Andersen: A call for vigilance and activism
The day after the election I found my footing at 13,000 feet tromping through knee-deep snow across the Continental Divide. Taking in the new world order from the high ground was a good start to buoying heart and soul for what’s to come.
The future looks dim for any liberal-minded, ecologically sensitive, peace-loving American speculating on life in an Ayn Rand dystopia. Standing atop Blue Mountain and surveying a majestic expanse of cresting peaks in all directions, it became clear that despair is no solution.
That’s not easy to say at the advent of a new Tragedy of the Commons, with an especially grave threat to public lands, conservation and wilderness. More than ever, constant vigilance and smart activism must be alternatives to hurling oneself off the nearest cliff.
First, we need a realistic assessment of what the future holds starting in January when a tectonic shift occurs. As Aspen Institute president Walter Isaacson wrote last week, Trump’s election had the same impact as 9/11 — only it hasn’t yet happened. Let’s see what might be in store when it does.
President Trump is no friend to nature. Beauty in his eyes stands in shimmering glass and steel high-rise hotels and sprawling neon gambling casinos. Trump is a New Yorker, a city boy to whom Central Park is a howling wilderness.
President Trump is a climate change denier, as are many Republicans in the Congress they control. Red state voters deny it, too. Without American leadership on climate, the rest of the world may mire in futility, potentially setting back progress by 10 years.
President Trump will most likely support the privatization of certain public lands. How else to offset tax cuts and other deficits than to auction off America’s landscapes to the highest corporate and industrial bidders, including the Chinese.
President Trump may radically commercialize National Parks, offering concessionaires leasing rights to Yellowstone and the Grand Canyon. America’s “Greatest Idea” could become a cash cow blemished with lavish resorts and motorized attractions.
President Trump will push the Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management to ramp up sales on timber, metals, oil and gas. That means pushing new roads into roadless areas, removing protection for wilderness, and emasculating the Environmental Protection Agency.
The Trump administration will likely support state acquisition of federal lands, playing into the hands of Utah legislators wanting control over vast landscapes held in the trust of the American people. Utah and other states will cash in on these lands for their own expedient gains.
Motorized access to federal lands will get an immediate boost as hard-fought closures are lifted and the motor lobby is given free rein in sensitive, remote places. Since federal courts will be packed with right-wing judges, lawsuits and appeals from conservationists will be ignored.
It is hoped that moderate Republicans will side with Democrats on critical environmental issues — and on larger social issues — forming a reasonable center to balance the radical conservative fringe that will hold sway in Trump’s policies and mandates.
If that doesn’t happen, it will be up to caring citizens to pledge constant vigilance and foster smart activism to reinvigorate the enduring land-use values America has been cultivating since the federal government formed the first Forest Reserves in 1891, designated Yellowstone the first National Park in 1872, and made the Gila Wilderness the first statutory wilderness in 1924.
Given the stacking of the Trump deck, environmental battles will be hostile and protracted. But so were the struggles of the civil rights movement, the women’s movement and the early environmental movement. All have required strong, well-conceived, tireless strategies to advance the sound ethics, rationale and science behind them, always pushing against moneyed and parochial interests.
Now is not the time to jump ship for Canada, but to leverage democratic tools and principles, find strength through unity, and fight with heart and soul to protect sacred institutions and hallowed landscapes.
Liberal values are up against the ropes, so buck up, you tree-hugging peaceniks! Take a hike in the mountains and deserts and decide what you can do for your country — and for the world. The time for commitment is now!
Paul Andersen’s column appears on Mondays. He may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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