Das Williams wiped his fingers of chalk after writing “DON’T BE COMPLACENT” in large capital letters on a blackboard in UCSB’s Bren Hall on Monday afternoon. The board was situated behind a panel of environmentalists and anti-Trumpers. The panelists — Williams, 1st District county supervisor, Debbie Cox Bultan, executive director of NewDEAL, and Lanny Ebenstein, Republican author of 10 historical economical books — stood before a packed lecture hall and projected their ideas on the environmental ramifications of the first 100 days of President Donald Trump.
Dr. Matt Potoski, professor at the Bren School, UCSB’s environmental graduate program, led the discussion. He outlined several steps Trump has taken to overturn previous federal regulations on the human carbon footprint. These include executive orders to restore permit processes for the Keystone Pipeline, suspend Obama’s Clean Power Plan (which aims to reduce carbon dioxide emissions by coal-burning power plants), and cut funding to environmental agencies.
Williams passionately voiced his environmental concerns about the direction the Trump administration is taking. “They seem to believe their actions are not going to have an environmental impact, but it’s 99 percent likely that it will,” he said, half-joking that if you planned on getting a job at the EPA in the next four years, “you might want to reconsider.” He said the goals of the Obama administration nationally had been to “get back to 2005 emission levels,” and that California had strived higher, working toward returning to 80 percent of 1990’s levels.
Because of these previously upheld efforts to lower emissions, Trump’s environmental “impact in Santa Barbara will not be as significant as the impact on the rest of the country,” Williams said, commenting that Santa Barbara is on track to be powered by 50 percent renewable energy by 2030.
Williams called Trump’s actions against the environment “the greatest humanitarian disaster in the history of humankind.” He said, “We have not captured the moral imagination of this country, and we need to turn that around.”
Williams’s disapproval of Trump’s actions was not exclusive to environmental perspectives. “Whether they’re looking at environmental or women’s issues, they seem very successful at doing some real damage,” he lamented. He called the federal administration’s view on Planned Parenthood “dysfunctional.” He claimed it exposed a contradiction: Cutting funding to the organization is intended to inhibit abortions, but federal dollars already do not go toward abortions but are spent on birth control that aims to prevent the need for abortion.
Reaching into his wallet, Williams encouraged the audience to lead by example. “We vote for justice every day with these,” he said, holding up a dollar bill. “If we are not voting for justice with these, we are hypocrites. The biggest way we can do that is to not buy gas,” he said before giving Cox Bultan the floor.
Cox Bultan explained her program, NewDEAL (Developing Exceptional American Leaders), a national democratic network that works with state and local governments to promote growth. While Cox-Bultan did not disagree with Williams’s message to resist complacency, she offered hopeful statistics that serve as “bright spots” for the country’s future. Among these include over half of the country’s use of renewable energy, a letter sent by 75 mayors of cities across the U.S. to Trump objecting to his actions, and clean energy jobs driving economic growth.
“If you notice, I’m on the right, and that reflects my views,” Ebenstein said, addressing his placement on the floor. While he applauded the long history of Republican support for environmental practices (he cited Nixon and Roosevelt), he made clear that he opposed Trump’s policies. “Things have not moved in the right direction,” he said.
Ebenstein observed a shortcoming of the environmental movement in its failure to communicate that the crucial problem of global warming “is not that the earth is becoming warmer, it’s the sharpness and magnitude of the increase in temperature over a short period of time,” and that the primary reason for this is “human-induced circumstance.”
Combining his interest in economics and the environment, Ebenstein said federal administration is shortsighted. A greater production of national oil will lower the price of energy, but this is “positive for the economy in the short run and bad for the environment in the long run,” he said.
The panelists gave their two cents about what the public can do to reverse federal administration’s environmental damage. “It’s essential that individuals don’t demonize others who have different views,” Ebenstein said. “It’s a losing strategy.” Instead, he encouraged the audience to network as much as possible, especially with people who hold opposing perspectives. “Opposition is the majority,” he said.
Williams endorsed the nonprofit advocacy arena as a valuable platform for change. “The private sector is really meaningful,” he said. He stressed the necessity to intersect public policy with politics in order to effect change.
Williams also pointed out discrepancies in Trump’s religious campaigning. He said, “Trump’s policies are reflective of his lack of faith,” adding that anyone who has seen the president recite a Bible phrase can tell that he has never read any sort of scripture prior to campaigning. He encouraged the audience to talk to “people of faith and moral voters.”
Cox Bultan felt hopeful about the power of millennials. “Only 35 percent of people over 65 believe climate change is man made, but 72 percent of the younger generation believes it,” she said.