Features

Lifting the Fog: Climate Change and Trump’s America

℅ President-elect Donald Trump

℅ President-elect Donald Trump

I think it’s safe to say that if you don’t agree with The Liberal Agenda™, you have stumbled across this article, and this entire website by pure accident. Please save your criticism until the end of the class, my friend. We have nothing but compassion, and a pressing need to express ourselves in complete freedom. You may exit this article, shake it off, and move along. But please try your hardest to read this with an open mind.

If, on the other hand, you’re like me and you’ve watched the election results rolling in on Tuesday night in pure horror and expect to be in the first stage of grief for the rest of eternity, please make an effort to read on through your never-ending curtain of tears.

new-york-wallpaper-background-7

℅ Leisure.com; TV has boosted the image of The American Dream, with New York being the example of “a perfect city”- something for every city to aspire to! Being the only Class A megacity other than London, it’s a valid claim.

There are many reasons this election didn’t sit right with me. I don’t live in the United States. I live a hop, skip and a jump away across the Atlantic on a tiny island known as Great Britain. With our own political embarrassment earlier in the summer (with a referendum name that sounds like a frog burp), I think it’s fair to say that our issues are slightly similar.

Of course, we didn’t elect a man with no experience at all into the Prime Minister’s seat and Brexit may be foreboding just a few bumps and our PM is a woman named Theresa May and we have universal healthcare and no guns and

…I’m sorry. I got carried away. Britain is by no means perfect. There are many issues regarding foreign policy, involvement with NATO, funding for NHS and education, economic slowdown and so on. But I’m quite glad I live here instead of America right now. Brexit may have been a large upset for many Britishers who voted to stay (much like Democrats voting for Hillary), but in the grand scheme of things it seems more like a toe stub and less like a full body concussion. I say all of this for no reason really.

Well, except to tell you how much American politics affects people worldwide.

America, for an Indian girl like me who has grown up in South East Asia, is a distant dream of a better life and a fabled land of absolute freedom. America is an idea, a place of boundless opportunities. Children around the world yearn to move there and escape their underprivileged economies that hold back their potential. That is, until they reach adulthood and glimpse behind the glittery illusion of “Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness” and realise they’ve been fooled. America is not only the epitome of western civilization, but an embodiment of the eponymous American Dream that we all learnt in high school Englishprobably from The Great Gatsby.

To so many of us, this election seems like an excuse for ignorance to start creeping back into our self-stylized progressive economies. There are many on the internet already trying to defend Donald Trump. They’re claiming that he’s not against the LGBT+ community; that he’s not against Hispanics; that he loves African-Americans; respects women; admires Asians; doesn’t mock disabled people; doesn’t hate Muslims. They deny that he’s been spewing vile comments regarding just about anybody who isn’t a white Christian man. I guess his Twitter account also doesn’t exist.

But that’s not to say Hillary Clinton was the perfect candidate! To be perfectly honest, she’s done many questionable things in her past as well. But still- wouldn’t she have been the better choice? She herself may not be so relatable, but she’s set out policy backed by the entire Democratic party. Regardless of any dislike you may harbor for Hillary, it’s hard to hate the Democratic party. Electing Mrs. Clinton into the White House meant electing a Democratic Supreme Court Justice, pushing bills that fight for the rights of people, stemming back the tide of divisiveness from the Republican controlled House and Senate.

Trump on the other hand, has a vague idea of policy that preys on the fear of the common man, and promises grandiose things with no viable plan of action. As my favorite Founding Father Alexander Hamilton put it to his rival in the acclaimed new musical, “If you stand for nothing, Burr, what do you fall for?” Isn’t that the question of the hour then? What will dear President-Elect take the fall for? What will he sacrifice his time and effort and sleep for? What true issue will keep him motivated? The wall? Extreeeeme vetting? Putting Hillary in jail?

One thing we know for sure: it isn’t climate change. The Democratic party invested in preventing climate change and the COP21 Paris Treaty. This is not only a program that benefits Americans, but also literally every single person on this planet. Trump has vowed in the past to yank the US from the treaty. America, a global superpower, one that has the resources to implement an integral step in curbing CO­­2 emissions, is set to withdraw from a treaty that was signed and agreed by governments across the world. Why, then, should China or India keep up their ends of the treaty? Why should Europe, or Russia, or Brazil, or anyone else? If America has pulled out and decided not to do the work, then why should we?

