Category Archives: Environmental Policy

Opinion: We’ve Got a ‘Oui’ Problem

The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the policy or position of the Sanford Journal of Public Policy.

The decision to withdraw from the Paris Climate Agreement befuddled many experts, precisely because we know the factors that did not inspire the decision. Trump did not pledge to leave the deal because Trump-voting states no longer want to participate. The majority of residents in every state support the Paris deal. Some of Trump’s high-profile advisors and cabinet members came out against the decision, including Gary D. Cohn, Director of the National Economic Council, and Rex Tillerson, Secretary of State. Even Trump’s daughter, Ivanka Trump, opposed the decision to withdraw.

Despite pulling the country out of the Paris Agreement, Trump does not believe America is better off without a seat at “la table” (the French word for table). Trump made it clear he intends to negotiate a new climate agreement that allows America to get more and pay less: The Art of the Deal before our very eyes. Trump has made his (unsubstantiated) billions using this methodology. Buy low, sell high; buy one, get one free. Trump is always looking for a bigger, “better” deal.

Source: Peace Palace Library (2016)

Here’s how Trump’s deal making works: Let’s say I was a billionaire business tycoon (an unrealistic fantasy) with untamed hair (my daily reality). I have something you want, and you have something I want. But you need me more than I need you, so I feign disinterest until finally, in desperation, you come to me with a better offer. Transactional relationships are quite frequently fueled by an uneven power dynamic, and often result in the dominant player coming out ahead. Shoot, I hope I didn’t spoil the ending of Marx’s Capital for you.

But a globalized economic system is a lot more complicated than a two-person transaction. Trump’s constituents are already undermining his refusal to participate in the Paris deal. Individuals, corporations, and municipal and state leaders, including North Carolina’s Governor, Roy Cooper, are pledging their commitment to the Paris Accord. Michael Bloomberg pledged $15 million to the UN’s fight against climate change. $15 million barely scratches the surface of America’s commitment to the Paris Agreement, but indicates, in Bloomberg’s words, that Americans are “forging ahead.”Consumers want to buy green, and companies and governments are responding. Companies are more profitable if they promote and engage in sustainable initiatives. The public has spoken! They want those silly little light bulbs with the curly glass tubes.

Trump’s decision was nothing more than political stubbornness. I have faith in corporate America’s pursuit of profit (is anything more reliable?), and I believe economic incentives will continue to inspire a shift toward renewable energy and sustainability. But if exiting the Paris Agreement leads to a decline in cooperation between America and the rest of the world, then Trump’s “American Exceptionalism” will become “American Isolationism.” If relations with other countries sour, as nearly happened with Mexico, American consumers, particularly low-income Americans, will feel the burden of this artless negotiation.

Annie Krabbenschmidt is a second-year Master of Public Policy candidate interested in social psychology and organizational behavior.

COP-22 highlights need for American leadership in combating climate change in India

The skyline of Delhi remains hidden on a November morning. Photo Credit: Prakash Singh/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

The skyline of Delhi remains hidden on a November morning.
Photo Credit: Prakash Singh/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

New Delhi, India: My father has struggled to complete his morning run for the past few weeks. Thick and unrelenting smog has settled over New Delhi, forcing residents to wear facemasks and invest in air purifiers. “My whole family has bought facemasks and air purifiers,” says Nikhil Dugal, long-term resident of the city.

Pollution levels are on the rise in developing cities like New Delhi, as president-elect Donald Trump has threatened to cancel the Paris Accord. This frustrating dichotomy and the need for American leadership in the fight against climate change were highlighted at United Nations COP22 summit that took place earlier in November. Continue reading

Biggest Threat to Zika? Mosquito Love.

Photo Credit: James Gathany

Photo Credit: James Gathany

As of November 18th, the World Health Organization (W.H.O.) declared that Zika is no longer a global emergency. However, Dr. Peter Salama, executive director of the W.H.O.’s health emergency programs, stated that “we are not downgrading the importance of Zika. We are sending the message that Zika is here to stay, and the W.H.O response is here to stay.”

Though the W.H.O. has downgraded the threat of Zika, combating Zika remains a goal of the global health community. At the end of October 2016, $18 million was put towards a project to release millions of genetically modified Aedes aegypti mosquitoes. These mosquitoes were infected with a bacteria called Wolbachia to mate with Aedes aegypti mosquitos that transmit Zika, as well as Dengue and Chikungunya.

