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Were All Our Climate Change Hopes Lost in Trump’s Election?

The election of Donald Trump may be one of the biggest surprises of 2016 – and that’s saying something considering this year has been full of shocking moments in culture and politics across the world. However, some of the biggest changes may yet still be in store for the coming year with the inauguration of our next President-elect.

One of those stark policy changes slated to happen with a Trump presidency is the approach to climate change and the growing issue of global warming. The Obama administration made historic strides in increasing America’s global role in reducing harmful CO2 emissions and committing to a greener and more sustainable planet.

With the news of Myron Ebell as the incoming head of the EPA transition team, all of the previous administration’s work could be undone over the next four years.


Who Is Myron Ebell and Why Might His Appointment Be Concerning?

Myron Ebell is a leading climate change skeptic that directs an organization called the Competitive Enterprise Institute, a Libertarian focus group whose primary concern is reigning in government regulations in sectors that affect the U.S. economy.

While not all of this group’s initiatives are focused on the environment, the organization is largely funded by the coal industry, and Ebell himself has been resoundingly vocal about his own views on global warming, claiming that greenhouse gas emissions have not been excessive and may actually be beneficial for humanity.

His stance is certainly welcomed by corporations in the coal industry, who have fought the components of the EPA’s Clean Power Plan from day one — claiming its regulations on emission caps at power plants were specifically focused on coal-run power plants — which isn’t necessarily untrue.

While the plan announced in 2014 was meant for reduction in pollution at all existing power plants in the United States, coincidently it happens the industry’s largest polluters were and are coal burning. In fact, they make up three fourths of all the country’s carbon emissions.

It’s no surprise this industry was the hardest hit by the Clean Power Plan and that they would fight any further regulation, enlisting help where they can find it. Ebell looks to be the industry’s biggest ally.

Interestingly enough, however, is that his efforts also speak to a large demographic of everyday Americans employed by these fossil fuel industries. A 2012 report by IHS Global Insight found that 1.7 million Americans depended on employment from fossil fuel-related industry, with the number growing to around 3 million by the end of the decade.

Perhaps this explains the resounding enthusiasm that many voters had for President-elect Trump’s America First Energy Plan — which focused on maintaining current industry jobs and creating millions more through domestic drilling of shale and natural gas reserves on federally owned lands.

The policy aims to make the U.S. attractively energy independent and claims to incorporate renewable energy and clean coal into the nation’s energy plan — which would be economically beneficial for both corporations and average Americans alike.

Yet, it is impossible to completely ignore the evidence of the effect mankind has had on the environment in the last 150 years, whether you want to believe it or not. Just in the last 10 years, the world has seen its warmest temperatures on record, as well as extreme weather phenomena, including droughts, flooding, storms, ocean acidification, etc. The fragile progress made with the 2015 Paris agreement is in a precarious position to come crashing down.

The great American desire for cheap energy and fuel begs the question: Will Trump’s energy-independent America be established at the cost of the planet?


The Paris Climate Agreement

From the beginning, Trump has been adamant about reversing the nation’s commitment to the United Nations 2015 Paris Agreement, which was signed last November by 1,95 countries. It was a huge step forward for environmental advocates and a positive progression to fight the effects of climate change and a warming planet. The signed document is a commitment for participating countries to actively reduce their CO2 emissions and halt the rising global temperature.

While legally, the new administration could not prevent other countries from maintaining their current plans to fight climate change, the U.S. is one of the leading contributors to greenhouse gas emissions and, by default, has great influence on the actions and outcomes of other countries across the globe.

Full participation by the U.S. in this plan is vital to the success of the Paris Agreement. Should the Trump administration hold true to their promise to rescind any commitments made last year, the result could be the document self-imploding — or at least slowing the process so much that the first objectives line out in the agreement would be unachievable by the other participating countries.

Furthermore, if the nation continued to adhere to the original pledge in the Paris Agreement, the U.S. alone would contribute to more than 20 percent of the emission reduction goals for 2030. However, if the nation opts out of participating in curbing the effects of polluting industry, other countries — like China, the largest contributor to CO2 emissions — may decide that their own commitment to a cleaner and greener planet is not in their best economic interests either. And really, who could blame them?

