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The Limits On Trump’s Ability To Trash The Environment

November 9, 2016

“Ahh, now that Trump and Ebell are in charge we can finally breathe a little.”

Andrew Revkin notes hopefully that there are (some) limits on how much damage President Trump can do to the planet:

The bad news about climate change is, in a way, the good news:

The main forces determining emission levels of heat-trapping carbon dioxide will be just as much out of President Trump’s hands as they were out of President Obama’s. The decline in the United States has mainly been due to market forces shifting electricity generation from coal to abundant and cheaper natural gas, along with environmental regulations built around the traditional basket of pollutants that even conservatives agreed were worth restricting. (Efficiency and gas-mileage standards and other factors help, too, of course.)

At the same time, the unrelenting rise in greenhouse-gas emissions in developing countries is propelled by an unbending reality identified way back in 2005 by British Prime Minister Tony Blair, when he said, “The blunt truth about the politics of climate change is that no country will want to sacrifice its economy in order to meet this challenge.”

At the same time, as well, other fundamental forces will continue to drive polluted China and smog-choked India to move away from unfettered coal combustion as a path to progress. An expanding middle class is already demanding cleaner air and sustainable transportation choices — just as similar forces enabled pollution cleanups in the United States in the last century.

But Revkin’s analysis is relative to a baseline that is already taking us toward disaster. Under President Trump we will just get there a little faster instead of a lot faster.

He goes on to discuss the environmental movement and whether it should go all out with demonstrations and civil disobedience to keep oil in the ground and prevent pipelines from being built. I am entirely sympathetic with the emotions behind mass action, but I think President Trump and the Republican Congress will enjoy throwing lots of greens into jail. Instead, I wish the environmental movement would adapt a strategy of humble and sincere personal responsibility and action. That is something others can get behind, regardless of their political leanings.

Finally, Revkin notes that the Supreme Court has ruled that carbon emissions are classified as a pollutant under the Clean Air Act, which mandates that a Trump government limit them (or be subject to lawsuits). That is somewhat soothing, but very much underestimates what a Trump Supreme Court will do with environmental law and corporate regulations, especially if Trump gets another appointment–for Breyer or Ginsburg, say–beyond filling the seat Obama should have been allowed to fill.

Also, it is said Trump is leaning toward this guy for administrator of the EPA. That tells you all you need to know about how hard he will work to evade all the limits Revkin finds hopeful.

So don’t get distracted by all the back and forth about how terrible (or not) President Trump will be. It doesn’t really matter. Instead, I take hope from continuing to try to live in a way that values and conserves the natural world and all the nonhuman species out there who are struggling with our presence. In my fantasy world enough people do that to form a new political movement that can flourish amid the rubble of the failing two-party circus. No one in government, not even Myron Ebell or President Trump, can prevent that.

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