Video and text by TIM FAULKNER/ecoRI News staff
PROVIDENCE — The day after Donald Trump’s surprise election win, the mood among environmentalists was, as expected, glum.
During his campaign, Trump, a climate-change denier and fossil-fuel proponent, vowed to withdraw from global climate treaties and neuter the Environmental Protection Agency. All told, his candidacy was considered a colossal threat to the biosphere.
Now that he’s two months away from taking office, it’s mostly guesswork as to which of Trump’s grand proclamations of environmental ruin will become reality.
Nationally, environmentalists expect that, at least, the goal of limiting temperature rise to 2 degrees is a lost cause, as is limiting atmospheric carbon dioxide to less than 400 parts per million.
To deal with their anxiety, environmental groups such as 350.org are encouraging environmentalists to partake in peaceful protesting. The National Resources Defense Council hosted a conference call for the aggrieved Nov. 10 titled “Defending Our Environment from the Trump Presidency.”
The consensus response from local government officials is to embrace autonomy.
“(Trump's win) puts an even greater burden on states to take action and be creative,” Gov. Gina Raimondo said during a Nov. 9 meeting of the Rhode Island climate council.
Raimondo received an update on Rhode Island’s long-term emissions-reduction plan. She and agency and department officials gave no indication of changing course on climate adaptation and mitigation efforts.
Raimondo said it's not known what Trump will do with President Obama’s Climate Action Plan. But Trump’s unexpected victory creates urgency to move forward with local initiatives, she added.
“Norms change in times of crisis, and I do believe we are facing a climate-change crisis, so we do have to get people to take action,” Raimondo said.
The governor confirmed that she isn't changing her neutral-to-favorable position on the proposed fossil-fuel power plant in Burrillville, a project that would be the state’s largest emitter of greenhouse gases.
Janet Coit, director of the Rhode Island Department of Environmental Management, told ecoRI News that Trump’s victory was sobering. “It means we have to work all the harder.”
Fortunately, Rhode Island is surrounded by states with shared regional and local environmental goals, Coit said.
If federal support and guidance declines, she said, “Now we have to stop, regroup and guess that the leadership will have to come from the state level. I guess we have to look to ourselves more.”
Ken Payne, chair of state renewable energy committee, as well as food and farm programs, said the election means that progress on these issues will not only have to come from the state, but from communities and neighborhoods. Before the election, he and Brown University professor J. Timmons Roberts announced plans to launch a new, non-government affiliated group to advance green initiatives.
Roberts wasn't at the recent climate council meeting; he's in Morocco with students researching the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change negotiations.
In an article for Climate Home, he echoed the wait-and-see refrain put forth by environmental experts who wonder if the country and climate policy will be governed by Trump the negotiator or Trump the tyrant.
“So which Trump will govern? There is cause for both hope and fear,” Roberts wrote.
To others, fear caused by the election affirms reality. Morgan Victor of the Pawtucket-based environmental activist group The FANG Collective, said Trump’s win is evidence of American ongoing legacy of colonialism and slavery.
“It’s a reality that white supremacy runs in this country both overtly and covertly,” Victor said.
The Providence resident and member of the Wampanoag tribe participated in the ongoing Standing Rock Sioux pipeline protests taking place in North Dakota.
Having Trump in office will justify more attacks against indigenous groups and their land, Victor said.
“It’s scary. I hope it wakes people up, especially white people, to take care of the ones they love,” she said.