by Moses Viveros
When one is sworn in as President of the United States, one takes an oath to preserve, protect, and defend the Constitution of the United States to the best of their ability. The preamble to the Constitution is as follows:
We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more prefect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence [sic], promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.
The purpose of this document is not only to establish a just government, but to also protect the rights and liberties of American citizens. The well-being of the American citizen should always be a top priority for any individual holding a position in public office. When an elected official begin to take action that deviates away from this, that is when they violate the oath that they took when they were sworn into office.
The mission of the new administration that has taken office is to “Make America Great Again.” But given the proposed legislation and policy changes that are set to take place or have been signed in to law by executive order, it seems as though our new leaders are working to Make American Great Again for a select few. Cabinet appointees, Rex Tillerson, Scott Pruitt, and Rick Perry all have ties to the fossil fuel industry and have at one point or another, dismissed global climate change as pseudoscience. These individuals are also appointed to cabinet positions where they will directly be making decisions that can drastically affect our environment.
By appointing these individuals to their respective cabinet positions, our President elect has already violated an oath that he has taken only a couple of days ago by putting corporate interests before the needs and values of the American citizen. The new administration has waged a war against sustainability and conservation, a move that not puts the well-being of not only the American public, but the entire global population at risk.
Since taking office, the new presidential administration has undertaken several drastic measures that attempt to silence the scientific community from informing the public about global climate change, and has repealed or introduced policies that threaten the integrity of our planet. As Bill McKibbon reports, the President has even gone as far as to say that he was “‘To a large extent an environmentalist,’ but apparently his long participation in that movement had persuaded him that ‘environmentalism is out of control.’”
The reality of the situation, however, is not that “Environmentalism is out of control.” Environmentalism does not work to halt or slow down progress, but rather works to move it forward in an efficient manner. Environmentalism protects not only our planet, but the people who live on it and the resources that we use. The day that we deplete our fossil fuel sources is near and we need to prepare ourselves for that day. Halting and in some cases erasing the efforts of environmentalism does nothing but harm the progress that human race can make.
As someone who has dedicated my undergrad studies towards learning about environmental issues and what can be done to mitigate the effects of climate change, I have found it difficult to process and accept the change in leadership in our country. It seems as though years of environmental progress is just going to be wiped away, putting us back at square one.
We are in a position where we cannot afford to put more strain on our planet and its scarce resources. In 2016, average temperatures were 1.38 degrees celsius higher than what was experienced in the 19th century. This puts us dangerously close to the 1.5 degree Celsius limit that was agreed to in the Paris Climate accord. Any further global temperature increases will have devastating effects that include, but are not limited to, rising sea levels that threaten coastal cities and island nations, global food shortages, and an accelerated rate of extinction for many of the earth’s plant and animal species.
Knowing that all of these outcomes are plausible in the coming years is terrifying. But we don’t have to lay down and accept this as reality. If I have learned anything as a Sustainability Studies major at Roosevelt, it is that change does not come easily; but the persistence and dedication to challenge the status quo and push for change has the ability to bring about positive results. Time and time again, we have seen countless individuals and grassroots organizations stand up against the powers that try and shut them down to push for change.
This past year the battle that has been heard around the world is the push against the Dakota Access Pipeline. DAPL will be constructed over sacred land that historically belonged to the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe (Sioux territory protected under the 1851 Ft. Laramie Treaty; see map here). The tribe was never adequately consulted with during the planning process or prior to construction starting.
DAPL also has the ability to contaminate the water supplies for many should the pipeline leak. And there is a good chance that it will given that oil pipelines are notorious for leaking. The people fighting against DAPL thought they finally reached a victory when Former President Obama’s administration halted the construction of the pipeline pending an environmental review. Unfortunately, at the stroke of a pen, the current President allowed the pipeline to continue construction.
To many, this came as a crushing disappointment and an extremely disrespectful gesture toward the people who have been on the front lines fighting for months to stop this pipeline from being completed. It represents a blatant case of environmental racism, as well, since an earlier route for the pipeline that crossed the Missouri River just north of the mostly-white capital city of Bismarck, ND, was rejected in favor of the Cannon Ball River crossing just north of the Standing Rock reservation.
Fortunately, opponents of DAPL are not letting this most recent announcement discourage them from fighting against the voices that are attempting to silence them. Allison Renville, media consultant, activist, and member of the Lakota Nation, stated that “Not only do I have faith in God, but I have faith in my people,” she said. “On the ground, we’ve had 10,000 people come in and learn to be organizers, [and by] … taking courses in nonviolent direct action and learning to set up a camp, utilizing tools, they’ll be able to get anything accomplished.”
These next four years are not going to be easy. There will be moments when sustainability advocates will feel defeated and powerless. And that’s OK. But just remember, there are always people out there who will continue to fight with you and fight for you when you are at your weakest. You can create positive change in many ways that can range from engaging your community to come together and plant a community garden, calling your representative in government and letting them know how you feel about a certain policy, or even attending a protest or rally. There are many ways to have your voice be heard.
Do not let anyone silence you or tell you that you don’t matter. The reality of the situation is that you are stronger than you think you are and you have the ability to create positive change. Let’s look up to our brothers and sisters who continue to fight against DAPL and learn from them that with persistence and dedication, we can accomplish anything. Together, we can take care of mother earth and her people. As Former President Obama put it, “I’m still asking you to believe — not in my ability to bring about change, but in yours. I believe in change because I believe in you.”
Moses Viveros is a senior SUST major at Roosevelt University and the SUST Program’s Student Associate for 2016-17. As part of this work-study position, he is also serving as the assistant editor for the SUST at RU Blog this year.