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The changing landscape of U.S. electric utilities

econf-squareAt the annual Duke University Energy Conference yesterday, I had the opportunity to hear four women – all holding top management positions in the energy industry – speak about the evolution of electric utilities in the United States. Having worked in the energy sector prior to graduate school, I have been to my fair share of energy conferences. This is the first time I have attended an all female panel on energy that was not featured as a diversity event.

The change in the demographic make-up of the panel itself is analogous to the dramatic changes we’re seeing in the changing landscape of electricity today. While the electricity sector in the U.S. still operates as it has for the last several decades – with investor-owned utilities, municipalities, and rural electric cooperatives running the show – today’s utilities are still facing political, social, and economic environments like we have never seen before.
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Climate Change: Action Without National Policy Will Only Get Us So Far

Household panels for solar power and hot water in Kapolei, Hawaii. Photo Credit: Kent Nishimura for The New York Times

Household panels for solar power and hot water in Kapolei, Hawaii. Photo Credit: Kent Nishimura for The New York Times

A “1,000-year” flood in Louisiana. A record-setting drought in California. The creeping northward spread of tropical, mosquito-borne diseases like Zika. People across the U.S. are already experiencing the devastating impacts of climate change. Yet Congress remains unmoved and has yet to pass comprehensive legislation addressing either climate change mitigation or adaptation.

Individuals, corporations, and states are stepping into this policy vacuum—all compelled to take action on one of the most pressing challenges currently facing the world.
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Why Should California Declare a Drought Emergency? To Convince Californians it’s Real.

While the Midwest and Northeast dug their cars out from under the polar vortex this past week, much of California roasted. Ski resort owners nervously eyed their brown, bare mountains. Catholic Bishops called on parishioners to pray for rain. And Mendocino County, just north of San Francisco, declared a state of emergency, citing an “imminent threat of disaster.”

For the third year in row, California is suffering through drought conditions that are anything but trivial. The state relies on snowmelt for around one third of its public water supply, and snow conditions look increasingly bleak. The first snow survey of the winter showed that in the Sierra Nevada, snowpack levels are dwindling at 20 percent of normal. That’s the same reading scientists got in 2012, making both years the driest ever recorded.

And it’s not just snow. Rain is a huge problem, too. In Los Angeles, where it usually rains only 15 inches per year, a mere 3.6 inches reached the ground throughout all of 2013. To put that number into perspective, New Orleans usually sees 3.5 inches of rainfall in October alone – its driest month of the year.


For California’s 38 million people and 45 billion-dollar agriculture industry, continued drought could spell disaster. So Governor Jerry Brown now faces an important decision. Pressure is mounting—from state lawmakers, farmers, and local water districts—for the governor to declare a state of drought emergency.

But what would an emergency declaration do?

As the Sacramento Bee reports, historically, there haven’t been clear guidelines on when to declare a drought, or what happens afterward. A drought declaration would force federal officials to pay attention to the crisis, potentially accelerating federal relief. But some speculate that a drought declaration would send a message of economic hardship, and Governor Brown has so far sidestepped the question.

Growing up in Southern California, I remember the conservation measures we had to take during the drought of the late 80s and early 90s. “If it’s yellow, let it mellow” became a popular model in our San Diego home. In Los Angeles, the mayor implemented mandatory water rationing, slapping big penalties on anyone who wasted water. And in Santa Barbara, residents applied green paint to their dried out lawns.

But the reality is that even with a tremendous drought every decade or two (and several smaller droughts in between), most Californians hardly ever have to consider the state’s water problems. In San Diego—where our climate is often reminiscent of the Anza Borrego desert—luscious lawns and golf courses are still the norm. We may have low-flow toilets, but rarely can I remember anyone talking about taking shorter showers during non-drought times, or making sure not to waste water while washing the dishes or brushing one’s teeth.

It’s time for all Californians, and residents in other drought-stricken states, to realize that having enough water is a luxury that may not be around for long. After all, climate change is threatening to make our water shortages even worse. A report from the Natural Resources Defense Council shows that, due to climate change, around one third of all U.S. counties will face higher risks of water shortages by 2050.

As Governor Brown considers declaring a drought emergency, perhaps he should look to his own citizens as his audience. A drought declaration would not only draw the attention of federal officials. It would also serve as a wake-up call for Californians, underscoring the crisis at hand. It’s time we get serious about water conservation in the long term. A drought declaration could be the first step to real, sustainable lifestyle changes that keep both our water use and our water crises under control.