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.