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Student climate activists brace for Trump

Image By: Ben Davis and Ben Davis

As last week’s election shock dissipates, climate change activists and policy professionals are coming to terms with a president-elect who rejects climate science as conspiracy and promises to roll back regulatory regimes and international agreements meant to curtail carbon emissions.

As anti-Trump student protests began at American universities last week, members of Climate Action 350, a student group dedicated to climate solutions, were protesting something entirely different.

Along with more than 50 other like-minded students, Lauren Peretz, a senior biology major, protested the Dakota Access Pipeline. To her and the other protestors, the pipeline, which cuts through sacred tribal land, is a continuation of the profit-driven developments that have caused climate change.

“Obviously any new fossil fuel infrastructure is not a good thing,” Peretz said.

Climate Action 350, which she co-chairs, plans to maintain this type of activism to resist what they see as an even broader existential threat to Earth’s climate: President-elect Donald Trump.

“We will do everything we can,” she said. “We will hold educational events and rallies. Being able to talk to people, that’s the best way to spread awareness.”

Despite their vow to fight on, they said Trump’s win offered a loud rejection of their cause. As one member blamed “evangelicals” who “think the world’s gonna end soon anyway,” Peretz assessed the setback.

“It really sucks,” she said. “Even if he’s only president for four years, we’re destroying the earth and it’s not going to be reversible.”

The effects of climate change have been prominent in the news for most UW System students throughout their lives. According to UW-Madison professor and climate policy expert Gregory Nemet, Trump’s presidency could finally tip the scales toward the bleak vision of rapid environmental damage that many fear.

“The two main policies implemented under [President Barack] Obama have been the Clean Power Plan, which regulates greenhouse gas emissions in the electricity sector, and the Paris Agreement,” Namet said. “196 countries agreed to reduce emissions to limit warming to two degrees celsius higher than pre-industrial levels. Pretty impressive.”

The Clean Power Act, however, long maligned by politicians like Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, could be reversed, prompting a new wave of coal power plant construction.

“We have coal plants in Madison that are 80, 90 years old,” Nemet said. “If we build more they’re going to be there for another 80 to 90 years.”

Additionally, Trump’s dismissal of the Paris Agreement, intended to transition the world from carbon, will reverse progress made in shaping market forces.

“One thing that is really important with climate policy are expectations,” Nemet said. “One of the striking things I noticed after the Paris agreement was that it became risky to have carbon as an asset. Banks were concerned about companies that depended on carbon emissions for large parts of their profit. My biggest concern is that all gets reversed.”

Not having Obama as an ally in the White House has made activists like Quinn Gavin, a sophomore biology and environmental science major, even more vigilant about the importance of not being complacent.

“[Trump’s victory] is obviously a big blow, but the only solution is to keep fighting,” Gavin said. “I was considering going into medicine but this election has reinvigorated my interest in the environment and has driven me toward that path again.”

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