Trump, International Affairs, and the Environment: Can It All Come Together?

By Myanna Dellinger

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My short-term research and lecture visit to the IASS in November and December 2016 is now over, sadly. I was invited by and cooperated with Dr Birgit Lode of the ELIAS project. I first met Birgit at a conference organized by the American Society of International Law (ASIL), of which both of us are active members. I was very happy and honored when she invited me on board as an IASS Senior Fellow with her project ELIAS. She and her team assistant Tanja Baines also assisted greatly in having my stay approved by the United States State Department as a Fulbright Specialist. As you may recall, the original objective of the Fulbright program at its inauguration in 1946 was to create opportunities for Americans to learn more about the surrounding world. The current political climate in the United States and elsewhere makes it clear that this need still exists. Although I was born and raised in Denmark and am a dual citizen, I still very much appreciate and enjoy learning as much as I can about cutting-edge technological and legal developments that affect the environment around the world, especially climate change as this is the center of my research.

One of my first tasks was to give a presentation on my predictions regarding American energy and climate change policies under the Trump administration. One of the key points of my presentation was that as environmentalists, whether scientists, lawyers, or policymakers, we need to shift our rhetoric and message framing away from what is “good for the environment,” “ethical,” or “moral” when talking to members of the general public. Major research studies show that such concerns do not place highly among many people’s concerns. This holds true outside the United States as well. Most people are more concerned about their personal economies, job situation, and issues of national economy, security, and terrorism. It is thus crucial for us to find common ground when we promote our ideas in order to help carry our substantive agenda forward. Given that “the environment” touches upon the very topics that are at the forefront of people’s minds, we can in fact communicate more effectively than what might currently seem to be the case. Polarized discussions are just not helpful.

While the environmental agenda may not rank highly on the federal American agenda, I also discussed how some hope can be drawn from the subnational-level action taken in states such as California. Along with technological advancement and investments in green technologies, I think this is now the best hope for American progress in relation to climate change and other pressing environmental issues.

During my time in Potsdam, I also had a chance to conduct several interviews with IASS researchers, which will feature in the Global Energy and Environmental Law Podcast during the upcoming winter months. I am happy to be able to bring some of IASS’ messages and ideas across to a wider audience.

I was also happy to get a chance to meet with one of the highest-ranking German officials within the United Nation system, Angela Kane, who was the lead negotiator in 2014 in persuading Syria to give up its chemical weapons. She has been the UN’s High Representative for Disarmament since March 2012. Ms. Kane was also one of the first women – and certainly among the very first German women – to reach as high a position within the United Nations as she did. I met her when Dr Lode and I attended an event at the United Nations Association of Germany in Berlin. Furthermore, Dr Lode and I attended an event at The American Academy in Berlin, where I established good contacts.

When I return to the United States, I will be presenting on my impressions working with environmental issues at the IASS and in Berlin more broadly. One of the things I have noted here is the keen and active interest that people take in learning and in other people’s areas of research. Of course, the intellectual environment at the institution and at the events I attended with Dr Lode is a highly learned one, but it was still nice to see people ask relevant questions at the various events. In the United States, we as educators often grapple somewhat with the “millennial” problem; i.e. the notion that the younger generations are perhaps not as motivated to study and work as hard as we expect them to and as we like to think that we did (and do). I will continue to emphasize the value of smart, but also relatively hard, work and a focus on excellence to my students upon my return.

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