At present however, the Chinese haven’t decided to go that route just yet. They are also worried at the prospect of a Trump administration-snub at climate change. At a recent conference held in Marrakesh, China’s vice foreign minister, Liu Zhenmin, condemned the President-elect’s denial of climate change and its damaging effects on the environment, even citing the previous Republican President Bush’s active role in helping establish the U.N. bodies now instrumental in the creation of the very Paris Agreement Trump seeks to unravel.

It is apparent there is real concern over the future of American climate change policy and achieving the important goal of preventing the dangerous 3.6-degree temperature increase by the end of the century — a number scientists say will put the planet past the point of no return, with no hope of reversing the damage.


What Might the Response Be From the American People?

Before you outline the entire future of the U.S. and the world as bleak and pre-apocalyptic, keep in mind there is also still a large majority of the population — including businesses — committed to sustainable energy for the future. The rest of the world has also resoundingly agreed they will continue to fight the effects of climate change, even citing that the long-term benefits of transitioning to renewables far outweigh the quick results from the existing fossil fuel industry.

In fact, keeping the global temperature lower could result in economic growth rather than loss. It’s estimated that some $12 trillion in economic output could be seen by the year 2050. The prevention of large-scale disasters and other environmental impacts caused by climate change would be avoided, resulting in more stable economies across the globe.

Renewable energy costs are also falling, making this form of clean energy much more accessible not only to the average American, but also to developing nations such as Morocco, who just hosted COP 22 this month. The lower costs also help it compete within the larger industries of coal and oil. Continued innovations in renewables like solar energy only look to inspire more individuals to get behind efforts for a healthier planet.

Yet, it still leaves some Americans wondering what will happen to the millions of jobs the oil and coal industries have supported. Transitioning away from fossil fuels may not be as bleak for their employment future as they first thought.

Instead, the proposal of programs like the Just Transition Framework would retrain and relocate workers in these fields and would largely mitigate any job and income loss associated with the transition to renewable energy. It would also retrain the next generation of professionals for greener industry. A win-win for everyone right?

Well, that really remains to be seen with the incoming administration, regardless of which side of the platform you support. Trump’s success with dismantling any policy made by the Obama administration depends on his approach, which could end in lawsuits. Popularity of his ideas would also depend on his follow-through on campaign promise — e.g. actually creating those millions of jobs in the fossil fuel industry, rather than transitioning them.

He will meet strong opposition should he attempt to completely eliminate the EPA, changing rules that even the previous Republican administration saw to enact in the early 2000s, which may not go over well with Congress. The overall global momentum is moving in the opposite direction of Trump and his policies. Whether or not his goals will gain traction and be successful remains to be seen.

However, it is extremely apparent that the rest of the world is worried. India, the third-largest contributor behind China for CO2 emissions, just ratified the Paris Agreement this past October. India hasn’t been as vocal as the Chinese since the election earlier this month on its continued commitment to fulfilling those promises.

This is due largely to the fact that they would require monetary help from other wealthier countries in order to succeed, which would see little hope of coming to fruition under a Trump Presidency.

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Holly Whitman is a writer and journalist based in Washington DC. She loves to share her thoughts on the intersection of politics and culture, and writes on everything from feminism and human rights to climate change and technology.

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54 thoughts on “Were All Our Climate Change Hopes Lost in Trump’s Election?

  1. There has long been a moral argument undercurrent to Green arguments.

    There are a lot of problems with moral arguments when it comes to morality that is not shared. Go back and read “Bowers v. Hardwick” if you want a good example of a morality that strikes me as striking you as completely alien.

    If you don’t share some amount of necessary framework undergirding the moral argument, you’re just going to see the decision as capricious (if not downright evil).

    So the question comes: what do you need to do when you aren’t swaying people with your moral argument?

    Seems to me that the answer is to code-switch to a vulgar utilitarianism that puts all emphasis on the outcome and the things needed to get to the right outcome and avoid the wrong outcome. Temptations to fall back and point out that, hey, the utilitarianism is just to get to the proper end, the *REAL* reason we’re doing this stuff is the deontological reasons that the rubes don’t agree with (and we only switched to utilitarianism to get them to work with us for a while), is pretty much going to scuttle the plan to fix things.

