The election of Donald J. Trump, who once tweeted that climate change is a Chinese hoax to gain an economic advantage over our country, could not have come at a worse time for the future of humanity.
That sounds hyperbolic, I know, and it’s not like there would have ever been a good time to elect a man so monumentally unprepared for the most powerful job on the planet. But we are quickly running out of time to take meaningful action to reduce greenhouse gases. President Obama was doing too little, too late, and President-elect Trump is promising to reverse even that small progress.
Any hope that Trump might break that promise was shattered when he appointed Myron Ebell to head his U.S. Environmental Protection Agency transition team. Ebell — who has no scientific background — rejects the near-unanimous consensus of climate scientists about global warming. He works for the Competitive Enterprise Institute, a pro-business group that’s taken a lot of money from polluters like ExxonMobil.
Like Trump, Ebell doesn’t believe in global warming. He doesn’t think it’s a hoax so much as a pretext for big government and a rationale for restrictive regulations. He opposed the Paris climate accords, and wants to open up more federal land for mining, drilling and logging. He would, in other words, take the P out of the EPA, and it’s very possible Trump will pick him to head that agency. Trump has also appointed Thomas Pyle, a Koch Industries lobbyist and green power opponent, to lead the transition at the Energy Department. [Update: Trump’s actual pick to head the EPA is, if anything, worse.]
The damage a Trump Administration could do won’t be limited to the EPA and the United States’ leadership in the Paris accords. A Trump adviser has said that NASA’s Earth science division — which monitors conditions on our planet and provides invaluable data about what’s happening — will be stripped of funding that will be shifted to deep space exploration.
Because, after all, if you think science is a hoax, what’s the point in spending money collecting data? And, busy as we are ruining this planet, deep space exploration is probably not a bad idea.
It should go without saying that climate change is not a hoax. The science is clear: Climate change is real. It’s happening now. And we are running out of time to avert its most catastrophic effects, some of which we’re already beginning to see: extended droughts, more severe storms, the increasing spread of disease, intense and deadly heat waves, rising seas and more.
Worse, we’re on the brink of several tipping points, climate-driven shifts in ocean and air currents that could cause abrupt, cataclysmic and cascading changes to local weather patterns around the globe.
But hasn’t Trump shown some signs of hedging? Hasn’t he pledged an open mind? Not really. As Reince Priebus, Trump’s appointed chief of staff said, “As far as this issue on climate change — the only thing he [Trump] was saying after being asked a few questions about it is, look, he’ll have an open mind about it but he has his default position, which most of it is a bunch of bunk, but he’ll have an open mind and listen to people.”
Trump’s mind is as open as his “blind trust” (handing over day-to-day management of his business empire to his children) is blind.
Speaking of Trump’s children, a recent Politico article offered up a slim ray of hope that daughter Ivanka might be somewhat of a moderating influence on Trump’s climate stance. But the report was anonymously sourced and offers no concrete suggestion of what her advocacy on the issue could look like.
There are a couple of reason this doesn’t engender much confidence. First, as a member of Trump’s “blind” trust, any advisory role she could play will be quite limited. And, second, last time she influenced her father on an issue, the result was a policy prescription for a child care subsidy that mostly benefited upper middle income households, and ignored the working poor completely. Then again, she apparently arranged for Al Gore to meet with her father, so who knows? Still, it seems far more likely that Trump would listen to the advisers he’s putting on the payroll than to Gore.
There will be many terrible consequences of a Trump presidency. But reversing progress on limiting carbon emissions and other greenhouse gases will likely be the most lasting and damaging.
Radmacher is former editorial page editor of The Charleston Gazette and The Roanoke Times. This Land is a weekly column produced by Appalachian Mountain Advocates.