We need to take stock of where we are if we are to have any chance of getting to where we need to go. After years of slow but steady climate action, the U.S. now has a climate and environment destroying president and legislature. Although Hilary Clinton won the majority of votes, under the collegiate system –which was designed to protect slave owning states–Donald Trump won the election and will be president. Under Trump, Republicans will reverse everything that President Obama has achieved on energy and the environment.
Consider that President-elect Trump called global warming “bullshit” and a Chinese-invented hoax. Although this may seem like a surreal reality show it is actually a living nightmare, a cataclysm of America’s own making. Trump has promised to double-down on fossil fuels, kill climate action and withdraw from the Paris Agreement. He will gut the EPA and eliminate $100 billion in climate-related federal funding over the next eight years.
Far worse than you think
A Trump administration will open the climate floodgates and this is a grave threat to all life on Earth. Americans have voted for a President and a party that will augur mass starvation, coastal flooding, megadroughts, unprecedented super-storms, ocean acidification, widespread conflict, climate refugees and worse. The military and intelligence community recognize that climate change is a national security threat of epic proportions.
Many environmental groups are trying to offer a positive spin on the election of Trump. The Pollyanna perspective of many environmentalists may be due to the fact that they are suffering from their own brand of denial or it may be a pragmatic attempt to invite more financial support. Either way, this view is hopelessly disconnected from reality. They speak to the need for climate action, but they fail to mention that it has become almost impossible to achieve the required level of emissions reductions with Trump and the Republicans in control of the U.S. federal government. A Think Progress article by Joe Romm made the point succinctly with the following words:
“[T]he damage and delay that even a one-term President Trump could do will make the already difficult task of keeping total warming well below 2°C essentially impossible.”
The Trump administration’s disdain for science will end science-based policy decisions and contribute to a climate Kakistocracy. While defiance in the face of such a dire predicament is both noble and necessary, it is crucial that we understand what this administration will do so that we can develop cogent counter-strategies.
Trump has vowed to dig for coal, mine for oil and frack for gas. President Trump, along with a Republican legislature, has effectively given the keys of government to the fossil fuel industry. This means the end of government efforts to protect the environment and reign in climate change. As promised by Trump, he will support private sector energy infrastructure projects. This means that pipelines and coal export terminals will be built. Fossil fuel projects like the Dakota Access (DAPL) pipeline will be approved and the Keystone XL will be resurrected from the grave. Ongoing Republican support for fossil fuel subsidies and public money for related research and development will continue in earnest.
Trump’s fossil fuel focused energy policy will increase U.S. emissions. Lux Research recently said, “estimated emissions would be 16 percent higher after two terms of Trump’s policies than they would be after two terms of Clinton’s, amounting to 3.4 billion tons greater emissions over the next eight years.” The only way that Trump will be able to reduce emissions is by causing a protracted global depression. Economists concede that this is very likely if he implements his economic plan. Nobel Prize-winning economist Paul Krugman bluntly stated that Trump’s presidency heralds, “a global recession, with no end in sight.”
Trump appointed a climate denier to a senior environmental position in his transition team and on January 20, 2017, climate deniers and fossil fuel advocates will take over all branches of government.
Myron Ebell will head the EPA, he has said global warming is “nothing to worry about”. He has also openly denied the veracity of peer reviewed climate science and he is expected to end the agency’s climate and environmental advocacy.
Oil billionaire Harold Hamm is Trump’s top pick to lead the Department of Energy and he will oversee the ramping-up of fossil fuel production. His other energy advisers include coal magnate Robert Murray and pro-fossil fuel Rep. Kevin Cramer of North Dakota.
Sarah Palin may be tapped to be Secretary of the Interior. She infamously called fossil fuels, “things that God has dumped on this part of the Earth for mankind’s use.” Whoever gets that position is expected to open oceans and federal lands to various forms of extraction including fossil fuels. There are about 279 million acres of public land and water thought to hold oil and gas. The Trump transition team turned to Koch lobbyist Mike McKenna for advice on the Energy Department. Although the reality star calls himself an outsider, he is staffing his administration with lobbyists and industry insiders.
Hamm has reportedly told Trump to “just scrap” Obama’s regulations. Polls suggest that Americans care about dirty air and water and, to a lesser extent, climate change. However, under a Trump administration, Americans may see the protections in place disappear.
