Donald Trump’s Plan For Energy Independence, and What it Means for Climate Change

We are all aboard for a new and potentially challenging journey for America and the planet. With Donald Trump as the 45th president of the United States, it seems like all that can be agreed upon is that things are going to be very different for the next four years.

After the White House’s first busy months, we are all waiting with bated breath to see his policy changes and their results. Will Trump “make America great again,” or will his changes come with dire consequences, intended or not? As an NYC-based real estate entrepreneur myself, it will certainly be interesting to see how things unfold.

One of the big issues in America—though not necessarily for the Trump administration—is climate change, and for New York, this could ultimately be the difference between dry, sturdy coastal developments and severe flood damage. For others, like Trump, energy independence takes priority for its ability to provide jobs and reduce dependence on foreign resources.

It’s no surprise, then, that everyone from oil executives to environmentalists will have a stake in Donald Trump’s plan for energy independence. So I’ve taken it upon myself to boil down what exactly what the plan is, and what it could mean for climate change.

The Energy Plan

On March 28, Donald Trump signed an executive order that, among other things, initiated a review of the Clean Power Plan, rescinded a moratorium on coal mining on US federal lands, urged federal agencies to identify “identify all regulations, all rules, all policies … that serve as obstacles and impediments to American energy independence,” and rescinded at least six Obama-era executive orders aimed at curbing climate change.

As new details and initiatives emerge, one thing is certain: The Trump Administration is committed to unleashing the potential of American energy. For Trump, American energy dominance is a “strategic economic and foreign policy goal.”

Here’s what else we know at the moment about what the Trump administration aims to do:

According to the White House, better energy policies will stimulate the economy and bring vast new wealth to the people. They will ensure our national security and protect our health. Only time will tell if this goal can be achieved in reality.

What the Trump administration thinks about climate change

Donald Trump has stepped back from his previous assertion that climate change is a hoax invented by the Chinese (he claimed it was a joke), and some do think that Trump believes more about climate change than he says. Still, the Trump administration’s energy has many worried about long-term negative implications to the environment.

Perhaps most important to consider is the confirmation of Scott Pruitt as leader of the EPA. This could be taken as a sign that the administration is out of step with what mainstream science is saying about the issue.

Scott Pruitt, considered by many scientists to be a skeptic of climate change, has admitted that science tells us that the climate is changing. But he says the level to which humans are impacting that change is not clear.

As Pruitt says, “The ability to measure and pursue the degree and the extent of that impact and what to do about it are subject to continuing debate and dialogue.”

This doesn’t really provide a clear answer of what Pruitt—or the administration that nominated him—will do specifically. But this line of thinking is out of step with what the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) asserts about 2016 being the hottest year on record: human activity is to blame for the heat.  

What Donald Trump’s plan means for climate change

Since Trump has made clear he will get rid of certain regulations, it’s probably best to start by looking at what impact that will have. As his March executive order made clear, the dismantling of Obama-era policies has begun. Other climate policies Trump plans to end include:

  • Waters of the United States
  • Climate Action Plan
    • What it does: The Climate Action Plan establishes a comprehensive strategy to guide efforts for climate change mitigation. Main goals are to cut carbon dioxide emissions, prepare the US for climate change impacts, and lead international initiatives to address climate change.
    • Why the Trump Administration will repeal it: Again, those that don’t agree with this rule see it as overly burdensome, unnecessary, and/or making Americans poorer. To the Trump administration, repealing it can stimulate business in all sorts of sectors, from energy and agriculture to manufacturing.
    • Dangers of a repeal: Too much carbon dioxide in the air is mainly what’s driving global warming. Lifting restrictions on the emission of greenhouse gasses could lead to severe environmental consequences. The United States is the second largest contributor of heat-trapping gasses, and not making efforts to reduce CO2 emissions could greatly (and negatively) impact the entire earth.

