Sustainability Column: A Presidential-Sized Problem

    As climate change continues to affect ecosystems and populations across the globe, the current United States government has started to distance itself from efforts towards mitigation and adaptation. Many people, including myself, are concerned about the future of sustainability in the aftermath of this election. In addition, many people are concerned, worried and angry about the hatred and oppression that seem to dominate President Trump’s first weeks in office. Like many others, I’ve been overwhelmed, and I struggle with what issues to worry about. Though I am an environmental studies major, the discussions surrounding climate change seep into the background as the more visible and prominent issues surrounding the well-being, comfort and safety of groups of people come to the forefront. Environmental and climate change policy seem to stay in the shadows, hidden from the mainstream world. But the relationship between environmental and social justice issues is now more relevant than ever.

    For example, let’s start with the term sustainability. It can be broken up into three pillars: environmental, economic and social sustainability. In analyzing these past couple of weeks, it seems as though all three aspects of sustainability remain largely unacknowledged by the new government. While these actual terms might not be in the president’s vocabulary, his actions have greatly affected each aspect of sustainability. One of the most obvious connections is between social sustainability and his executive order concerning immigration. Social sustainability as an idea revolves around equity, diversity and social cohesion. Based on this definition, Trump’s executive order clearly endangers our country’s social sustainability.

    But this executive order will not be environmentally sustainable either, since climate change effects have caused the emergence of climate refugees. Climate refugees are people who are forced to leave their home region due to sudden or long-term changes to their local environment, which compromise their well-being or secure livelihood. As climate change continues to affect various areas of the world, populations are forced to move. Droughts in Mexico, for example, impede agricultural and food systems, forcing people to migrate in order to continue working. As the effects of climate change worsen, the amount of climate refugees will increase. Often the countries most affected by these environmental changes are not the major nations who contribute the most to climate change. With this immigration policy in place, we see not only the disregard for refugees, but also the disregard for the effects of climate change.

    The connection between sustainability and various aspects of society is strong and something that should not be ignored. The question now becomes: why does it matter? It matters because those fighting for climate change can also be fighting for social justice. It is important to recognize the connections between these issues in order to stand in solidarity. It matters to understand the positionality and intersectionality on a global scale. While I often find it difficult to retain hope when reading about current politics, the interdependency of sustainability gives me strength. This relationship helps me to ground myself in these issues. Environmental and social problems are connected to each other, and, though they are different, it is important that we recognize this connection when discussing government policy.