This is happening. Donald Trump is going to be president of the United States.
And there’s no way around it: What he’s planning to do looks like an absolute disaster for the planet (and the people on it). Specifically, all the fragile but important progress the world has made on global warming over the past eight years is now in danger of being blown to hell.
Trump has been crystal clear about his environmental plans. The mainstream media never wanted to bring it up, never wanted to ask about it in debates, never wanted to turn their addled attention away from Hillary Clinton’s email servers to discuss what a Trump presidency might mean for climate change. But all the indications were there:
- Trump called global warming a Chinese hoax. He couldn’t have been blunter about this.
- Trump has said, straight up, he wants to scrap all the major regulations that President Obama painstakingly put in place to reduce US carbon dioxide emissions, including the Clean Power Plan. With Republicans controlling the House and Senate, he can easily do this. Pass a bill and sign it. Done.
- Trump has also hinted he wants to get rid of the Environmental Protection Agency entirely. “What they do is a disgrace,” he has said. If Congress agrees, he could readily scrap regulations on mercury pollution, on smog, on coal ash, and more.
- Trump has said he wants to repeal all federal spending on clean energy, including R&D for wind, solar, nuclear power, and electric vehicles. Again, with Congress at his side, this is totally doable.
- Trump has said he wants to pull the United States out of the Paris climate deal. There’s nothing stopping him. (Technically, the US can’t officially withdraw for four years, but for all practical purposes, the Trump administration could ignore it.)
If Trump follows through, these policies would mean more coal burning in the United States, more air pollution, more carbon dioxide emissions. Here’s how Lux Research modeled the impacts — Trump’s policies would lead to an extra 3.4 billion tons of CO2 emissions compared with Clinton’s proposals:
For the rest of the world, the impact could be seismic.
The world was making cautious progress on global warming. Trump wants to blow that up.
Over the past eight years, the Obama administration has been using every regulatory lever at its disposal to push down US carbon dioxide emissions via executive actions. Obama has also been trying to coax countries like China to participate in a global climate deal, under which every country would voluntarily pledge to restrain its emissions and meet regularly at the UN to ratchet up their ambitions over time.
That plan came to fruition last December, when the world agreed to a sweeping climate agreement in Paris. The Paris deal was always delicate, and the current pledges aren’t nearly enough to avoid dangerous global warming, defined as 2°C or more. But the deal was a start. And the hope was that by cooperating and exerting diplomatic pressure on each other, all countries would steadily increase action over time.
Now that’s imperiled. If Trump were to yank the United States out of the Paris agreement, the deal wouldn’t die, but momentum could wane. It’s easy to imagine China and India deciding they don’t need to push nearly as hard on clean energy if the world’s richest and most powerful country doesn’t care. At best, progress would slow. At worst, the entire arrangement could collapse, and we set out on a path for 4°C warming or more.
These are decisions that will reverberate for thousands of years and affect hundreds of millions of people. We can’t easily undo the effects of all that extra carbon dioxide we keep putting into the air. Without drastic reductions in emissions (or possibly risky geoengineering), global temperatures will keep rising. The ice caps in Greenland and Antarctica will keep melting. Once that process gets underway, we can’t reverse it. The seas will rise. South Florida will eventually vanish beneath the oceans. Megadroughts will become more likely in the Southwest. For generations and generations.
This is the future of humanity. We’re at risk of departing from the stable climatic conditions that sustained civilization for thousands of years and lurching into the unknown. The world’s poorest countries, in particular, are ill-equipped to handle this disruption.
So is there any hope things won’t actually be this bad?
That all said, there’s always, always reason for hope. Political change unfolds in unexpected ways, and not everything on Earth revolves around the machinations of the US federal government. So here are a few reasons to think the fight against climate change is not yet lost:
- States like California and New York are still pursuing their own ambitious climate policies, and it’s possible those efforts could be so successful that other states decide to follow suit.
- Likewise, wind power, solar power, and electric cars keep getting much cheaper all around the world — it’s possible they’ll eventually acquire an unstoppable momentum, even without federal support from the US government. Or maybe some other new low-carbon technologies will come along to shake up climate politics.
- Climate activists will continue to push for action at local levels — much as they did during the George W. Bush years, when the Sierra Club began blocking a major planned expansion of coal power. It’s possible that opposition to Trump will galvanize a new generation of climate activists who find new, creative ways to address the problem.
- Other countries still have their own reasons for tackling climate change, even China and India (which, note, is choking on dangerous levels of air pollution in Delhi right now). It’s possible that Trump’s recalcitrance on climate change could motivate the rest of the world to redouble their efforts at curtailing emissions without us.
- Heck, it’s even possible that Trump and the GOP could have a change of heart and decide that global warming is a real issue that needs to be taken seriously. It’s possible that Republicans could balk at repealing all these pollution regulations, realizing that they’re actually quite popular. Stranger things have happened.
Lots of things are possible. Climate change will continue to be a defining issue for generations, long after Donald Trump is gone — and there’s never reason to give up altogether. But the landscape has undeniably shifted. Right now Trump has given every indication that he wants to gamble with the future of the only planet around that’s known to support life. And what he wants to do is dangerous.http://www.vox.com/2016/11/9/13571318/donald-trump-disaster-climate