President-elect Trump Seeks to Rollback Progress on the Climate

Donald Trump / Wikipedia
Donald Trump / Wikipedia

After a vitriolic campaign that exacerbated racial and class divisions, President-elect Donald Trump will be inaugurated as the 45th president in January. Under his administration, the Republicans will be the only conservative party in the world that disputes human activity is warming the climate. He has called global warming “bullshit” and a “hoax” invented by the Chinese to make the U.S. non-competitive. Since beginning his transition, Trump has empowered a radical climate change denier and pursued his promises to roll back President Obama’s efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, promote clean energy, and protect the environment.

If Trump is committed to uniting the country, as he has stated, he will need to steer towards a more moderate course, given the vast majority of the country supports climate action, even 48 percent of Republicans. A poll last year found that “83 percent of Americans, including 61 percent of Republicans and 86 percent of independents, say that if nothing is done to reduce emissions, global warming will be a very or somewhat serious problem in the future.”

According to The New York Times, Myron Ebell, who runs environmental and climate policy at the Competitive Enterprise Institute, a conservative think tank, and a noted climate change denier, has been tasked with leading Trump’s transition efforts for the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). Ebell described himself as a “contrarian by nature.” He has led the Cooler Heads Coalition, which “focused on dispelling the myths of global warming by exposing flawed economic, scientific, and risk analysis.” And he argues that “a lot of third-, fourth- and fifth-rate scientists have gotten a long ways” by embracing climate change.

In some of the most heated moments of the campaign, President-elect Trump threatened to abolish the EPA wholesale or shrink it down to a solely-advisory function. But, in September, he back-tracked on that statement, saying he supports clean air and “crystal clear, crystal clean” water. The Guardian quoted him: “I will refocus the EPA on its core mission of ensuring clean air and clean, safe drinking water for all Americans. I believe firmly in conserving our wonderful natural resources and beautiful natural habitats. My environmental agenda will be guided by true specialists in conservation, not those with radical political agendas.”

The Paris climate agreement is in Trump’s sights as well. After years of negotiation, the agreement was ratified by countries representing 56.87 of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions in late October, bringing it into legal force. Even if Trump’s administration pulls out of the agreement, other countries are likely to ratify, letting the agreement stand. World leaders have called it the last best chance to keep warming below 2 degrees Celsius (3.6 degrees Fahrenheit). More than 360 American companies just issued a letter urging Trump to continue U.S. participation in the accord. “Failure to build a low-carbon economy puts American prosperity at risk,” the companies wrote.

Still, Trump is unlikely to provide the billions Obama committed to developing countries to help them mitigate and adapt to climate change. These funds were critical to winning the support of India and other developing countries.

Climate change is a global concern, and linked to many other areas of negotiation. Aggressive anti-climate actions by a Trump administration would severely damage relations with key European partners and even lead them to impose trade sanctions on American high-carbon products. Thankfully, China has said it will stay in the agreement, regardless of how the U.S. acts, but lack of action could also adversely impact the U.S.’s ability to reach agreement with the Chinese on a range of important economic, trade, and political issues.

Trump also promises to end support for clean energy, instead focusing on boosting gas, oil, and coal production. Trump’s website calls for the U.S. to become a major energy producer: “America will unleash an energy revolution that will transform us into a net energy exporter, leading to the creation of millions of new jobs, while protecting the country’s most valuable resources – our clean air, clean water, and natural habitats. America is sitting on a treasure trove of untapped energy. In fact, America possesses more combined coal, oil, and natural gas resources than any other nation on Earth. These resources represent trillions of dollars in economic output and countless American jobs, particularly for the poorest Americans.”

In his effort to open up fossil fuel energy production, Trump will attempt to gut Obama’s clean coal plan, roll-back important auto-emission standards, open up federal lands to oil and gas production, approve the Keystone XL and Dakota access pipelines, and end billions in federal support for clean power. Apparently, former Alaska Governor Sarah Palin is in the running to head the department of the Interior. She has expressed her enthusiasm for opening up public lands for rampant energy development.

Still, many states and cities are moving forward with ambitious renewable energy plans, which are unlikely to change, even with the loss of federal support. The Georgetown Climate Center found that in 19 states, both red and blue, a “dramatic shift” to clean energy is already underway. And the U.S. Energy Information Administration has said coal is simply not competitive, economically, and it’s not clear whether it can be once again, even with a sweep of deregulation.

