At the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, in front of global business leaders, President Donald Trump last week made a bold announcement, unlike anything his administration has committed to thus far. The United States is now set to participate in the forum’s “One Trillion Trees Initiative,” which aims to offset carbon emissions and rebuild and sustain forests worldwide.
And why not a trillion trees? You could see how such a big, clear number would appeal to the real estate mogul.
But trees are an ecological force older than technology itself, and planting and preserving many more of them is needed, from developing economies like Brazil and Indonesia, whose deforested landscapes are causing spikes in carbon emissions, to heavily modern industrialized countries like the U.S.
In Philadelphia, we have lost around a thousand football fields worth of tree canopy from 2008-2018, an issue of quality of life and aesthetics as well as environmental sustainability. The city’s Parks and Recreation Department has committed to increasing our tree canopy by half by 2025, something as unlikely to be called “desperate” by CNN as it is to actually occur. But cheers for the effort — this conservative is in full support.
And remember that keyword in conservative, conserve? That means conserving our constitutional system, maintaining what is great about our society and history while acknowledging our many historical flaws, and yes, conserving the environment around us as well.
As I have written, Republicans need to offer practical, market-based solutions on the environment, climate change, and conservation — not just content ourselves with railing against the other side’s excesses and throwing spitballs from the corner.
This would help us with voters; younger ones, in particular, are increasingly concerned about climate change, and recent polling from the American Conservation Coalition indicates that they would be much more likely to vote for Republican candidates with plans to address it.
Republicans should be leading a national debate that contrasts with the unseriousness of the Green New Deal (which, among other projects, promises “economic security” for those “unable or unwilling to work,” as well as to retrofit every structure in the U.S.). This could focus on preserving our natural environment, cleaning up our polluted waterways and oceans, and championing the benefits of natural gas fracking, which has, in fact, lowered total emissions by putting coal out of business while lowering costs for consumers as well.
We should have, too, a serious discussion of the only low-cost, carbon-neutral technology at our disposal that’s been developed: nuclear power. France, which already produces 70% of its power with carbon-neutral nuclear, has doubled down on the technology, forging ahead with plans for third-generation reactors as it seeks to become carbon neutral by 2050.
We often hear from progressives that the U.S. should look more like Western Europe. Why not mimic France and combine next-gen nuclear with technological investments to lower costs and scale renewables?
For Philadelphians looking for more ways to address ecological problems at home, we can apply for a free street tree in front of our properties (as I did recently), or look forward to a “Park in a Truck” on our corners. This program from Thomas Jefferson University professors seeks to turn a 10th of Philadelphia’s 43,000 empty lots into parkland by empowering neighbors to pick out prefabricated elements, and have them shipped and delivered at an expedited schedule — at an estimated three or four times less cost than the average park costs to build.
Good for the goose and the gander, as it were.