The EPA, which was created by Richard Nixon, will be a shadow of its former self as its budget will be radically reduced and its powers scaled back. The Clean Power Plan will be replaced and in the interim, states are likely to be given waivers that will exempt them from having to comply. The Obama administration’s fuel economy standards for cars and light trucks are also likely to be revoked. Other regulations in jeopardy include rules pertaining to oil and gas drilling, methane, smog, mercury, coal pollution, pesticides, wildlife protections and oil spills.
The climate-killing changes Trump has promised may take some time to implement. In the interim, we can expect legal challenges. However, the power of the highest court in the land will be stymied when Trump stacks the Supreme Court with anti-regulation, pro-fossil fuel conservative judges.
Billions of dollars in federal government support for clean energy will be withdrawn and the funding for the Advanced Technology Vehicle Manufacturing Loan Program will be cut. Federal tax credits for solar and wind are unlikely to be renewed (the investment tax credit (ITC) for solar and the production tax credit (PTC) for wind.
Trump has also indicated that he will end America’s cleantech leadership in terms of both research and development. The absence of public money for research will undermine America’s ability to benefit from the golden opportunity associated with cleantech for many years to come.
Global cooperation on climate action will face major opposition as the wealthiest nation in the world ignores the Paris Climate Agreement. Make no mistake about it, just as the US under President Obama was critical in securing international climate cooperation, opposition to climate action and doubling down on fossil fuels will undermine global climate efforts. We must remember that even if the US respected its commitments, we needed to see bigger emissions cuts to keep global temperature averages from rising above prescribed limits. Ratcheting up ambitions in 2020 seems very unlikely. Although states assembled at COP22 are trying to put a brave face on climate action, the Trump administration will have serious global repercussions.
Under Trump, the US will not contribute to global climate finance, meaning that poorer nations will be less likely to be able to afford the robust action that is needed. Trump will not provide aid for development related to climate change, this includes the UN’s green finance, the World Bank and the Inter-American Development Bank. He will also end adaptation and resilience grants and subsidies to support local government.
Efforts to make federal agencies use more renewable energy and be more energy efficient will also come to an end. So will the environmental oversight that now must be part of all new projects in federal agencies.
While the Republicans were obstructionist for their own partisan gains, Democrats in the Senate will be obstructionist on behalf of current and future generation. The only tool that Democrats have to oppose Republican action is the filibuster. A total of 60 Senators are required to end a filibuster. Only 41 of the 47 Democrats in the Senate are required to make a filibuster impervious. However, some think that Republicans will simply get rid of the filibuster as they need only 50 votes to do so. Now that Republican legislators are in control they could use their majority to support environmental measures that affect the federal budget into budget reconciliation bills. Such bills only need 51 votes to pass.
We the people
The repercussions of a Trump administration will be felt for decades after Americans come to their senses. Their misdirected rage and petulance has caused them to cut their nose to spite their face. The savage irony is the the world will suffer in the wake of their angry effort to send a message by giving more power to obstructionist Republicans, the ones responsible for Washington being broken in the first place.
Those who voted Republican will come to rue the day that they handed the most powerful office in the world to the least qualified candidate ever to win the presidency. We must not let them forget what they have done, we must ceaselessly remind them of the hell that they have unleashed on the world. This is not retribution, this is about accountability.
Although businesses and investors will counter the climate-killing efforts of the Trump administration, market forces alone will not be enough to keep us from surpassing tipping points from which we will not be able to recover.
China’s Vice Foreign Minister Liu Zhenmin reminded the new administration that climate negotiations began in the 1980s under popular Republican president Ronald Reagan. History will record that Republican president Donald Trump opened the door to catastrophic climate change when he slammed shut the window of opportunity for climate action in 2017.
This is a bitter pill to swallow but we must be fully aware of what we are up against if we hope to do what we can to counter this looming dystopia.
Richard Matthews is a consultant, eco-entrepreneur, green investor and author of numerous articles on sustainable positioning, eco-economics and enviro-politics. He is the owner of The Green Market Oracle, a leading sustainable business site and one of the Web’s most comprehensive resources on the business of the environment. Find The Green Market on Facebook and follow The Green Market’s twitter feed.
Image credit: Mike Licht, courtesy Flickr