What President Trump Will Mean for Climate Change

“My whole life is about winning. I don’t lose often. I almost never lose.”
—Donald Trump

Like much of the world I was a bit shocked at the outcome of the recent US presidential election. What’e even more surprising is that despite Hillary Clinton winning the popular vote, the electoral college system means she lost the election. And it wasn’t truly all that close. As of this past weekend, Clinton’s total popular vote count was 63,541,056 while Trump’s was 61,864,015, meaning that the former Secretary of State has a lead on President-elect Trump by 1.67 million votes. Clinton now has 48 percent of the popular vote, Trump has 46.7 percent. But it is what it is, and we need to prepare for the fact that Donald Trump is going to be the next President of the United States.

I’ve held off on posting anything related to the election for some time because I wanted to collect my thoughts rather than simply lash out on an emotional level. With the tincture of time, I think I can now make some comments about what the world can expect with the upcoming presidential term if Mr. Trump sticks to the promises and claims that he made before the election.

I must say that it is disheartening that climate didn’t come up to any substantial degree during the pre-election discussion. The media cared much more about Clinton’s emails and Trump’s lewd comments he made to Billy Bush a decade ago rather than delving into something as important as the fate of our planet. But here’s what we do know:

  • Trump has called global warming a hoax perpetrated by the Chinese to help boost their economy. (To paraphrase his own favourite response in the debates: “Wrong!”)
  • He has appointed Myron Ebell, a climate change denier to head his EPA transition team.
  • Trump has said he plans to reverse all major regulations that President Obama put in place to reduce US carbon dioxide emissions including the Clean Power Plan, something he can do through an Executive Order. It’s even possible the Republicans who control Congress could try to pass a law forbidding the EPA from ever trying to regulate CO2 emissions again. (Trump really doesn’t like the EPA, despite the fact that Republican President Nixon created it in 1970. In Trump’s words: “What they do is a disgrace.”)
  • Trump has stated he wants to repeal all federal spending on clean energy including research and development for wind and solar energy, nuclear power, and electric vehicles. This would require Congress, but it’s not impossible given the Republican control of both houses.
  • And finally, Trump has stated he wants to pull the US out of last year’s Paris climate deal, something he can easily do. Technically, the US can’t officially withdraw for another four years but for all practical purposes the Trump administration can simply ignore it.

Unless President Trump obtains some much-needed wisdom and moderation with regard to the above statements he has previously made, what can the world expect from the US? More air pollution and more carbon emissions than there should be. But is it all bleak? Well, free market enterprise forces will have some say in how things go regardless of what President Trump wants to achieve. For example, natural gas obtained from fracking (of which I’m no fan by any means) is still going to hurt the coal industry. And wind and solar energy will continue to grow; stopping that process would be like trying to stop the next iPhone simply because technology gets better and cheaper according to Moore’s Law, and nobody including Trump can stop that. But will it be enough to prevent emissions from rising rather than falling over the next four years? Certainly it won’t be as much as it could be with a President who was dedicated to tackling the issue, but only time will tell.

But what will it mean for the planet if President Trump turns his back on all things environmental and climate?  The deal struck in Paris was far from perfect but it was a real start, truly the most promising accord ever proposed in the history of international climate talks. Without US participation, momentum might be lost and the deal could feasibly die a slow death. Why would China and India continue to push toward clean energy for example if the world’s richest and most powerful country doesn’t even bother? Best case scenario: progress is much slower than it should be. Worst case scenario: we’re headed to 4°C or more of global warming, making the planet unsustainable for many all over the world. Goodbye Syrian refugees, hello climate refugees.

The possibilities of inaction play out like the worst apocalypse movie you can imagine: global temperatures will keep rising, ice caps in Greenland and Antarctica will keep melting, sea levels will continue rising leading to coastal regions all over the globe including southern Florida vanishing forever beneath the oceans while megadroughts become more common in the American Southwest. Not just for the next hundred years, but for the next thousand years.

So is there any reason to be optimistic? There always is, and here’s why:

  • California and New York are still pursuing their own climate policies, and it’s possible those efforts could be so successful that other states will follow their lead.
  • Wind power, solar power, and electric cars will keep getting cheaper despite a lack of support from the US government.
  • Climate activists such as myself will continue to push for action at local levels. It’s possible that opposition to Trump will lead to an entire new generation of climate activists who find creative ways to tackle global warming.
  • Other countries still have their own reasons for bringing about environmental change including China and India, if not for the climate at least for pollution.
  • Perhaps the Trump Administration will realize that pollution regulations and embracing clean energy are measures that are popular and good for the economy. If they want to hope for a second term, Trump and his team may have no choice but to succumb to the will of the people.

