The Limits On Trump’s Ability To Trash The Environment

“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.

Trump Vs The Planet

“Alright, let’s fire these babies up!”

Brad Plumer of Vox lays out the implications of a Trump Presidency (and Republican control of Congress) for the environment:

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. Much of the 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 now controlling Congress, he can easily do this. Pass a bill preventing the Environmental Protection Agency from regulating CO2. Done.

  • Trump has also hinted he wants to get rid of the EPA entirely. “What they do is a disgrace,” he has said. If Congress agrees, he could readily scrap other 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.)

All true. And some experts calculate that the impact on climate of Trump will be an additional 3.4 billion tons of carbon emitted.

But it should also be noted that the trajectory of the blue dotted line representing carbon emissions under a President Clinton also leads to climate disaster. Incremental progress will be reversed by Trump. But as I noted earlier incremental progress is not enough.

Key point: nothing that President Trump does or says will compel you or me to emit more carbon. Keep working to change how you think and live. Keep working to change how the people around you think and live. Live the argument. Win the argument. And then win an election that brings about real and meaningful change.