Trump wants the U.S. to have developing country-levels of economic growth, which he seems to believe is only possible if important environmental safeguards are gutted. But Democrat-led states like California and New York are not likely to roll over if he pursues federal deregulation that impacts the health of their populations and quality of their environment. If he pursues these plans, we can expect many state-driven legal cases coming. Environmental organizations are also gearing up for a fight. “We intend to fight like mad, both in the courts and in the streets, to resist any rollbacks by the Trump administration,” Michael Brune, executive director of the Sierra Club, told AP.

Again, our hope is Trump will seek to unify the country. If that’s the case, President-elect Trump: the vast majority of Americans believe climate change is a cause of major concern, and their concerns should be heeded. The alternative will be lawsuits and protests, and an increasingly fraught approach to the climate, with responsible, globally-minded states, cities, communities, and companies leading the way forward.

6 thoughts on “President-elect Trump Seeks to Rollback Progress on the Climate

  1. Andrew Sparks 11/17/2016 / 12:46 pm

    What income source does the author recommend for continuing the federal government’s battle against the changing of the earth’s climate? California and New York will not be dis-allowed from participating in their own efforts, I would think. Roll over? No state or city should roll over, they should take over. Federal government should be committing to reducing the debt. When we are again in an economic position similar to where we were 50 years ago (before we took on protecting all our friends from the bad guys, and all the bad guys from other bad guys; improving agriculture and medical access around the world; funding innumerable bad schemes to insure availability of questionably effective alternative energies; making sure that the arts did not have to be funded privately – thereby assuring that certain expressions would not be excluded – ; etc., etc.), then we should do what is affordable and possible to make sure we attend to scientific proofs of our ability to positively influence any necessary change in our climate. Until then, we should all be smart about it, and respect our obvious ability to have an impact in a micro way. Currently, requiring the bloated federal government to do anything complicated correctly is sheer stupidity. Bush and the Clintons are only a part of the proof of that.

  2. Richard K. Sutton 11/17/2016 / 1:52 pm

    HEAR! HEAR! If landscape architects are the the leaders in designing environments that understand both culture and nature, then LA’s need to be on the forefront of challenging climate deniers!

  3. Richard K. Sutton 11/17/2016 / 1:54 pm

    About the time we are debt free the seas will have risen 16 to 20 feet.

  4. Tim Dobson 11/25/2016 / 12:02 am

    Sadly, Climate aspects will take a back seat. However, there may be more “cash” flow to fund true and valued functional design of lasting value – be it landscape, buildings, infrastructure. When you wipe out the gravy of corporate welfare, developing country bribes, Pork-barrel special intrerest projects and entitlements, then the Arts will have to earn their lunch instead of being entitled to cart blanche. Same for Energy. True Research has a viable argument. Some projects have been big wastes. Just be smarter and let good ideas get their own support. There could be a silver lining from the cash flow into build projects that will strive for excellence – maybe like the 1920’s. we’ll see.

  5. duanedesign2013 11/30/2016 / 10:04 am

    I am waiting for the seas to rise….then I’ll be closer to the beach.

    Climate has been changing since creation. Yes be smart. But on the other hand there are two sides of the coin. There are as many scientist and meteorologist that have evidence that man’s use of all that the article spells out is not the major problem. We still have not returned to temperatures prior to the last ice age. I can go on for with many more words, but won’t need to here, they will fall on deaf ears and blind eyes.

    Bottom line, Trump complainers are already on a band wagon with erroneous speculation. Let’s get our house in order before we start blame, blame needs to go on Obama for putting us in such an economic peril.

    Get with the program and solve your sites and we will all be better off.

  6. Ben Slade 11/30/2016 / 2:00 pm

    Global average temperatures over land have plummeted by more than 1C since the middle of this year – their biggest and steepest fall on record. According to satellite data, the late 2016 temperatures are returning to the levels they were at after the 1998 El Nino. The news comes amid mounting evidence that the recent run of world record high temperatures is about to end. It is almost certain that next year, large falls will also be measured over the oceans, and by weather station thermometers on the surface of the planet – exactly as happened after the end of the last very strong El Nino in 1998. If so, some experts will be forced to eat their words. –David Rose, Mail on Sunday, 27 November 2016

    Has anyone noticed this amongst all the hysteria about what a Trump administration may or may not do?

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