The American presidential election has concluded and, barring some new bizarre event, Donald Trump, a committed opponent of any strategy to admit, confront, or mitigate climate change, will become President of the United States. In the first days post-election, Trump indicated that he would withdraw from any American participation in the Paris Climate Treaty commitments and appoint deniers and anti-environmentalists to key cabinet positions that oversee the protection of America’s air, water, and natural resources. Given that more than half the American electorate and the leaders of almost every other nation disagree with that position, we are faced with a crisis of both national and global proportion.
The various impacts of climate change are underway, inexorable, and indifferent to anything but a global strategy to reverse their causes, mitigate their effects, and invent new systems of value, organization, and behavior that will enable us to survive their constant, telling realities. Those forces are massive, and, in the face of such fanciful, insubstantial avoidance and denial, will continue to shape our world for the worst.
Many alternative actions are already in progress, using available science, technology, and financial resources. Much of this will continue, driven by the wisdom and political will of other nations representing enormous global capacity to combat and innovate against retrograde intention and the status quo, against the rejection of science and the irresponsibility of government.
Suddenly, it would appear that the United States will not participate, will actively counter this trend by affirming reliance on the old paradigm of unlimited growth through consumption enabled by fossil fuels.
As citizens who object, what do we do now? What can we do in spite of the radical policy change? First, we can confirm our commitment to a new path by which to modify our lives and associations from within, to use our market power to starve the vested interests and exploiters, to join our voices and number, to engage in deliberate, directed strategies and manifestations to undermine, better, and implement new rules, even as the incoming administration attempts to reinstate the old ones.
How? Think of the Standing Rock demonstrations today, where thousands of Native Americans and their supporters are protesting against a pipeline for tar sands oil to pass through wilderness, burials grounds, sacred sites, and treaty lands as a vestigial example of the old fossil fuel mentality in which Trump is invested. The project reveals a desperate fear of change; it has no financial logic, no market for its throughput, and no legal or moral standing other than the determination of its investors. Those protestors are standing for tradition and ancient custom wherein lies guidance for our future.
There are innumerable Standing Rocks where we can make our stands — every national park or wildlife refuge to be compromised by uncontrolled resource exploitation, every river, lake, and aquifer to be polluted by industrial waste, every beach and coastal area vulnerable to the increasing incidence and ferocity of extreme weather — and the power generated in every place from every citizen action in the name of enduring principles of sustainability and protection.
Pick your battle. Mine is for the ocean. But there are many, many more, and each overlaps and amplifies by interest, tactics, and spectrum of engagement. Each of us can oppose more vigorously and advocate by example from our homes and local communities to our neighbors, our state governments, and our national representatives, to deafen them with our opposition to know-nothingness and retreat, and to articulate our insistence in support of environmental protection and climate mitigation now.
As both symbol and reality of what can be done, take the example of the plastic bag. If, in recent years, we have achieved one extraordinary success in environmental protection, it has been the global, bottom-up banning of the plastic bag. In that one positive, locally enabled, social movement, non-violent and very successful worldwide, we have demonstrated a model for new, more effective protest and alternative engagement.
If we can unite in such expressions of sustainability values by personal and organizational actions, we can attack the heart of the old politics and market mentality. As a movement of one, then more than one, then many, then millions, we have the exponential power of multi-millions in repetitive voice, constant messaging, financial boycotts and sanctions, personal and collective action, to take back Nature for the benefit of us all.
Finally, we must understand that our former arguments, vocabulary, and strategies, however logical and successful, may still have failed. Climate and the environment were not on the national election agenda; we did not make the compelling argument. Trump assumes he has been given a mandate to step away from the climate challenge and world community, but his is an irresponsible, unjustifiable assumption. Fresh thinking and renewed engagement are essential to prevail. Some of us as individuals and organizations will double down on what we have done best, but others will find news ways to attack the problem. It is imperative that we do so. It is not melodramatic to claim it is a matter of survival.
Peter Neill is founder and director of the World Ocean Observatory, a web-based place of exchange for information and educational services about the health of the world ocean. Online at worldoceanobservatory.org. Peter Neill is author of “The Once and Future Ocean: Notes Toward a New Hydraulic Society” available now.