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


Holly Whitman

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 Responses

  1. Avatar Jaybird says:

    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?Report

    • Avatar Chip Daniels in reply to Jaybird says:

      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.Report

    • Avatar DensityDuck in reply to Jaybird says:

      “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.Report

    • Avatar Francis in reply to Jaybird says:

      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?Report

      • Avatar DensityDuck in reply to Francis says:

        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.Report

      • Avatar Jaybird in reply to Francis says:

        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?”Report

        • Avatar Francis in reply to Jaybird says:

          There are lots of engineering solutions under consideration.

          But resource extraction and power generation are intensely political in this country even without the climate change issue. These are enormous industries that affect every single American. The idea that the political issue can be solved by turning over the issue to a group of technocrats seems awfully naive to me.Report

    • Avatar Barry in reply to Jaybird says:

      Jaybird: “There has long been a moral argument undercurrent to Green arguments.”

      When the facts are on your side, pound on the facts. When the facts are not on your side, call the other side ‘moral’?Report

  2. Avatar Chip Daniels says:

    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.Report

    • Avatar DensityDuck in reply to gregiank says:

      uh, that article does not have one god damn word from Trump about his plans. The only actual quotes it has are from “a senior Trump campaign adviser” (who has not yet been named to any role in the transition team or the new administration.)Report

      • It is completely unfair to discuss Trump while ignoring the fact that neither Trump himself nor anyone associated with him has a fucking clue about anything.Report

        • Avatar Kolohe in reply to Mike Schilling says:

          This really can’t be emphasized enough.Report

          • Avatar Stillwater in reply to Kolohe says:

            Oh, I’m pretty sure that Trump Enterprises is gonna come outa this better than when it all started.Report

            • Avatar Troublesome Frog in reply to Stillwater says:

              Until he was elected, I thought there was a very high probability that Donald Trump would end up penniless before he died. The fact that he was clearly lying about his net worth, his famously expensive lifestyle, and his tendency to do risky things and make bad investments were all strong indicators. When he started burning bridges during the election I figured that probability was going to increase.

              Now that he’s the President Elect, I’m quite certain that he’ll finish his life with plenty of money. And unlike other presidents, he’ll make most of it while he’s in office rather than afterward.Report

            • Avatar Barry in reply to Stillwater says:

              “Oh, I’m pretty sure that Trump Enterprises is gonna come outa this better than when it all started.”

              My only question is whether the Trump family makes, 1, 2 or 3 billion $$$$$/year during their time in office.

              But of course, the Clintons were the corrupt ones!Report

        • Avatar C.P. in reply to Mike Schilling says:

          Wow, you wrote fucking, so you must be really smart! And serious, too!Report

    • Avatar C.P. in reply to gregiank says:

      Oh boy. The Guardian. I guess people need to keep quoting them until they finally close their doors, huh?Report

  3. Avatar Oscar Gordon says:

    Because it’s relevant: Plants are absorbing more carbon than before.

    Note that while good news, this is a finger in the dyke kinda thing. We still have to stop pumping CO2 out, and/or start pulling it out of the air.Report

  4. Avatar Heresiarch says:

    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.)Report

  5. Avatar Lyle says:

    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.Report

  6. Avatar C.P. says:

    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!Report

    • Avatar Chip Daniels in reply to C.P. says:

      I’ve been studying this for two or three years.

      I didn’t know they gave out degrees in climatology from Trump University.

      (Now thats what a liberal slur looks like!)Report

      • Avatar C.P. in reply to Chip Daniels says:

        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.


        • Avatar Barry in reply to C.P. says:

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

          I’ll bet that in four years, only one, two million people tops will have voted for Trump.

          “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.”

          Somebody is very, very carefully not mentioning his major.

          Finally, if you want to get the real science, go to realclimate.org.Report

          • Avatar C.P. in reply to Barry says:

            Why mention my specific subjects or schools? You people wouldn’t believe it anyway, because you’re the usual snotty “progressives” who cannot have a detailed discussion with someone who doesn’t agree with the global warming religion to which you cling so bitterly.Report

            • Avatar Kim in reply to C.P. says:

              CP — if you want to call my friends liars and people who can’t fucking read a stupid chart, well, light your fucking dvds on fire. I’ll start compiling a list of things that you don’t get to play with, because you think my friends are liars.
              Oh, and you might want to unsubscribe from Netflix pretty soon now, because obviously my friends can’t fucking do math.

              CP, you realize that one of the AGW predictions was MORE SNOW IN NYC????? (The Northeast in general, actually.) I see that prediction coming true.Report

        • Avatar Kim in reply to C.P. says:

          by the principle of parsimony, I’ll conclude that your degrees are in communications and English.
          Because nobody with a background in math could have difficulty reading a chart.


    • Avatar J_A in reply to C.P. says:

      Ah yes. The usual liberal slur against anyone who doesn’t agree with them

      Any post that starts with the above doesn’t really promise good, respectful, interesting, discussionReport

  7. Avatar Barry says:

    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.Report

  8. Avatar C.P. says:

    On their websites, “progressives” feel free to be insulting jerks, but then turn around and strike quite the victim pose when the serve gets returned.Report

  9. Avatar Mongo says:

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

    A: Yes.Report

  10. Avatar Heresiarch says:

    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.Report