In addition to repealing these two environmental regulations, Donald Trump plans to withdraw from the Paris Agreement, a comprehensive global climate deal that aims at climate change mitigation and mobilizing the world’s leading nations to find ways to solve the challenges we’ll face tomorrow. The Paris Agreement was signed by both the United States and China (the world’s greatest contributor of heat-trapping gasses), and was hailed as a breakthrough in the fight against climate change.

If Trump withdraws America from the Paris Agreement, much momentum in that fight to save the environment will be lost. Since the United States is a leader in the global arena, there is also risk that other countries will follow—which would greatly hinder worldwide efforts to solve key climate change concerns of today and tomorrow.

Climate change initiatives under Donald Trump

The Trump administration is focused on lifting regulations so that the economic benefits of energy can be fully realized. Exactly how Donald Trump will address climate change hasn’t been covered extensively, but the administration does say it is committed to “protecting clean air and clean water, conserving our natural habitats, and preserving our natural reserves and resources.”

But many don’t believe the administration is committed to protecting the environment, as we’ve only really gotten details about how deregulation will unleash the potential of American energy. If lifting restrictions remains the top focus going forward (and no substantial efforts to address climate change challenges are made), the issues we face concerning the environment will at best be put to the side and at worst be greatly exacerbated during the Trump administration.

By |2018-10-31T18:18:22+00:00June 18th, 2017|Current Events|

How Minecraft Democratizes Urban Design

There’s a reason young people love Minecraft. Called a “sandbox” video game, Minecraft is a blank slate that enables players to build brand new worlds using only building blocks and the contents of their imagination, then take on three-dimensional adventures from there.

If this sounds like paradise for the future architect or urban planner, you’re not the only one that thinks so. The United Nations’ Block by Block program operates based on the notion that, since urban planning is a community effort, community members young and old can take part in public redesign projects. According to their website, Block by Block uses Minecraft as “a community participation tool in urban design and fund the implementation of public space projects all over the world, with a focus on poor communities in developing countries.”

The beauty of Minecraft, in this regard, is its ease of use. Young people with big imaginations take to it easily, but so can adults, whether or not they are familiar with similar software. In Haiti, for example, a group of fishermen with no computer experience—let alone reading or writing—successfully designed a seawall to prevent flooding at Place de la Paix, complete with public toilets, and presented it to architects.

Block by Block is a partnership between Mojang, Minecraft’s maker, and UN-Habitat, the UN’s program for sustainable cities. UN-Habitat is determined to upgrade 300 public spaces in the next three years with its Global Public Space Program, of which Block by Block is a part.

Democratizing Urban Planning

With cities and public places specifically, a democratic, collaborative approach makes sense— because it’s something everyone has a stake in, and which everyone will use and share.

Public spaces include parks, marketplaces, and public squares; they are the shared areas where people are free to walk, relax, and mingle. Public space adds to the health of a city, and in developing countries can make a huge difference since foot traffic stimulates economic growth.

New York City has made public space a priority (in fact it’s currently comprised of 60% public space). Other cities can take this example to expand public places with the input of locals. Technology like Minecraft is one way to get the public engaged and involved in planning the future of the communities they live, work, and entertain themselves in.

According to the Guardian, “Governments are…waking up to the idea that the public are not only users, but also a powerful resource – and that engaging them online is easier than ever before.” Technology like Minecraft is one way communities can be a force for change in their own neighborhoods.

More generally, tech and new media are providing tools for the public to offer up ideas, point out issues, and connect to advocate for collective needs. From apps, to crowdsourcing platforms, social media and augmented reality, emerging new media and digital technologies invite the public to take part without significant limitations. In other words, innovation levels the playing field.

Minecraft and Beyond

Minecraft is unique in its appeal to younger individuals, and its ability to gamify urban planning, making it attractive to a wide range of people regardless of experience level. With Block by Block, citizen players, architects, and government workers can walk around the virtual space and make important decisions together. In this way, it truly democratizes the important job of urban design.

