wide range of important legislative actions, including addressing the urgent issue of climate change.
Our planet does not have generations to solve the current crisis. People whose homes and livelihoods are being devastated by wildfires and floods and the consequences of environmental degradation do not have years to wait for the political winds to change. As Pope Francis and other faith leaders have declared on numerous occasions, the climate crisis is a moral issue, one that deeply affects the quality of human life. An election is coming, yes, but we should not have to await election results to know whether future generations will be able to inhabit the Earth in comfort and security. As a matter of social justice, climate change demands responsible moral action now.