Donald Trump considers himself exceptional and, on this one thing, he’s absolutely correct. His gift for unprincipled pandering to exploitative greed has no peer. This week’s announcement that Trump wants to eliminate 85 percent of Bears Ears National Monument and half of Grand Staircase–Escalante National Monument is historically disgraceful. It would be by far the largest elimination of protected areas in U.S. history, and it would undercut the principle of permanent protection that underpins the security of all America’s wildlife refuges, national monuments, and national parks. If Trump succeeds in this action, it might be the worst act of vandalism ever committed on our public lands.
I say “might” because — unless something changes — the Republican tax bill that comes out of conference between the House and Senate could open the door to oil and gas drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, and that’s got to be a contender. And based on the yesterday’s news that Interior Secretary Zinke wants to shrink the borders of or reduce protections for eight additional monuments, the vandalism is just getting started. For anyone who cares about wilderness and our public lands, this past week made it easy to get discouraged. Don’t.
The moment for discouragement came and went a year ago, when Trump lost the popular vote but won the electoral college and his party kept control of Congress. Since then, the only productive responses have been persistence and resistance, and that doesn’t stop today. Trump’s attack on the national monuments and the Antiquities Act is almost certainly illegal, and the Sierra Club has joined with many others in taking the Trump administration to court. As for the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, there’s still time to pressure lawmakers to take it out of the tax bill (get out your phone and call 202–730–9006), and we have ways to keep fighting even if they don’t.
Looking down the road, we now are less than a year away from midterm elections that could dramatically alter the balance of power in Washington. Trump is already an extremely weak president with plunging approval ratings (he’s lost 12 points among Republicans since last spring) and a runaway scandal. And despite the astonishing hubris, incompetence, and greed of this administration and the Republican leadership in Congress, there’s little they can do that a more enlightened leadership cannot stop or reverse.
And looking even further down the road, let’s never forget that these vandals are striking out against a current of progress that in the end will certainly overwhelm them. Every other national government on the planet recognizes the importance of climate action. Any clear-eyed observer can see that the economics of clean energy are irresistible and its benefits are irrefutable. Just one of those many benefits is that no longer will we need to defend our public lands from the fossil fuel barons who want to plunder them.
We’re not there yet. And this week it might seem like we’re farther away than ever. Don’t believe it. Our resistance to specific attacks like this week’s will remain relentless. But all of the work we do — whether on committing to clean energy, fighting for public lands protection, or stopping dirty fuel development — is connected to our vision of that better future. And all of it brings us closer to realizing it… every day, every week, every year. What’s happened in the last few days doesn’t change that.