But Minecraft is far from the only technology opening urban planning to the public. There’s Zooniverse, an online platform that organizations can use to launch citizen science projects, and the US National Archives’ Citizen Archive dashboard, which lets citizens transcribe and digitize handwritten documents. Then there are more city-specific projects like FixMyStreet, which lets locals flag problems in their neighborhood digitally.

According to the Guardian, “It’s examples like these, where governments use technology to bring communities together, that demonstrates the benefit of embracing innovation.”

Indeed, the mutual benefits are clear when citizens get involved in public efforts to improve either specific communities or society at large. As the saying goes, many hands make little work. Well, many blocks can make big, monumental changes. Perhaps the urban planners of the future will look back and wonder how and why it was done any other way. 

By |2018-10-31T18:13:55+00:00May 1st, 2017|Culture, Current Events, Technology, Urban Planning|

The Trump Administration’s Impending Pipeline and Protest Boom

When the Obama administration vetoed continuation of the Keystone Pipeline after months of passionate protests, it looked like American oil and natural gas pipeline builders were in trouble. The victory of the Dakota tribes and their supporters was unquestionably a triumph for the anti-pipeline movement.

Of course, that now seems like a lifetime ago. With Donald Trump in the White House, it’s already looking like the regulatory environment is going to swing even further into the pro-business camp, which almost certainly means more pipelines, which will mean more protests.

Once thought to be getting close to its peak, the oil production industry in the United States has boomed over the past decade. New methods of searching and extraction, along with President Obama’s lifting of a restriction on the exportation of oil have led to a surge nationwide, especially in the upper and far midwest where oil and natural gas “boomtowns” resembling those of the late 19th century have popped up across the landscape.

The Keystone XL veto may turn out to be merely a small obstacle to the huge continuation of oil production and development in the United States. Already, there are many new pipeline projects that will be under the purview of the Trump administration, totaling well over $10 billion dollars in building costs. The new president has shown no hint that he’ll slow the progression of these lines in any way, but several nascent and long-running protest movements will be present to make their voices heard.

The Water is Life Movement, one of the more prominent organizations devoted to fighting all pipelines and extensions, oversees a national network of protestors and provides resources and information to spread their message. Their website maintains a running list of all current and upcoming oil and natural gas pipelines and allows visitors to look up where their local opposition branches meet. As seen in the Standing Rock protests, these actions have the capability to capture the nation’s attention for weeks at a time.  

Protesters have not wasted any time in getting involved in demonstrating against the new pipelines. Mass gatherings in Washington, D.C., Memphis, TN, rural Pennsylvania, and Albany, NY to name a few have gotten notable media attention, and they are just the tip of the iceberg. Journalists following the movement closely are certain that the anti-pipeline message is spreading. It’s not unreasonable to suppose, as NPR’s Jeff Brady does, that the fact that we now have a vehemently pro-business president in the White House is leading more and more citizens to join the opposition. It’s often looked at as one of, if not the only options.

It’s not just the potential environmental issues that have protestors angry. The Keystone XL project, as well as other pipelines, appear poised to utilize the always-controversial eminent domain in their projects. Pro-pipeline state governments do have the power to seize private land, but the potential for public pushback is sizeable, especially if it’s perceived as the government taking private citizen’s property for a private corporation’s benefit. However, it’s already underway in Montana and South Dakota, and pending approval in Nebraska. The protest movement is poised to make their voices heard on this issue, as well.

President Trump certainly has his work cut out for him. The oil and natural gas industries in this country are among the most massive and powerful corporate concerns in the country. With their lobbying power now combined, they’ll hold a great deal of sway over federal and state legislatures. This power seems to only embolden the protest movement, and bolster its numbers with more and more concerned citizens. Time will tell on how the administration deals with these two opposing forces.

By |2018-10-31T18:12:36+00:00April 10th, 2017|Culture, Current Events|