Photograph by Ian D. Keating
Dear Mr. President,
This letter feels unimportant in comparison to the one recently gifted to you by the Pope: a nearly 200-page document engaging the truth that is climate change and proposing the unprecedented idea that science and religion might work together to strike a balance in maintaining the natural world. What a brave gesture. In this, the pope recognizes that prayer alone will not be enough to protect our environment. It takes a synchronized community.
The relationship that many Christians hold with church strongly correlates with the bond between outdoorsmen and the earth. For me, the act of prayer can be as centering, humbling, and rewarding as climbing a rock face or hiking a ridge line. The community that is brought together under a shared love of God holds little contrast to the community that reveres the natural world and seeks to explore it together. We are all bound by the fact that we believe, deeply, in something greater than us, whether that is God or whether that is the Earth, or whether it is both. Pope Francis holds a beautiful, poignant hope.
I find your rhetoric often creates “others” out of those who do not hold the same values as you (though it often remains unclear as to what, exactly, you value). Pope Francis suggests the opposite: that there is a chance at collaboration, at recognizing that we are not so different after all. To protect the environment is to protect God’s creations, and that is an act of love.
The Pope’s letter, undoubtedly, is a proactive, thoughtful attempt to prevent you from dropping out of the Paris Agreement. But its meaning should extend farther than that. This is not just a global issue. It is, at its core, an American issue.
America lags behind the rest of the developed world when it comes to energy efficiency. Europe and Scandinavia have consistently created less waste and strengthened their standards for energy efficiency. The EU’s Europe 2020 plan will have every member country operating on a minimum of 20% renewable energy by 2020. Sweden is on track to be fully clean-powered by 2040, while Denmark has set 2050 as their realistic goal.
China and India, too, are becoming leaders in sustainability. China recently dedicated $360 billion to switching to renewable energies through 2020, and has allocated another $14.5 billion to help workers that have been displaced by these changes find new jobs. India, meanwhile, is rapidly becoming the center of the solar energy market.
Iceland, however, is undoubtedly the world leader in terms of sustainability. They will successfully be run completely on clean energy by 2020, largely in debt to their unmatched dedication to the under-studied hydrogen power as a resource.
So where does the U.S. stand in comparison?
The U.S. has experienced steady growth in the renewable market, but our efforts do not yet compare to those of the countries above. Just 15% of our domestically produced electricity is renewable. Only 1% of that power comes from solar energy, arguably the most efficient source. We have an 85% gap to fill until we are fully powered by clean energy.
States such as California are working to reduce their carbon footprint by changing over to renewable energies (California is now run on 80% renewable energy as of this year), requiring lower vehicle emissions, and banning items such as plastic bags. States like Louisiana and Texas, meanwhile, lag far behind in introducing strong, environmentally friendly legislation. The gap between these efforts is a federal issue that needs to be addressed.
I believe, also, that part of protecting the environment comes with respecting it. Your proposal to rollback protections on national monuments would open them up for drilling, fracking, and mining: destructive power sources that will soon be considered obsolete. I recall driving from Albuquerque to Philadelphia last November, and listening to the election on NPR as I passed through the Texas panhandle. I was not supremely fearful of having you as our leader. Now, however, you intend to allow Secretary Zinke to modify and downsize several public lands, most notably the newly-protected Bears Ears monument (land that was specially protected at the request of Native peoples) and that scares me.
I want you to take the Pope’s letter to heart. Commit to switching to renewables and to making America a leader in the sustainable world. From a business perspective, your inability to see the market potential in the clean energy fields is shocking. An excellent way to bring jobs to America, promote a healthy agenda, and capitalize on the economic wealth of this field would be to dedicate efforts toward consistently improving and creating green technologies.
With all of this in mind, here is what I ask of you:
- Stay in the Paris Agreement. It will be expensive. It will promise a healthy future for our planet and our kids. Dropping out will only create more enemies and put us at greater risk.
- Mandate clean energy legislation at a federal level. There is no room to fall behind anymore. Inconsistency will create even greater rifts amongst voter pools.
- Dedicate research to the potential use of hydrogen power. Create more jobs by guaranteeing the employment of greater wind, solar, hydro and geothermal infrastructures. Set a goal to achieve 100% clean energy efficiency.
- And finally, don’t rollback protections on public lands under the Antiquities Act. These lands are my church and, as an American, I expect to maintain my freedom of religion.