Out, Out, Brief Candle!

Could Mr. Trump’s “Energy Independence” executive order mean the end of life on Earth?

At approximately 2 p.m. Eastern Daylight Time on March 28, 2017, the earth lost its ability to sustain life.

Or so one might believe after reading the overwrought reactions to President Donald Trump’s “Energy Independence” executive order. Of course, anyone who had taken the time to read its text would likely have a more measured response.

Heavily exaggerated reactions to any challenge to former President Barack Obama’s Clean Power Plan bring to mind Shakespeare’s thoughts from the play Macbeth on the futility of a life and its actions, wrongly directed. When Macbeth sees that his carefully laid plans to gain power were crumbling, he gave in to an overwhelming sense of morbid terror and abject pessimism.

Life’s but a walking shadow, a poor player
That struts and frets his hour upon the stage
And then is heard no more. It is a tale
Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury,
Signifying nothing.

That same blossoming fear and pessimism is clearly visible in the reactions of those who labored to shutter most of America’s energy capacity over the past eight years. In this hyperpartisan and hyperbolic era, responses to the new executive order were uniform in their use of inflammatory invective, reviling it as “an assault on climate action,” and “a know-nothing path to an endangered planet.” Others ominously questioned what the order would “mean for the world?”

Foundational American concepts such as the separation of powers have been largely overlooked for the past eight years. The reason: The last administration produced a long list of executive actions to “empower the renewable energy sector and move forward a sensibility among people … that climate change is real.” But separation of powers is being hurried back into vogue in the effort to criticize this executive action as being “all about power.”

Green groups, like the Sierra Club, pounced on the executive order and then vaulted from it into a full-throated fundraising mode. In their funding requests, they demanded the president keep the Clean Power Plan in place or – quite brazenly – that he replace it with even more restrictive policies.

Former EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy joined the chorus, complaining, “This day is really embarrassing for the United States, not just dangerous for our kids and our future.” Former Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton, raised the bar by stating that the new president was putting “American lives at risk,” by “willfully ignor(ing) the science.”

A frantic tweet by social and environmental activist Van Jones informed his followers, “@realDonaldTrump just signed a death warrant for Planet Earth.” And, not to be outdone, progressive filmmaker Michael Moore one-upped them all by tweeting his illogical prediction that, “Historians … will mark … March 28, 2017, as the day the extinction of human life on earth began, thanks 2 Donald Trump.”

Readers might disagree with the president’s policies. But if they read his executive order closely, they would have seen a refreshing willingness to balance environmental, economic and social challenges rather than focusing almost solely on the environment.

They would have seen a renewed focus on diversifying energy sources, much like the Democratic Party called for in its 2012 party platform. That document recommended an “all-of-the-above approach to developing America’s many energy resources, including wind, solar, biofuels, geothermal, hydropower, nuclear, oil clean coal, and natural gas.”

Although the new executive order calls for a diverse energy portfolio, it still mandates that “all agencies should take appropriate actions to promote clean air and clean water.” Even the seemingly obvious requirements that “environmental regulations comply with the law” and that they be developed through “transparent processes that employ the best available peer-reviewed science and economics” are included.

More importantly, those who took the time to read the order would have seen that it is only the very beginning of the long, drawn-out legislative and regulatory process of rolling back the Obama administration’s climate action plan.

I realize that they are worried. I understand that, just like Macbeth, they are lashing out with extravagant pronouncements that, if their attempts to control policy are not implemented, life signifies nothing. Various environmental and political groups have tried to portray the order as an immediate end to all environmental protection in the United States – or, more absurdly, as the end of all human life on earth. It is, instead, nothing more than a reasonable move toward renewing the production and use of essential energy resources.