What Will Change: Bhawani Venkataraman on Evidence-Based Environmental Policies
The next four years will prove to be unprecedented in the roll-back and dismantling of environmental protections. In our new series, What Will Change, Tishman Center Affiliated Faculty reflect on the environmental and social justice impacts of the election results from the perspectives of their research, practice, and passion.
By: Bhawni Venkataraman
President Obama’s environmental agenda is focused on ensuring the planet’s health for current and future generations. He pushed forward the Clean Power Plan as a path towards addressing climate change and his administration was instrumental, along with the international community, in ratifying the Paris Agreement. However, Donald Trump believes that climate change is a hoax, has threatened to pull the US out of the Paris Agreement, and to vastly underfund the EPA. He has appointed Myron Ebell to head the EPA Transition team. Ebell is a climate change denier and supports increased use of fossil fuels for the country’s energy needs. It’s not just about climate change, but that the very measures that have been put into place in the US through Congressional Acts (like the Clean Air Act, Clean Water Act, Safe Drinking Water Act) regulated under the EPA are also potentially threatened. It will not be easy to entirely scrap these Acts, but the fear is reduced funding and support for the EPA. Absent well-funded environmental agencies and robust funding for scientific research to enhance our understanding of environmental issues, will backtrack all the progress made in areas such as improving air and water quality, and increasing renewable energies and energy efficiency as part of the country’s energy portfolio. This has huge consequences on the health of all citizens – with greatest impacts on marginalized communities. The catastrophe in Flint, MI was triggered by supposed “money saving” measures without any understanding of the ease with which water gets contaminated and the importance of vigilance in complying with drinking water regulations.As students we can educate ourselves on the significance of evidence-based environmental policies. Studies have clearly shown that investments in environmental regulations are realized many fold – improving human and ecosystem health and economic benefits for all. Take courses which help you understand the evidence for why climate change is not a hoax, why fossil fuels pollute our atmosphere and water, why ensuring safe drinking water for all is essential for human and economic development – and not just accept these as obvious because you were told so. So when you encounter people who do not recognize the significance of environmental policies and regulations on our health and economies you can clearly explain the evidence of why these are real issues that threaten our lives – not just into the future, but right now.As citizens we need to become involved in local and state elections ensuring that we know the positions of individuals standing for office and make sure we vote including in mid-term elections. In fact, here is where real change on climate change has been happening. For example, recently California, Massachusetts and New York all passed energy bills aimed at significantly increasing the contributions from renewable energies to their energy portfolios. Their combined GDPs place them as the fourth largest in the world. We need to continue and support these efforts at the local and state levels. Get involved, get informed, and go vote.Bhawani Venkataraman is an Associate Professor of Chemistry at the Eugene Lang College.