    And that will get us to the outcome that we want, even if we’re not making the people who will have decided to reluctantly work with us into better people all around.

    Isn’t the outcome here more important anyway?

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    • Couldn’t we make this same statement about virtually every action ever taken?

      Like, if we applied this statement to property rights, individual conscience and autonomy, and asked about deontology versus utilitarianism?

      I’m not seeing what separates environmental concerns out from everything else.

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    • “Isn’t the outcome here more important anyway?”

      Sure, and the outcome is that all the bad people get punished until they admit that they knew exactly how bad they were being and that it was on purpose all along!

      Because the default state of existence is “everything is awesome for everyone all the time” and it’s only bad people being bad on purpose that makes anything not be awesome.

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    • I dunno. Vulgar utilitarianism would, for many people, suggest that our sources of pollution should pollute as much as they want and let someone else clean up the mess. Isn’t that what we’re hearing now from various conservatives on climate change? (See, for example, all the commentary about American businesses choking on federal regulations, some of which can even be found here.)

      There are plenty of scientists arguing now that the case for taking climate change seriously is literally about the preservation of our global civilization — that crop failure and the collapse of fisheries is in our near future if we continue business-as-usual. Is that a moral issue?

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      • Thing is, though, that you too are taking a “vulgar utilitarianism” position when you say “preservation of global civilization”. That’s about as utilitarian as you can get!

        The issue is that once you’ve done the things that preserve global civilization, then under a utilitarian calculus you’re done doing things. If it’s a moral issue, though–if reducing pollution is a moral imperative rather than just a matter of preserving global civilization–then you are, quite truly, never done until there is zero pollution of any kind. And even then there’s a pressure to find more and different ways of pollution so that the moral imperative to reduce pollution can be fulfilled. Maybe there’s noise pollution, light pollution, the psychic pollution of advertising and Harmful Political Speech and people saying “LOL U SHULD KILL URSELF” on Twitter.

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      • I’m suggesting changing the desired goal from “doing as little as possible and damn the consequences” to “maybe looking at the consequences and arguing that these consequences would be bad and worth avoiding”.

        “So let’s avoid these consequences! Who has some engineering solutions?”

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  2. The longer view picture I think, is that America’s role as a leader in the world will decrease.

    Increasingly other nations in Europe and Asia will look elsewhere for a leader who can summon the political and diplomatic will and strength to get trade deals, security agreements, and environmental treaties done.

    If I were a Japanese or German government official and I saw that the American government’s representative was some guy who thinks Jesus rode a dinosaur I might decide not to put a whole lot of faith in him as a partner.

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  3. It’s a fairly easy question to answer. No, your hopes were not lost, or at least not if you were simply hoping things would get a lot better. If you were hoping things would get a lot better as a result of government intervention, then the answer is still no, but for a different reason. Things weren’t going to get a lot better as a result of government intervention in the first place. Why? Because lots of countries aren’t subject to the Paris agreement, and because Paris does absolutely nothing to create solid alternative sources of energy.

    What will greatly help reduce carbon emissions is a.) the development and widespread dissemination of a lightweight, low-cost, high-capacity battery, which is what Elon Musk is developing and will undoubtedly continue to develop regardless of what Trump does, and b.) the construction of more nuclear power plants to take up the slack until renewable sources of energy reach the point of making a major contribution to energy production. Government could encourage the latter– but as far as I can tell, neither Obama nor Paris particularly do. (Which isn’t all that surprising. Anti-global-warming people appear to me to shoot themselves in the foot by being against many possible solutions to it, so that they’re anti-nuclear as well as anti-fracking, despite the latter’s major role in the reduction of coal-burning plants by providing copious quantities of very inexpensive natural gas.)