If America believes climate change isn’t real while most of its major companies produce all their goods in developing economies,why should those countries adhere to a treaty signed in a faraway land. 177 countries from Afghanistan to Zimbabwe have signed the treaty already. But I guess Donald Trump and the GOP think they’re all idiots for believing in the “Chinese hoax” that is climate change.

℅ inhabitat.com; Indian Prime Minister, Narendra Modi at COP21 Paris Summit Agreement

℅ inhabitat.com; Indian Prime Minister, Narendra Modi at COP21 Paris Summit Agreement

The worst part is that America has already invested a lot of time and effort into developing a plan for clean energy. This would impact global emission rates big-league. With so much alternative energy being researched in the US (Tesla’s solar powered roofs, for example), dropping out of the COP21 not only wastes all that innovation, it also secedes on its commitment to a global treaty and lets other countries know it’s fine to drop out as well. We might as well say goodbye right now as Trump prepares to flush Obama’s legacy down the toilet, starting with the Affordable Care Act and continuing with the Clean Power Plan.

Hold that thought. Let me tell you a story:

It’s 2003 and a young girl has just left her life in Singapore to move to Jakarta, a bustling metropolis at the heart of Indonesia. The sunsets are gloriously red, the nights clear and cool, and the stars twinkle in the skies. In the summer, she spends nights on the roof of her grandfather’s house in India looking up at the sky, and on some nights she recognizes the constellation Orion. It’s the only one she knows. She thinks it looks like a butterfly.

It’s now 2010, and the traffic levels in Jakarta have skyrocketed. There are twice the number of people now, hurrying in from the surrounding villages and looking for jobs. Deforestation companies are cutting down trees and creating dams leaving eroded soil and polluted air in their wake. Cars are chugging out dangerous fumes from their exhausts at a perilous level. The city wakes up many mornings beneath a blanket of smog. Rain has become irregular so the summers are extra dry and the monsoons, extra torrential.

℅ Japan TImes

℅ Japan TImes

Our protagonist walks back to the school bus with her shoes in her hands and water up to her ankles, and arrives home to emails from old friends in Singapore complaining about smoke from the deforestation in Sumatra and Malaysia.

2014 comes along and her parents move to Bangkok. Each year it gets hotter and hotter as temperature records are broken. Each year, it rains less and less, and dust collects in layers across the country.

2016. She is crying. She looks up from where she stands in the pitch-black countryside around Reading, England. The Milky Way and its million stars in all their glory light up the sky. Orion is still there, but this time the whole Iliad and Odyssey surround him. Her British colleagues smile with amusement, confused at the idea of not being able to see stars, but her two friends from Beijing and Hong Kong marvel too. It’s 2016 and Britain experiences its hottest and longest summer yet, bracing itself for an unnaturally cold winter. It was like this last year too. And the year before.

I am a chemical engineer. I designed a model clean energy and water house for my 8th grade science project. I did my high school Chemistry project in measuring biodiesel yields from vegetable oils. Whole modules at university would cover different topics: sustainability, environmental engineering, separation technology and nuclear power. I worked at BP in their Ventures team for a summer, compiling and designing a list of new research into clean energy and carbon reduction to be considered for investing. I did my dissertation in antioxidant recovery from olive oil waste.

But alternative energy is a transition that must be made, and adequate funding and research needs to be allocated towards this if there is to be any transition at all.

If there’s anyone in my course who has had a background in energy and climate change, it’s me. I grew up in Singapore and Indonesia and Thailand, three developing economies smack dab in the middle of South East Asia. I don’t just have the scientific background and skill to understand climate change, but I have first-hand experience with it.

Let’s just say I know slightly more about climate change than President-elect Trump, who has lived his life in privilege I cannot ever relate to.

foam_yamuna

℅ Business Insider; Industrial waste creates crests of foam on the Yamuna River, while smog blanks out most of the cityscape in New Delhi. This was taken only a few days ago, and is a regular occurrence. The Yamuna is one of the most polluted rivers in the world. 4 of the top 10 most polluted cities are in India. Industrial cities.

