Pale Blue Dot: ‘America first’ policy shouldn’t be applied to environmental issues

Kylie Harrington | Daily Trojan

Every once in a while — when I really want to torture myself — I scroll through Scott Pruitt’s Twitter account. Pruitt, the current administrator of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and one of the most inflammatory members of the Trump cabinet, doesn’t seem to care about the environment or its protection.

Pruitt is currently under almost a dozen investigations for allegedly taking gifts from lobbyists, violating anti-propaganda laws and misusing federal funds for things like 24-hour security detail and a $43,000 soundproof phone booth installed in his office. On top of that, he also doesn’t think climate change is caused by humans, and rejects the scientific consensus that human-generated carbon dioxide is contributing to global warming.

With every action he takes, Pruitt proves that he has little interest in morality, science or environmental protection. Since his induction into office in February 2017, I have kept up with his actions and scandals, wondering what political agenda he is actually trying to advance other than barefaced contrarianism toward scientific fact.

But on June 1, Pruitt published an editorial on Fox News’ website praising President Donald Trump for pulling the United States out of the Paris climate accord last year. The article, titled “Trump put America first when he withdrew from Paris Accord one year ago,” is the most direct expression of Pruitt’s worldview that I have seen: applying the “Make America Great Again” and “America First” ideologies of the Trump administration directly to our country’s handling of natural resources. I shouldn’t have to say this, but that’s a really, really bad idea.

First, I should point out that the “Make America Great Again” approach is dangerous in every aspect of politics; its implications of toxic nationalism have damaged our well-being and reputation in foreign relations, economics and equality. But this attitude is especially egregious when it is applied to the environment.

Art by Chana Kim | Daily Trojan

The Paris climate accord was a historic moment in the international fight against climate change. It allowed countries to set their own respective goals for reducing carbon emissions, with the ultimate goal of limiting global temperature rise to 1.5 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels. There was no mechanism to force signatory countries into specific goals by specific dates; they were simply expected to set targets that were higher than they had previously set. It was a remarkably flexible deal that allowed each country to respond to their unique needs while moving toward a more sustainable global community, but that apparently wasn’t satisfactory for Pruitt.

In his op-ed, Pruitt says that the climate accord was “a bad deal for the American people,” because it would require taxpayer money and would produce “no clear benefit for hard-working Americans.” I’d say there’s no clear benefit other than slowing sea level rise, reducing extreme weather events, finding sustainable energy sources, preserving animal and plant life and keeping the planet livable for upcoming generations. But to each his own, I guess. The fact that Pruitt is offended by using taxpayer money to hit carbon emissions targets, but has no issue spending $1,560 on custom-made pens makes the “saving-taxpayer-money” argument a bit hollow.

Pruitt claims that the sustainability gains that the U.S. has made in the last 40 years, such as the lowered levels of major air pollutants, should be attributed to the “genius of the free market,” not government regulations. Nevermind the fact that the free market also caused those pollutants to be there in the first place, and that laws like 1995’s Air Pollution Control Act did nothing to aid this reduction.

He also implies that the Paris accord would not fair to the U.S. because it does not put harsh limits on major polluters like India and China, even though the entire idea of the agreement was to let countries set their own goals. Nevertheless, he saw the contribution of American tax dollars to achieve a stricter goal than China or India had set as an unfair use of our funds, despite the fact that every dollar spent on sustainability can benefit and improve the lives of all Americans.

In short, applying nationalist rhetoric to environmental issues and removing ourselves from international agreements is incredibly unproductive. While Pruitt wants to put “America first,” he disregards the fact that conservation is cooperative, collaborative and impossible to win — because the Earth doesn’t play favorites along national lines.

Kylie Harrington is a junior majoring in journalism. Her column,“Pale Blue Dot,” runs Wednesdays.