What Trump presidency means for climate change action
Wednesday, November 9, 2016, 4:11 PM - Donald Trump was elected to the office of President of the United States. Given his oft-stated opinions on the subject, here are the top four ways his leadership may impact America's efforts towards climate change.
Besides weather stations, the best tool available to track our changing climate and weather patterns is the fleet of Earth-observing satellites in orbit, which constantly monitor what is going on with our atmosphere and on the surface.
In recent years, the Republican-controlled Senate Commerce Subcommittee on Space, Science, and Competitiveness has attempted to change NASA's focus, to take away from the agency's Earth-observing programs and push for more exploration outward.
While, on the surface, that appears to be a boon for human space exploration, and for new possibilities and opportunities for exploring more of our solar system, it has a darker purpose. De-funding Earth-observing programs would hamper US efforts to keep track of our changing climate, especially in remote regions such as the Arctic and Antarctic.
With the Republican party's anti-science stance when it comes to global warming and climate change, that would certainly help their cause.
What can we expect under President Trump? He notably agrees with this stance.
In an October rally in Sanford, FL, he went on record saying:
“I will free NASA from the restriction of serving primarily as a logistics agency for low-Earth orbit activity. Instead, we will refocus its mission on space exploration. Under a Trump Administration, Florida and America will lead the way into the stars."
While that certainly has some potential for increased NASA budgets, to push human space exploration outward at a faster pace, this plan will very likely gut all programs for these Earth-monitoring satellites, and cancel any future missions that may be in the queue.
President Obama's Clean Power Plan put America on the path towards lower greenhouse gas emissions and an increase in renewable energy production. It was a flexible plan that addressed the varied way that states generate and use power. It was intended to make the United States more energy independent, while giving the 50 states a way to take action against climate change in a way that best suited them. It even provided contingencies for states that were obstinate about changing their ways, by allowing the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to then step in with a federal cap-and-trade program.
During his campaign, Donald Trump has named the EPA as one of the two agencies that would see cuts within the first 100 days of his Presidency (Department of Education was the other), and in September, as part of a proposed "moratorium on new federal regulations" and elimination of "all needless and job-killing now on the books," he specifically said that this would involve scrapping the Clean Power Plan.
Just before the election, his campaign said that he would eliminate all federal climate change spending - both domestic and international - which would most certainly include ending all investments in clean energy technology.
"This election result seriously threaten the US’s federal climate action," Shaun Marcott, a professor of palaeoclimate at the University of Wisconsin-Madison said, according to Carbon Brief. "In the worst case, Trump will work towards reversal of the Clean Power Plan. If the Clean Power Plan was to be permanently stopped, emissions projections would be significantly higher than in its absence and we would be seeing an increasing emissions trend over the next decade."
Lux Research plotted the path of both Clinton's and Trump's plans, going forward, which shows the likely result of this path.
Credit: Lux Research, Inc.
The Paris Climate Agreement
Over the past two years, the world has made historic strides in coming together to address the threat of climate change, and as of November 4, 2016, after reaching the necessary thresholds for ratification, the Paris Agreement has now come into full effect.
Earlier this year, Donald Trump stated that he would "renegotiate" the terms of the Paris Climate Agreement. Then, in May, while speaking on energy policy, he changed things up, switching from negotiation to cancellation, saying that he would pull the U.S. out of the global deal.
Fortunately, due to the wording of the Agreement (specifically in Article 28), the earliest the U.S. could actually withdraw from it would be November 4, 2020. That's based on Trump issuing the U.S.'s intention to withdraw once three years has passed from the date the Agreement came into effect, and the mandatory one-year waiting period from the date the intention to withdraw was issued.
Since each member nation decides their own level of participation in the Agreement, however, nothing is stopping Trump from simply ignoring the Agreement for the duration of his presidency, or going so far as to completely withdraw the United States from the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC). With U.S. participation instrumental in getting other key nations, such as China, on board for the Agreement, if the U.S. suddenly goes back on its promises, other countries may follow suit.
Given the progress made so far, however, any resistance displayed by the Trump administration may galvanize the rest of the world to even stronger action and commitments.
Dr. Philip B Duffy, the executive director of the Woods Hole Research Center and a former senior policy analyst in the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy, talked to Carbon Brief about this very subject:
Donald Trump has said, several times, that to him human-caused climate change is a hoax. In one post on Twitter, he said "The concept of global warming was created by and for the Chinese in order to make U.S. manufacturing non-competitive."
While he later said that was "a joke," he went on to claim that climate change "is just a very, very expensive form of tax," and that it was "done for the benefit of China."
Based on these and other statements, it is very unlikely that a Trump Administration will support using federal funds to support climate scientists or any institutions that participate in climate research.
Furthermore, Republican representatives have been harassing climate scientists for some time now, usually in the form of issuing burdensome subpoenas to turn over their research and correspondence. These efforts have been revealed as blatant political overreach, and as deliberate "fishing expeditions,' designed to pull out any references they can, typically completely out of context, to attempt to discredit the research and its findings in the public eye.
Given that the Republican party now has control of the White House, the Senate and the House of Representatives, and Trump's choice for the supreme court will most certainly be a Republican judge, any hope for an end to this practice has likely died.
As a result, climate scientists can likely expect even more harassment in the years to come.
What can we do?
The United States is an important player when it comes to action on climate change, but they are not the only player on the field.
Regardless of Trump's promises to end federal spending on clean energy in the United States, he can't stop the progress that's been made in that sector. In fact, that progress will continue, even if he commits the federal government to every fossil fuel project that comes up over the next four years.
Solar energy is becoming more efficient and cheaper, all the time. Recent advances in the technology have put solar cell efficiency up to around 20 per cent using perovskite, a much cheaper, much easier to use material than the silicon solar cells that have been produced so far.
Wind power is becoming more widespread and new technologies are not only producing more efficient turbines, but ones that will operate at lower speeds, thus collecting more energy for our use.
So, having more abundant energy at a lower cost could drive the free market to seek out renewable energy choices over fossil fuel resources, regardless of the stance of the U.S. federal government. Thus, we can still guide action by choosing to support clean energy over fossil fuels in our day-to-day lives.
"I don’t think anyone knows what this means for US policy on climate science or emissions reductions," said Andrew Dessler, a professor of atmospheric sciences at Texas A&M University, according to Carbon Brief. "I think we all expected that the Clean Power Plan would end eventually up in front of the Supreme Court, and its fate there is more doubtful now that Trump gets to appoint the next Justice."
"On the other hand," he added, "renewable power is getting cheap fast, and my optimistic hope is that renewable energy gets so cheap that we switch to it without any national government policy."
Thumbnail image courtesy CNN