American executives dismiss climate change with one hand, and fuel oil and coal companies with another. “If it doesn’t happen to me, it’s probably not real.” Now, I understand the importance of oil and coal. Believe me, I do. But alternative energy is a transition that must be made, and adequate funding and research needs to be allocated towards this if there is to be any transition at all. The world’s generators and engines run on oil, gas or coal. Retrofitting them to run on clean and sustainable energy will take time, policy and money, factors that have historically always been topics of great debate.

The COP21 was designed to do that very same thing. It was put in place so that smaller economies who could not afford to give up cheap coal and natural gas would get aid from countries that run almost entirely on clean energy. France and Germany, for example. It was supposed to ensure that corporations didn’t skirt environmental regulations and had corporate responsibility to treat and minimize waste. It was borne out of the urgency that the Earth’s temperature is rising with no possibility of going down without intervention.

The COP21 agreement was not drafted by just one person, it capitulated the estimations and findings of millions of scientists and engineers around the world. It allows governments to impose their own laws in their own ways instead of having one unified law like the Kyoto Protocol.

Almost every developing economy struggles with electricity and power in a world with rising demands and population.

So how on earth can climate change be a hoax? How would such a hoax even be engineered to involve 177 countries? How can the country that was the first to put men on the moon and undertakes pioneering scientific research also be the same country to have a government majority party that doesn’t believe in climate change? Anyone with an adequate science degree and half a brain for climate patterns and heat transfer mechanics can see that global warming is a real issue!

Climate change, like almost all policy issues in the United States, is now reduced to a fight of social class and race. In a wealthy economy, the weather outside doesn’t matter. You can just turn on your heater/AC and proceed with your day in relative comfort. When you cannot afford that, it becomes a luxury.

Almost every developing economy struggles with electricity and power in a world with rising demands and population. All you end up with is a country ravaged by drought and deluge in the same year (ahem, India). Deforestation doesn’t primarily happen in America. It happens in South America and the Congo basin and South East Asia. Fossil fuels are salvaged and burnt most significantly in populated and industrial economies like India and China. Factories are set up at alarming rates, skirting regulation and pumping out waste by paying workers minimum wage just so the masses in privileged cities can buy products. Beijing’s pollution and visibility levels have reached an unnerving all time high, causing Canada to send over packaged air like we’re in some dystopian movie. Delhi is set to follow suit. Summers are hotter and winters are colder as our planet attempts to balance out extremes that normally would have taken a few thousand years to materialize.

We’ve done all this in the last 200 years. What does it matter to the average upper class American then? Is it anything other than a vanity project? Why allocate funding to research and development into climate change when you can just pump it into the military or into oil?

℅ The Independent; Smog in Beijing reached red alert levels earlier this year, and children were told to stay at home. Factories had to be shut down and travel alerts were issued.

℅ The Independent; Smog in Beijing reached red alert levels earlier this year, and children were told to stay at home. Factories had to be shut down and travel alerts were issued.

Here’s a little analogy:

The Earth was a closed apartment of 4-5 people for about 5000 years. For the last 200 years, it’s been more like a party of 20-25 people. More people arrive every hour. Now, for this analogy to work, your electricity, water and food are finite sources. So you’re not really left with much energy to feed your party.

The air is getting warmer and warmer with the body heat of 25 people in a cramped apartment as well as a grill, an oven, and a stove. What’s more, your garbage sits in the corner decomposing.

Normally, you would have used as much energy you needed and would have slept at night to regulate the temperature. Your in-home compost would have been able to keep up with your waste. Your garden would have had time to produce enough food. In times when they weren’t being used, your water tank and electricity generator would have slowly refilled themselves.

But the 25 people in your party are now 30- 35- 40! You’ve run out of fresh water. You can’t pay the electricity bill. You can only hope that night will cool your apartment from the unbearable heat.

It works. Barely. Some heat is retained the next day, and more the day after. It builds up to such an extent that your garden’s dying, your fridge won’t work, your tanks are scarily low and your guests can’t cope.

The heat begins to spread disease, which is yet another problem to deal with on top of anything.

