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March 28, 2017

Today’s executive orders intended to hobble the Environmental Protection Agency and dismantle policies to phase out dirty energy, reduce greenhouse gas emissions, and address the climate crisis are a kick in the face to all of those who are being affected by climate impacts, who have worked tirelessly for global cooperation on climate action, and who care about matters of global justice.

Earlier this year, there were rumors that the Trump administration would attempt to withdraw from the Paris Climate Agreement, which creates a framework for global action to address climate change. Instead of withdrawing from the Paris Agreement, the Trump administration is attempting to kill all prospects of ambitious U.S. climate action by rolling back domestic climate policies. The Paris Agreement is built on individual national commitments to act on climate, and by undermining the U.S. commitment (which was already pathetically weak), the Trump administration undermines the entire global climate regime. And unfortunately, the Paris Agreement has no enforcement mechanisms, so the international community has no legal tools to punish the U.S. for these actions.

Even without an outright withdrawal from international cooperation on climate action, these executive orders amount to a toxic blend of the Trump administration’s ultranationalist “America First” foreign policy and its allegiance to corporate interests whose only interest in the environment is as a source of profit. Like so many of this administration’s actions to date, it is a direct threat to vulnerable and marginalized communities both in the United States and abroad.

Slashing climate action fits neatly into a worldview of a Trump administration that has shown a frightening tendency to authoritarianism. Not only does it cater to corporations and climate deniers, it also feeds into a vicious cycle of mistrust and intolerance that my ActionAid colleague Teresa Anderson sketched out earlier in the context of Brexit.

In short, increasing climate catastrophe around the world will result in greater social instability and climate-induced migration, giving Trump and the world’s other right-wing demagogues new excuses to build walls, divide people, suppress dissent, fan the flames of nationalist and other hatreds, and build increasingly autocratic regimes that feed on fear and protect a privileged few over everything else.

Gutting U.S. climate policies, therefore, must be seen as more than just a logical result of the Trump administration’s climate denial. It is part and parcel of the attacks we have seen on free and open democracy, on progressive internationalism, on vulnerable and marginalized communities, and yes, on the climate and environment. It fits perfectly into an overall agenda of reactionary nationalism that is the antithesis of everything organizations like ActionAid are working for.

One of the U.S. climate movement’s unofficial slogans for the past few years has been “to change everything, we need everyone.” The silver lining in these especially dark clouds is that mobilizing “everyone” is becoming easier and easier thanks to the Trump administration’s penchant for dramatic and catastrophically misguided action. At the end of the day, it may be that the unprecedented civic engagement we’re now seeing delivers us the decisive action for climate justice that we need. We will certainly be working to that end, because the alternative is almost too frightening to consider.