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  4. The way I like to view the issue of combating climate change is as a form of insurance: (avoid the morality argument completly) Of course this immediately demands that economists agree on a discount rate i.e. how much less a dollar paid in 10 years for example is worth than a dollar today. Given this take the estimate costs of climate change and discount them to todays value, and that provides a maximum amount you can spend today to mitigate the changes. Then agree on a probability that the changes will happen multiply by the value mentioned above and you have a good idea of what a reasonable value to spend is.
    After all sooner or later the human race will change or die off, if nothing else Ray Kurzweil’s prediction will come true and our silicon descendants will eliminate their carbon based fragile ancestors. Or one of the many world ending predicted disasters will reduce the human population drastically.

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  5. Ah yes. The usual liberal slur against anyone who doesn’t agree with them about human-caused climate change. I’ve been studying this for two or three years. Finally, and pretty much in a flash, my thoughts crystallized. So here goes:

    1. CO2’s (carbon dioxide’s) causal role in atmospheric temperature fluctuation is inferred from laboratory data, but unconfirmed by empirical data from the atmosphere.

    2. Human emissions of CO2 are less than 5% of the total.

    3. The proponents of the AGW (anthropogenic, or human-caused, global warming) hypothesis made a series of predictions that have not come true. Normally, this leads to the discarding or significant alteration of the hypothesis, per the scientific method. The fact that this hasn’t happened tells me that whatever it might have been, the AGW hypothesis is no longer a matter of science but of politics and personal interest.

    4. Whenever someone says that a hypothesis, in particular, is “settled science,” that person(s) fails to understand scientific inquiry in its fundamental sense. Scientific facts and laws can be said to be “settled,” and theories are theories because the hypotheses from which they are derived have survived repeated, independent tests.

    This is not true of AGW, which remains a hypothesis, and a very shaky one at best. For it to be labeled as “settled science,” and for those who dispute it to be harassed and vilified as “denialists,” does real violence to the logical underpinnings of scientific inquiry and to logic itself — in the name of science, no less!

    5. There is a statistical element to the AGW hypothesis, and it is flatly invalid.

    6. The U.N. agency, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, is not an inquiry panel but an advocacy group based on the AGW hypothesis being true and “settled.” Therefore, any IPCC reports should not be seen as research reports, but as political advocacy of a predetermined conclusion.

    7. The practices followed by most AGW-favoring climatologists are dubious at best, starting with the underlying structure of research, which is highly prone to confirmation bias and groupthink, and extending all the way to misrepresentation and outright falsification of pertinent data.

    8. The so-called scientific consensus in favor of the AGW hypothesis has been wildly overstated and misrepresented.

    There are plenty of points that follow from what I just wrote. They are more polemical. But what I just wrote consists of carefully chosen words. I can supply links to support each point. I honestly think the day will come when a vastly humbled scientific research establishment will be eating a gigantic crow dinner over the embrace of the AGW hypothesis.

    FINALLY: I reject the global warming consensus, but I do NOT think we’re in the clear on other environmental issues. My point here is narrow – that “carbon pollution” and “climate change” are not problems. There are plenty of real environmental problems out there. Let’s work on what’s real!

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      • Love the supercilious, empty, terminally and stereotypically smug reply. Now for some facts:

        1. I didn’t vote for Trump. Didn’t vote for Clinton either. Both of them were unqualified for the office, for different reasons.

        2. I have an undergraduate degree, a double-major from one of the top-20 U.S. universities in two disciplines for which they were ranked in the top five. I have a graduate degree from a university ranked in the top five in the world.

        Oh, but you’re a typical liberal whose answer to disagreement is smugness and not substance. I bet you wonder why Trump — by far the worst major candidate in all 11 presidential elections in which I’ve cast a vote — beat your corrupt, lying preference. Have a happy eight years, and just wait until what’s left of the Ds gets wiped out in 2018.


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  6. Holly, in your first few paragraphs, you jump between the ‘coal industry’ and the ‘fossil fuels industry’. They are actually not the same, and the effects of natural gas burning is substantially different from the effects of coal burning.

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  7. Kim:
    Also: 2016 is peak car.

    You’re right, Kim. However, electricity generation is a larger share of carbon emissions than transportation, and it’s much larger, naturally, than the subsection of transportation taken up by cars. And in this consideration there’s a lot more room for improvement in emissions in electricity generation, such as by replacing fossil-fuel plants with totally non-emitting alternatives, than there is room for improvement in car emissions or numbers of car-miles driven.

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