Climate change will continue to be a defining issue for many generations, long after President Trump is gone so there’s never reason to give up. It will never be change enough quickly enough for my liking. People will suffer and people will die as a result of our warming planet. We’re just trying to keep the numbers down. But right always wins in the end whether it’s acid rain, smoking, or CFCs. The opposition to these efforts will lose in the end, it’s just a matter of how long they’ll delay the progress we need. A Trump Administration simply means we’ve all got a lot more work ahead of us.

President Obama's Clean Power Plan

This past weekend the White House shared a video narrated by President Obama and followed it up Monday with the release of the final version of its Clean Power Plan. (You can watch the 37-minute video of that announcement here if you’re interested.) With this plan, the Environmental Protection Agency will help to regulate carbon emissions from existing power plants. In the same way that it’s important to regulate the release of mercury, sulphur and other pollutants, the President believes it’s high time we regulate carbon pollution. Obama is calling this “the biggest, most important step we’ve ever taken to combat climate change.” It’s expected the regulations will cut emissions by 32 percent by the year 2030 compared to 2005 levels, a bigger cut than previous plans had aimed for.

Some of the details of the Clean Power Plan are here. Below is the video that was released. It offers some background science, evidence of how the climate is changing, and exactly what the President is planning to do, more than any previous President has done to tackle emissions and fight global warming and climate change.

President Obama and the EPA to Cut Emissions

“American influence is always stronger when we lead by example. We cannot exempt ourselves from the rules that apply to everyone else.”
—President Barack Obama

Today, President Obama is expected to release the newest Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) regulations aimed at reducing carbon dioxide emissions from existing power plants. (Previously regulations regarding new power plants were announced.) We should expect a great deal of backlash from anyone who benefits from coal with this announcement: the fossil fuel industry, people concerned more about profit than environment or climate change, politicians in states where coal-mining is a big industry, and the Republican Party in general.

But there are so many reasons why this is the right move:

  1. The world is waiting for leadership from the U.S. For example, Canada’s emissions are small enough that hitting our Canadian economy to protect the environment is off the table as far as our government is concerned until our neighbours to the south are prepared to do the same thing. And China’s economy isn’t going to slow itself down without seeing the other largest emitter on the planet doing something about their emissions as well, especially when the U.S. has about a 200-year head-start on using fossil fuels to boost an economy. Continue reading

Apple: The Model of Corporate Responsibility

“We do a lot of things for reasons besides profit motive. We want to leave the world better than we found it.”
—Tim Cook, CEO of Apple

Apple held its annual meeting for shareholders last week. Part of the message Apple has been relaying is that it is a company dedicated to sustainability and environmental protection. That’s why they hired Lisa Jackson to focus on these efforts. And she should know: previously she was head of the Environmental Protection Agency.

But not everyone is happy with these efforts, particularly conservatives who think profits should be the only motives in business, and that such efforts at sustainability are taking money out of the pockets of shareholders. (Could you imagine Exxon-Mobil going to similar efforts?) As one example, the National Center for Public Policy Research (NCPPR) is a right-wing think tank which disagrees with the direction Apple is taking. The NCPPR released a statement before the Apple shareholders’ meeting took place stating that any government-imposed environmental standards are going to be bad for business. They believe Apple—along with every other corporation—should be doing whatever possible to fight such measures.

Apple CEO Tim Cook disagrees. Continue reading

President Obama Gets It: A Little is Actually a Lot

“[I]t’s not sufficient for us to just tell [China and India] to stop. We’re going to have to give them some help”
—President Obama discussing carbon emissions

Last week, New Yorker magazine published an article by David Remnick summarizing an interview with President Obama. Remnick asked about all sorts of topics such as Chris Christie, relationships with Congress, and foreign policy. But one biggie was the subject of climate change, and what Obama as President is doing about it.

From the interview it was clear that President Obama realizes his climate action plan won’t solve the problem of global warming, but unlike many of his critics he’s able to see the big picture. Obama’s main point is that the U.S. needs to demonstrate good faith on the issue of tackling emissions, and not only to China—the planet’s largest emitter of greenhouse gases—but to the entire world. Only then can international cooperation lead to real change.

In Obama’s words:

“It’s not because I’m ignorant of the fact that these emerging countries are going to be a bigger problem than us. It’s because it’s very hard for me to get in that conversation if we’re making no effort. And it’s not an answer for us to say, ‘Well, since the Chinese and the Indians are the bigger problem, we might as well not even bother.’” Continue reading