Environment Column

Obama, at least you tried to be our environment’s hero

Thousands of species are going extinct at a faster rate than that of the dinosaurs. Sea levels are expected to put Miami, New Orleans and New York City underwater by 2100. Due to increasing storms of similar levels to Hurricane Katrina, the United States will spend billions of dollars in damages from natural disasters every year.

All of this is directly linked to widely unregulated, harmful practices committed by corporations. Looking back over the course of his time in office as the country approaches Inauguration Day, President Barack Obama made it one of his administration’s missions to stop this cycle of havoc.

Over the last eight years, Obama fought the influence of big companies on Capitol Hill to accomplish groundbreaking legislation. In what is considered to be his most immediate influential action on climate change, Obama used the 1906 Antiquities Act a total of 29 times — more than any other president. This law allows the president to declare federal lands as national monuments, protecting them from potential harm and environmental degradation.

In an effort to stop the poisoning of marine life, Obama signed a law banning poisonous and insoluble microbeads in skin products and toothpaste. His other accomplishments included launching and proposing clean water initiatives, initiating an agreement among automotive corporations to increase gas milage and signing the Paris Agreement, which requires nations to cut carbon emissions by 2100, limiting global warming to 2 degrees Celsius.

It’s even more impressive that most of this change began during the political gridlock of his second term. What is clear is that Obama fought to save our planet, and what is unclear is why the Republican Party fought him on this.

“I cannot say what’s behind the Democratic-Republican split regarding the environment,” said Peter Castro, an associate professor of anthropology at Syracuse University’s Maxwell School of Citizenship and Public Affairs. “In some ways I perceive it mainly as a phenomenon whipped up by the news media, with the parties going along with it as a way of mobilizing supporters.”

In the midst of the most polarized government the U.S. has ever seen, Obama persevered against the corporate big dogs. Despite the Pew Research Center’s study that 74 percent of Americans support environmental justice, Republicans and their friends on Wall Street sought their own best interest and opposed the president’s efforts.

Castro added that the Republican opposition to environmental issues such as climate change and sustainability “is supposed to be a reflection of business interests.”

Obama’s two biggest environmental deals that shook up the business world are the Paris Agreement and the Clean Air Act. These legal initiatives force corporations to transition into a sustainable future, which created conflict since the corporations have to fit this change into their budget, and going green means change.

But the president was right to enforce these laws, because his sole duty is to help and protect the American people. According to a recent study using ecosystem valuation published in The National Academies Press, Earth produces about $33 trillion worth of services to the American people. If these natural processes are disrupted, we will be the ones that pay. Due to the gridlock during Obama’s administration, future generations will be forced to deal with climate-induced illnesses, global warming refugees and natural disasters far beyond repair.

Although the president’s heart was in the right place, his efforts have not been fully realized. It is the inconvenient truth that Obama’s legacy would have made an impact if it were made 60 years ago. His Clean Power Plan will not be in full action until 2030, and the Paris Agreement does not require nations to make complete change for another 83 years. This is pointless, considering carbon emissions released in the air 50 years ago are only taking effect now. That means that every carbon molecule that has been released since is still in the atmosphere, yet to affect Earth. Our planet is changing at a faster rate than we can adjust to, and the personal interests of our government have restricted Obama’s endeavors.

Obama has set the tone for the change that needs to be made. Although the Electoral College failed us in November, Obama utilized the gray area in the U.S. Constitution for the better. Now, we must fight back against President-elect Donald Trump’s anti-environment administration to continue Obama’s legacy.

Lydia Niles is a freshman public relations major with minors in environment and society and political science. Her column appears weekly. She can be reached at lnilesst@syr.edu and followed on Twitter @Lydia__Niles.

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