President Trump’s third State of the Union Address delivered Tuesday was just as much a re-election campaign speech as it was an address to our nation’s current state. In the SOTU address, Trump highlighted what his administration has done, and what he hopes to do in the future. In contrast to President Trump’s off-the-cuff rally speeches, the SOTU took on a much more polished, inclusive and endearing tone – most likely in an attempt to reach undecided voters.
Amid talking points including healthcare reform, prison reform, unemployment and the economy, Trump spared about 40 words out of his 5879-word speech to speak to the topic of the environment. In his incredibly short report on a much larger issue, Trump touted that the United States would join the “One Trillion Trees Initiative” in order to “protect the environment.” Once again, President Trump spoke on the environment without even saying the words “climate change.”
Admittedly, this is a step forward – however small it is – for the Trump Administration and other Republicans. Republican House of Representatives member Jeff Fortenberry centered one of his weekly emails on the Trillion Trees Initiative, in which he actually did mention the phrase “climate change” (although his preferred phrase is “climate volatility”). Regardless of phrasing, the fact is that if Trump supports something, so do Republican lawmakers. If Trump supports the Trillion Trees Initiative, so do his followers. The question then becomes “Will this initiative work, and will it bring about enough change to combat our climate crisis?”
The simple answer is no. Yes, planting a large number of trees would help to capture a large amount of carbon in our atmosphere. A study published by Science claims that an extra 0.9 Billion hectares of canopy cover could store 205 gigatons of carbon and has the ability to capture more than a third of all greenhouse gases released by humans since the industrial revolution. If this amount of canopy cover was a reality, we would most likely not have a climate crisis on our hands. Unfortunately, this version of Earth is still far off.
The biggest reason that simply planting one trillion trees worldwide will not work to combat climate change is that we do not have the time. It could take up to 100 years (if we plant all one trillion today) for the trees to mature enough to reach the levels of carbon capture we need to reverse our effects. Also, if we continue to rely on fossil fuels and allow corporations to emit greenhouse gasses into the air it is going to become harder for trees to grow.
We know where we are headed if we don’t take immediate action – in fact, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) released a detailed report on it in 2018. We have already seen effects such as warming, drought, wildfires and natural disasters recently. These events will become more and more common, all of which will make it harder to grow large plots of trees.
So should we even bother planting trees? Absolutely. Trees are one of the most powerful tools to help us in our fight against climate change. However, we also need to cut back on fossil fuel use and pollution fast. And that’s the irony – Trump proclaims that he is working to protect the environment by planting trees while simultaneously striking down environmental regulations.
The most frustrating thing is that the environment has been turned into such a partisan issue even though it should transcend all political parties as it affects all people equally. But the Democratic party seems to be the only party willing to incorporate environmental protections into their legislations and platforms.
It’s clear that Trump understands the fact that many young Americans will vote for environmental protection platforms. Perhaps the president believed that if he agreed to this Trillion Trees initiative, he could sway some young people over to the Trump camp. However, young people today are strong in their political beliefs and will not waver. Young people must stay strong in their beliefs and vote for whichever politicians are willing to propose real solutions to climate change, regardless of party.
The Republican party needs to adapt. As our earth continues to be affected by climate change, more people will call for political action to fight it. Hopefully a handful of right-wing politicians can step out of the bounds of their party and begin lobbying for environmental protection. The time is now for American lawmakers to come together to fight this common cause.