More than 150 students, faculty and community members gathered Tuesday in Palmer Commons to hear five panelists address possible concerns regarding the future of environmental sustainability under President Donald J. Trump.
Panelists began by each giving a brief statement regarding the challenges environmental scientists and activists might anticipate under the new administration, including encouraging citizen education on issues related to natural sciences.
Trump has received criticism from environmental activists throughout his campaign because of his promotion of an increase in oil drilling and arguments that funding for the Environmental Protection Agency should be reduced or cut altogether.
However, Laura Rubin, executive director of the Huron River Watershed Council, argued that the idea of the president being the most productive section of government in regards to environmental care is a misconception. She explained the new administration in terms of the “sustainability spider web” analogy.
“You sort of have sustainability in the middle (of the spider web), and really when we understand that the role of the U.S. government and the president is one of those threads, and that there are so many other threads that hold that advancement on sustainability, that there are many parties that contribute to that,” Rubin said. “Many of them have been mentioned here, but especially the states, and a lot of our states have already been taking leadership on issues of climate, and energy, and transportation, wetlands and water.”
The panelists agreed, stating strong leadership from local and state levels will be crucial in the upcoming years. The University of Michigan has already begun making solid ground on these environmental issues, according to Rosina Bierbaum, professor of natural sciences and environmental policy, and in turn has helped contribute to overall goals on both state and national levels.
“I think we should be very proud of things that are taking place here at Michigan,” she said. “I’m very proud that sustainability is a big issue on this campus now, I’m very proud that President Schlissel has taken the national science and policy engagement committee’s report to identify ways that faculty can get more involved in government in Washington, and I’m very proud that the University of Michigan is part of the national data refuge project.”
After opening the floor to audience and moderator questions, the panelists discussed the issues some students looking to find careers in the environmental sciences might see in the coming years.
Dan Brown, interim dean of the School of Natural Resources and the Environment, asked about the recent announcement of the federal hiring freeze, and asked panelists to explain how students can respond to this possible shift in their career planning. The New York Times reported that the hiring freeze was announced on Monday. Trump signed an order calling for a halt on all public service jobs outside of those in national security, public safety and the military.
Molly Watters, a natural resources and environment graduate student, attended the panel with questions about a possible lack of opportunities after school.
“I think we’re all struggling to, you know, make sense of everything that’s going on,” she said. “I wanted to work for a federal land management agency after graduating and don’t know if that’s going to pan out … (I wanted) to hear what all of these smart academics have to say about it instead of whatever real or fake news I might find on my own.”
Erb Institute director Joe Arvai, professor of natural resources and environment and business, explained that, while federal government jobs may not be available, smaller, local positions could be beneficial.
“I think cities, states are going to be key, NGOs are going to be key, but also, throw business in the mix in a very diverse way, I don’t just mean the big multinationals, I mean any kind of business,” Arvai said. “If you go to the most unconventional places where you don’t think sustainability is at the cutting edge and try and make your impact there, everything you do will be huge.”
By the end of the discussion, panelists brought forth the importance of creating meaningful discussion about environmental concerns and having conversations with others to promote a more well-educated scope of activists.
Rackham student Leah Gerber agreed with the panelists providing information about the environment.
“At the end when they talked about engaging, he said, ‘engage, engage, engage,’ I think we really are going to have to change our daily lives,” she said. “You can’t just retreat you into your daily routine; we have to actively seek out and encourage each other to engage.”
Rackham student Alana Tucker said she believes environmental policies should not be a partisan issue.
“I think that communication of environmental sustainability and relaying that message as not a partisan issue is so, so critical coming from a very, very conservative state,” Tucker said. “I think just becoming more literate in learning how to communicate these topics is very important. … So not just thinking about engaging, but also thinking about who you’re engaging with is also really important.”