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Why Is Obama Optimistic about the Environment?

Jul 15 2017 Comments 0

It’s almost six months to the day since Donald Trump took office as the 45th President of the United States. In that time, he’s managed to undo a whole shedload of good work done by outgoing president Barack Obama, including withdrawing the US from the Paris climate agreement.

Despite this almost relentless negativity towards the future of our planet, Obama has still managed to react with positivity and optimism. Speaking at a Seoul conference organised by the South Korean media outfit Chosun Ilbo, Obama maintained that the agreement would be instrumental in averting the worst possible consequences of climate change.

A legacy undone

Even before his election win and subsequent inauguration, there were deep-rooted concerns that Trump would prioritise economic growth and corporate prosperity above safeguarding the environment. Prior to taking office, Trump repeatedly stated on Twitter and elsewhere that he believed global warming to be a hoax engineered by the Chinese to harm US industry (a position he later denied ever having taken, despite documented evidence to the contrary).

Though it’s too early to say whether Trump has officially undone all of Obama's good work, he’s certainly done his level back to roll back many of the reforms his predecessor had been put in place. He’s okayed the controversial Keystone XL pipeline and overseen the construction of the Dakota pipeline, as well as expanded offshore drilling activities and further opened the door to fracking. He’s relaxed legislation allowing the discharge of mining waste into streams and rivers, reallowed the use of lead bullets in hunting and even taken steps to abolish the Environmental Protection Agency altogether.

However, arguably his most threatening move has been to withdraw the US from the proposals agreed upon by 196 of the world’s nations in December 2015. The only two other nations which have refused to sign the agreement are Syria, which is in the midst of an incredibly turbulent civil war, and Nicaragua, which abstained in protest at the belief that the agreement didn’t go far enough.

Hope springs eternal

Despite these discouraging signs, former president Obama has remained tactful and buoyant about the future of our planet. Before addressing concerns about South Korea’s volatile neighbour to the north, Obama made a small comment how the Paris agreement will help share the future of our climate, paying particular attention to his own country’s recent responses.

“The Paris agreement, even with the temporary absence of US leadership, will still be a critical factor in helping our children solve the enormous challenge in civilization,” he told the conference. The positive words hark back to his initial reaction to the White House’s announcement it would be leaving the Paris accord back in June.

At the time, Obama again focused on the positives instead of dwelling on the immediate negatives: “Even in the absence of American leadership; even as this Administration joins a small handful of nations that reject the future; I’m confident that our states, cities, and businesses will step up and do even more to lead the way, and help protect for future generations the one planet we’ve got.”

Indeed, there is much cause for optimism still; not everyone in the US agrees with Trump’s outlook on the environment and many cities and states have maintained their focus on the goals outlined at the Paris accord. Furthermore, as Obama himself highlighted, this absence of US leadership is likely to only be temporary. Hopefully our planet will withstand Trump’s reckless behaviour well enough to weather the changing of the guard.  

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