Home Essays The Phantom Menace: Trump, Climate Change and its Threat on the Disenfranchised

The Phantom Menace: Trump, Climate Change and its Threat on the Disenfranchised

Until we reframe climate change as a social and humanitarian crisis, we will fail to see how its negative impact will be felt first by the disenfranchised.


For a progressive American, there seems to be no limit to all of the ways that a Trump Administration could negatively affect our country. With control of both chambers of congress, a vacant seat on the Supreme Court, and a cabinet made up of ultra-conservatives—some with limited or no governmental experiences—there is almost nothing to be optimistic about. This is a big reason why half of the country has been experiencing prolonged depression about the results of the election, particularly for people concerned with the rights of women and minorities.

As bleak as it might seem, optimists hope that whatever anti-women or anti-minority policies are put into place could be reversed with future presidencies. The Constitution and the laws of this country, we’re always reminded, are living and breathing documents that can be updated as necessary. For the most part, it’s worked for more than two centuries, and barring the realization of progressives’ most extreme fears, our republican democracy can course-correct at the will of the people on almost all issues save one: climate change.

Climate change is not an American problem. It’s not a male problem or a female problem. It is, by definition, a worldwide problem, and though it’s not often framed this way, it is (or has the potential to quickly become) a humanitarian crisis. What that also means, is that in an era where the acquisition of resources necessary for human life is increasingly fraught with conflict, those in possession of these goods will have increased power and influence—and that inclusivity will be considered a luxury we can no longer afford. In plain English, access to the “American Dream” that the disenfranchised have only partially and inadequately enjoyed will only become more exclusive.

With CO2 levels reaching what some scientists consider a point of no return, action needs to be taken in order to ensure that we can continue to enjoy a baseline quality of life let alone extending access to it to a greater number of women and minorities.

Over the years, from the Kyoto Protocol to the Paris Agreement, there have been laudable efforts to fight climate change. And while the Obama Administration made some good (but not great) strides toward bridging the gap between our nation’s policies and the international leaders in this space, there is a massive opposition from a powerful minority on this issue and the progressive response to them is far too often simplistic and condescending.

I am just as guilty as so many other environmentalists in thinking that our problem with environmental policies is limited to denial of climate change science. While there are plenty of people in this country who straight up deny climate science, there are many more who would just rather dig their heads in the sand. Not only do Americans see adaptation to more eco-friendly lifestyles as an infringement on our way of life, they are also encouraged to do so by the people who have the most to gain by widespread scarcity and instability—which is to say, those who are already wealthy and in power.

For as long as most people can remember, Americans have enjoyed living in the most prosperous nation in human history. For white men, this has been true for a very long time; for others, less so. From civil rights to women’s rights to LGBTQ rights, we have only started to offer the freedoms and access to the full American dream to larger swathes of our population for the last generation or two. And those were in periods of relative prosperity.

If the years immediately following the Great Recession are any indication, increased scarcity of goods means that wealth will become more concentrated around the 1% of this country that already possesses and controls most of it. Equal pay, fair housing practices, education reform—any number of policies aimed toward greater access for women and minorities will not only be hindered by Trump’s direct policies, they will also be more difficult to advocate for in future generations when the instability created by climate change gives way to international conflict over goods and resources. And as history teaches us again and again, when there is less to go around, those are the bottom rungs of the social ladder are first to be jettisoned.

Take one look at the cabinet that Donald Trump has assembled, and it is not so hard to see that this administration is gearing up to go to war, both with social progressives and with environmental activists. But of all of the elements that make up the scary platform Trump has built, climate change is too often ignored or overlooked. Progressive and even moderate Americans have good reason to be afraid of a lot of the social policy changes Trump has promised to enact or revoke, but as we suffer through this national existential crises, there is a larger, global matter that equally needs and deserves our attention.

The atmosphere, climate, and oceans are all indifferent to the politics of this country. The complicated ways that our ecosystem is dramatically changing has nothing to do with an individual’s interpretation of the U.S. Constitution, and yet, as a country’s whose collective carbon footprint massively overshadows so many other industrialized nations (both in our own emissions and those associated with the production of the goods we consume) the United States needs to be a significant part of the solution to the various problems associated with climate change, and there is little reason to believe that in the next four years we will become the champion the planet needs.

In the coming months and years, it will be tempting to think that we should be singularly focused on protecting the progress that the Obama Administration made on social policies. We absolutely should be worried about the rights and access of the disenfranchised, but not at the expense of remembering the role that climate change plays in all of that. Too often, Americans treat climate change like a problem we’ll eventually get around to when we have the time, as if it’s a leaky faucet in our spare bathroom.

But it’s not. By the time we Americans start to really notice and feel the effects of climate change, it will be far too late to do anything about. And its impact will not discriminate on the basis of gender, race, or orientation.


Writers statement

Climate change is not thought of as a humanitarian problem often enough. We know that the atmosphere and oceans are affected, but because we do not (yet) see its impact on a socioeconomic level in America, we do not realize the disruptive power that climate change will have in generations to come. So while progressives busy themselves with policing all of the social policies coming out of a Trump Administration, holding this extreme cabinet accountable for protecting the environment and natural resources for future generations is not a luxury, but part of the same fight for access to the American Dream. As global scarcity becomes more of a problem, the narrative will shift toward seeing things like women’s and minority rights as a luxury we can no longer afford–and by the time a new presidency/administration comes into power, the long-term effects of our neglect might make it to difficult to course correct.


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