Did We Just Lose the Fight Against Climate Change?

Trump’s trade proposals and promise to end the "war on coal" could be the nail in the coffin for the environment.

Climate Change

Photo by Markus Heine/NurPhoto via Getty Images

Climate Change

As the sobering reality that Donald Trump has managed to secure president-elect has set in, the social, economic, and environmental threats bellowed somewhat belligerently throughout his campaign have come sharply into focus. We knew that a Trump presidency would mean unimaginable social regression and danger for women, POC, individuals who identify as LGBTQ, and other marginalized groups. And we knew there would be domestic and foreign fallout from Trump’s promise to dismantle President Obama’s executive orders. But, while it was certainly a topic of concern, one very important policy point was criminally overlooked in discourse leading up to election night: climate change.

In September, Trump tweeted one of many radical denier comments that he’s since openly denied. “The concept of global warming was created by and for the Chinese in order to make U.S. manufacturing non-competitive,” he wrote. This bizarre conspiracy theory is likely a convolution of renewable energy technologies being sourced from overseas, particularly from China, which is now a global leader in clean energy. Importation, in part, is what has made renewable energies viable as an affordable alternative to fossil fuels. A recent report from the International Energy Agency stated that “renewables accounted for more than half of the increase in power capacity” globally, according to BBC. And with energy sources that included wind, solar, and hydro, the IEA reported that clean energy had effectively overtaken coal. But Trump’s proposed tariffs to minimize imports—a divisive trade policy even within the GOP that House Speaker Paul Ryan said would cause "collateral damage on the economy”—would make clean energy financially burdensome. And that doesn’t even touch on the increased costs of all the other stuff we import, half of which comes from China. You think your iPhone is expensive now? Brace yourselves.

Trump’s promise to end the war on coal has been one of the most resounding talking points of his campaign (almost as loud and asinine as his promises to deport immigrants and implement surveillance of Muslim communities). Oil, gas, and coal stocks skyrocketed after Trump’s election victory, and NPR notes that Trump’s campaign breathed new life into coal country states like Wyoming, where markets have been declining in the face of cheaper renewable alternatives. Low markets mean less jobs, and Trump’s tariffs were music to the ears for folks in areas where miners and power plant workers had been laid off. But as NPR points out, Trump has also proposed an increase in fracking. Natural gas is a direct competitor to the coal industry, and these contradictions seem to be lost on workers looking to secure jobs in their respective trades. Natural gas emits significantly less carbon dioxide than coal (by roughly half) and is increasingly the more favorable of fossil fuels.

People Before Coal

Either way, the long-term effects of increased greenhouse gas emissions would be devastating. In December of 2015, nearly 200 countries made history at the United Nations Climate Summit with the Paris Agreement, a global agreement to net zero emissions sometime between 2050 and 2100, keep temperatures below 1.5 degrees Celsius and help developing countries transition to cleaner energy. However, the president-elect has vowed to pull the United States out of its legal obligations to the accord as one of his many first orders of business. If this were to happen, we would need to rely on other countries to lead the fight. This is especially troubling if the United States were to increase its greenhouse emissions under a Trump presidency, as the US and China alone are responsible for nearly half of the world’s emissions.

Some scientists speculate that we’re nearing 1.5-degree Celsius tipping point and that we will have surpassed a dangerous 2-degree Celsius temperature before mid-century. Others claim that if we continue as we have been, we’ll have far exceeded 2 degrees Celsius by 2100. According to the Independent, a report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change posits that “the Earth’s average temperature will rise by between 2.6 and 4.8 degrees above pre-industrial levels by 2100” if we don’t make significant changes globally. Trump’s refusal to acknowledge climate change coupled with his enthusiasm for fossil fuels could fast track turning our earth into a dystopian hellfire wasteland—which isn’t great.

But perhaps most concerning of all, Trump is arming himself with a staff of high profile climate deniers. According to the Guardian, the president-elect is reportedly eyeing Sarah Palin for an interior secretary position, which would put Palin “in charge of America’s public lands, including prized national parks such as Yosemite, Yellowstone, and the Everglades.” As the Guardian points out, Palin has her eye on Department of Energy with the intent to dismantle it. Trump’s also reportedly considering oil baron Forrest Lucas for internal secretary. Lastly, Trump has appointed Myron Ebell to head the Environmental Protection Agency, an agency for which both Ebell and Trump have expressed contempt. According to the Washington Post, “Ebell has argued for opening up more federal lands for logging, oil and gas exploration and coal mining, and for turning over more permitting authority to the states.” Which is, of course, the antithesis of protecting our environment.

So, what do we do?

The EPA has suggested small ways that you can lessen your carbon footprint at home, at the office, and throughout your day. Making a conscious effort to waste less energy is an immediate way to help on an individual level. We must now, more than ever, contact legislators who have the power to enact change on our behalf. We must protest, we must actively reach out to those who don’t understand the significant dangers we face as extreme weather patterns only worsen, and we must continue to find ways to live more sustainably in our day-to-day lives. More than ever, activism is paramount.

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