You chuck everyone out. Your apartment has a few days to stabilise, and everything is fine.

But you can’t exactly chuck a few billion people out of the planet (population control is a whole other issue of its own). All you can do is try to stop using so much energy and water. Switch off the grill and oven and stove. Make effort into being slightly more efficient and hope that with time, the temperature will go down and your resources will be replenished.

This is extremely crucial to people living on the Equator and at the Poles. Entire ecosystems depend on the delicate temperature balance on the Equator and the consistency of ice in the Arctic and Antarctic.  It’s easy to sit at home with all your appliances turned on and say that it doesn’t feel any different, but I bet it makes a whole lot of difference to that girl growing up in Jakarta, and the people who’ve spent their lives in Mexico City or Kuala Lumpur. These people can see the world change around them. Fisherman have to go out further to sea, farmers have increasingly volatile crop yields, those who make a living in ice-climates like Greenland and Alaska have reported a drastic change to the time of their grandparents.

℅ Tesla; Tesla's new solar roof tiles usher in a new age of innovation in clean energy, one that combines aesthetic with powerful technology, and can be a revolutionary force.

℅ Tesla; Tesla’s new solar roof tiles usher in a new age of innovation in clean energy, one that combines aesthetic with powerful technology, and can be a revolutionary force.

In 1952, when the Great Smog of London descended for 4 days, severe environmental laws and Clean Air Acts were implemented by Churchill and Eden to ban dirty fuels and black smoke.

In 2016, when China issues another red alert to the pollution levels and smog in Beijing, it creates a comprehensive plan on clean energy and curbing coal usage in the run up to COP21. It recognized that a 600km radius of Beijing consumed more coal than the entire United States and is slowly cutting down coal usage. China has installed more renewable energy mechanisms than Europe and the US combined.

In both these events, two superpowered countries had to concede and take a step towards a Clean Act because of an extreme and yet avoidable consequence.

And yet, to our soon-to-be President and some Republicans, global warming is a hoax created by the Chinese. By condemning science as a hoax, they are also condemning the lives of billions of people who desperately need a curb in pollution and access to sustainable energy. They are dooming thousands of species that depend on a microcosm of balance to extinction.

To the Republican candidate, this makes no difference, because the people first affected will be Asians, Latinos and Africans. To them, we’re just a mass of people, easily replaceable, our concerns easily forgotten. They pursue an agenda to please the masses of people trying to make America white and rich again.

The first people affected are those working in the factories, living in the cities that have cropped up around the outsourced industrial world, and the countries who primarily make a living on oil, gas, wood, and manufacturing. The first people affected are those in warmer climates ravaged by heatstroke and disease as their surroundings get too hot to bear. Their countries are changing too quickly to adapt to. The poorer are always the first to suffer. Climate change is no different.

℅ Ty Wright/ Bloomberg; A demonstrator holds a sign in protest of president-elect Donald Trump's position on climate change.

℅ Ty Wright/ Bloomberg;
A demonstrator holds a sign in protest of president-elect Donald Trump’s position on climate change.

Unfortunately for us, many economies of the world are profit-driven and lazy when it comes to substantial change. If America does drop out, it will create a sense of neglect and complacency that the world just cannot afford. The lives of billions of humans, and entire ecosystems depends on the actions of our past. While we were making some progress to combat this, it’s such an absolute shame to see one man at the head of an army of unconcerned individuals given the power to undo years of work.

It may well be like with London and Beijing. Will it take a crippling climate change event in America to open up their government to the problems posed carbon emissions? This outcome can easily be avoided with preventative measures.

It breaks my heart that I could have dedicated my entire life to the field and some idiot with no understanding of science can dismiss my expertise and my research to mumbo jumbo so easily.

I have to laugh at the absurdity of the whole situation. The American government once again believes itself superior to world, perhaps unaware that it is being laughed at all over the world for their scientific naivety when it comes to climate change.

All I can do is silently brace myself for the impact if Trump decides to pull out of COP21.

November 14, 2016

About Author

Keerthana Batchu Keerthana is a third-culture multilingual chemical engineer, trying to figure out how to survive in a corporate world AND reach as many people as possible. She also has no damn clue about the "cool" side of pop-culture, but she tries.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *