Trump and Climate Change – the Good, the Bad and the Ugly

Since Trump was made President by the Electoral College there has been no shortage of prognostication over what his presidency will mean for the U.S. efforts to fight climate change.  Think Progress asks “Will Trump go down in history as the man who pulled the plug on a livable climate?”  While Vox definitively states that “Trump’s election marks the end of any serious hope of limiting climate change to 2 degrees.” 

The doom and gloom may be overblown, although there are definitely many ways a Trump administration could hurt the world’s efforts to combat climate change.  This post will walk through the good, the bad and the ugly of a Trump administration’s impact on US efforts to combat climate change.

Trump has had no shortage of ignorant comments about climate change, mostly likely to stoke his base more than anything.  During the election he had said that climate change was a Chinese hoax, he vowed to scrap the Clean Power Plan, void the Paris climate deal, bring back coal, and defund climate research, among other ludicrous statements.

Although, during a recent New York Times interview, he softened his views admitting that maybe humans are contributing to climate change. 

So what should we think about Trump and climate change?  Trump probably doesn’t even know what to think.  He seems to be a person with no real positions or core values — other than wining at all costs.  Which may work to the favor of those advocating for strong action on climate.  Or maybe it indicates that he won’t be as fearful an obstruction.

The Good: Trump On Alternative Energy And Coal

According to Utility Dive, a Trump insider stated that subsidies for wind and solar energy won’t be revoked.  That’s good news, although the alternative energy industry is beginning to take off in a big way, so what Trump does may not even matter.  Another Trump statement that doesn’t matter is his promise to bring back the dying coal industry.

After Trump’s victory, alternative energy stocks took a beating, while coal shares rose.  This is probably a short-sighted reaction by markets (and a buying opportunity for alternative energy stocks). Trump has vowed to bring back coal jobs by attacking the Clean Power Plan (CPP) and ending the moratorium on new coal leases on public lands. 

Both are empty promises because cheap natural gas and ever cheaper alternative energy have already doomed coal — the CPP and Obama had little to do with it.  It was pure market forces at work.  Alternative energy now employs many more people than the coal industry and coal jobs are likely gone for good, no matter what Trump does — both good things.

The Bad: Trump on the Paris Climate Accord

Trump has vowed to pull the US out of the international COP21 climate change treaty that was hammered out in Paris earlier this year.  He called it a bad deal for the US and said foreign diplomats should not be putting limits on how the U.S. uses energy.

Trump could pull the US out of the COP21 in several ways, but the backlash from the international community will be significant.  Even so, the impact of a US pull-out is not large on a global scale.  However, at this critical junction in time, it may be enough to ensure that the world temperature rises more than 2C.

The Ugly: Trump on the EPA, KXL and DAPL

Trump put Myron Ebell, a staunch climate change denier and former head of the petroleum industry funded Competitive Enterprise Institute in charge of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) transition team.  Ebell was considering a cast of assorted robber barons to head the EPA, finally settling on Scott Pruitt, the former Attorney General for Oklahoma.  Pruitt is a staunch climate change denier and has been at the forefront of the legal challenge by certain states against President Obama’s Clean Power Plan.

To quote Pruitt, “Scientists continue to disagree about the degree and extent of global warming and its connection to the actions of mankind.  That debate should be encouraged — in classrooms, public forums, and the halls of Congress. It should not be silenced with threats of prosecution. Dissent is not a crime.”

Pruitt makes it sound like anyone on the street who disagrees is being prosecuted, when he is really referring to other states Attorneys General investigating Exxon for it’s support of climate change denial, despite having full knowledge of the impacts of carbon dioxide released from fossil fuels — typical climate denier misdirection and obfuscation by Pruitt.

Pruitt’s selection is probably a big blow, not just for U.S. efforts to combat climate change, but for the country’s environment as a whole (water, air, public lands, etc.).  Very ugly indeed.

And if that wasn’t bad enough, the dead have risen.  Although we all thought the Keystone XL pipeline was dead, Trump wants to resurrect it.  And feeling emboldened, the TransCanada Pipeline, the company behind the KXL plans to resubmit it’s permit.  it seems that fight is not over yet.

Beyond the KXL, Trump had a financial stake in the Dakota Access Pipeline in North Dakota, which he has supposedly since sold.  However, he has since signaled support for building the Dakota Access Pipeline and other petroleum extraction and infrastructure projects.

So what now?

As we can see, the future of climate change under a Trump administration is clear as mud.  Hopefully, he will see reason to preserve any hope of a reasonable legacy.  A person with such classic narcissistic personality may be driven in the right direction by flattery and persuasion.  I doubt Trump wants to be seen as the President who doomed the world to a future of climate disaster.  That possibility just has to be made clear to him.

In the meantime, there are many things that we can do to fight climate change under a Trump administration…

  1. Give your time and money — donate and participate in organizations like 350.orgMom’s Clean Air Force, and Citizens Climate Lobby.
  2. Take action – political and otherwise, by joining and participating in the organizations above, or just write or visit your elected senator or representative.
  3. Support cities and business that take the lead — most major cities and corporations, recognizing the threat of climate change, are now taking steps to mitigate and adapt to the threat.
  4. Do your part — switch to alternative energy.  No other single thing you can do (besides political action) will help the global climate more!
  5. Get your tax credits while you can! — There’s no telling what will happen to alternative energy and conservation credits when Trump gets in power.  So take advantage while you can.

In the end, the US only accounts for about 10% of current worldwide carbon emissions (although historically the US has produced most of the CO2 now in the atmosphere).  However, the biggest casualty of a Trump administration will be US leadership on climate change issues, with a parallel loss in US leadership in clean technology.  The Chinese and others are taking the lead in this realm, and we are surrendering the future to them.

Rome didn’t fall in a day, and this is just another part of the decline of the US at the hands of hyper-partisanship and ignorance.  Whatever happens, the next four years should prove very interesting indeed.  The US will survive a Trump administration, and maybe on the other side of it the groundwork will have been laid for the radical change that is necessary to keep the world a livable place for all.