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.