Today, the Trump Administration announced that the United States is severing its commitment to the Paris Climate Treaty. While many will be rightfully pointing out the dire consequences of this move on international relations, the future of life as we know it and the lost economic leadership opportunity for America, it’s important to underscore what this decision really says about Trump’s promises to improve the lives of our families, friends and communities.
Despite insurmountable scientific evidence that we are in a climate crisis, President Trump continues to put climate polluters ahead of hardworking, American citizens, turning his back on communities bearing the brunt of the impacts of destructive industry and the costs of climate change. Many had hoped Trump would do more to support our communities—in fact he vowed to do just that.
This latest action shows just how out of touch he is with the realities of communities getting left behind in America.
Hundreds of coal-burning, electricity-generating units operate across the Southern US. At the same time, logging rates of forests in the Southeast—which suck up carbon pollution and provide critical flood control and stabilize fresh water supplies—are some of the highest in the world. This double whammy is not only contributing to climate change but also has serious negative impacts on our Southern communities health, well-being and economies.
Low income and people of color are disproportionately dealing with the impacts of pollution, forest destruction and climate change.
This is a reality that many in Congress as well as the President are ignoring.
Rural communities of the the Southeastern region alone were hit especially hard in 2016. Massive flooding in Louisiana last August resulted in 13 deaths with costs from property damage estimated as high at $15 billion. In September, Hurricane Matthew slammed across the entire Southeastern seaboard, killing 34 people with costs estimated at nearly $10 billion. These two extreme weather events turned out to be two of the five most costly natural disasters in the world of 2016. In North Carolina, Trump turned his back on many coastal communities in need of federal aid to help return back to their homes and rebuild their communities, which suffered damages estimated at $2.5 billion.
On top of the flooding, extreme drought conditions resulted in massive forest fires that spread across the South in October and November, taking down nearly 120,000 acres of forests across four Southern states. In Tennessee alone the fires were responsible for killing 14 people, injuring 134 and costing an estimated $6 million in damages. So in the four month period between August and September, more than 60 people died from extreme weather events in the Southern region of the US that cost over $30 billion dollars.
In addition to these extreme weather events, pollution from coal is deadly as well and carries a high price tag. In the coal fields of Southern Appalachia, the public health costs from coal pollution amount to a staggering $75 billion. And across the US coal pollution is linked to 13,000 deaths a year, with a high concentration of large coal burning power plants located in the Southeastern region.
Unless we take swift action to phase out fossil fuels, transition to clean energy like solar and wind and scale up the protection of forests, we can expect even more pollution and extreme weather events, threatening more lives and costing us even more. This latest move by Trump ignores the real health and economic impacts of climate change on our Southern communities, ironically the very communities he vowed to put first.
Investment in renewable energy and the protection and restoration of forests can help stabilize the climate, create jobs and provide economic stability for struggling rural communities.
Clean energy and forest protection can also make our communities safer and our families healthier, driving down rising health costs and mitigating costs associated with extreme weather events. These are real solutions for the times we live in.
Regardless of this administration’s attempt to block climate progress, communities across the South will continue to rise up, speak out, and take action. As local citizens speak up, local policy makers are taking action.
Just last month the Cities of Atlanta and Columbia, SC made bold commitments to advance clean energy over the next two decades. Last year, just after Hurricane Matthew, a number of local officials from across the South urged the EU government to stop burning trees as a fuel alternative to coal due to the impacts the EU wood pellet market is having on the forests of the Southeast, stating that “our Southern forests are one of our best defenses against natural disasters.” And these are just two examples, a tiny fraction, of the actions being taken at the local level.
Change will continue to happen from the ground up.
As Trump throws our communities under the bus for those that profit at the expense of the people, citizens will continue working hard at the local level, where the impacts are real, to push back new climate threats and to push forward solutions. In the end, climate change is not going away, but I suspect politicians who continue to put corporate interests above the health and well-being of their constituents will soon be gone.