Upon leaving office, President Obama had very little foreign policy success to speak of. However, his redeeming achievement was the Paris climate accords, an initiative to bring under control the tempestuous global debate surrounding the future of climate control. There is no doubt that Obama was the most environmentally conscious president so far, there is equally as little debate on the subject of climate change itself, but what can be argued endlessly is the future of American climate policy. How far in four short years could Trump’s oil-loving regime break apart the work of the eco-conscious 44th President?
Under the influence of former Exxon Mobil CEO Rex Tillerson, it may very well be that the work is unravelled in a matter of months. Already the administration seems to have adopted “Drill, baby, drill!” or “Mine, baby, mine!” as operative policy rather than merely as a catchy campaign slogan. Trumpian executive orders have tackled immigration from the Middle East, focussed on unnecessary government regulations and have now given the dying, toxic American coal industry a rebirth, or at least are trying to anyway. He is repaying the voters of Kentucky for their support by tossing the environmental security of future generations on the pyre.
There is no version of future events that play out with US coal production remaining a key driver of global energy production, yet despite this the administration pushes on with its
denier’s agenda. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is fronted by a climate change-sceptic named Scott Pruitt, who feels it necessary to challenge the empirical conclusions of those better trained and educated than himself.
Mr Pruitt is a man who not only denies climate change, but also recently denied that carbon dioxide itself is a cause of global warming. However, the beauty of democracy is that the opinions of those without any real comprehension of reality are equally weighted.
Then we have Rick Perry and Mr Tillerson. A couple of cronies who have environmental conflicts of interest aplenty, so many in fact that between them they could comprehensively bog out their own swamp. However, slinging metaphorical faeces at those members of the cabinet dripping in oil and reeking of gas will not sufficiently answer the question of America’s, and indeed the world’s, environmental future.
It is important to remind oneself of the facts, which, as perfunctory as it may seem, is something which has been left in the wake of the Trump post-truth, alternative facts, gas-guzzling cruise liner. Climate change is not a political football, nor is it a Chinese hoax, it is something which is very much real.
And please don’t point me out a contradictory ‘scientific’ study carried out by the University of Salford that proves every single reputable scientist and academic organisation wrong, just because it fits with your uneducated, ill-informed, and ignorant rhetoric. Because the truth is, climate change is happening all around us, and at an ever increasing pace and
Over the last century, global sea levels have risen around eight inches, yet the rate in just the last two decades is nearly double that of the last 100 years. In addition, according to
NASA, all three major global surface temperature reconstructions show that the Earth has warmed since 1880. Most of the warming has occurred in the past 35 years, with 16 of the 17 warmest years on record occurring since 2001. Furthermore, 2015 was the first time the global average temperatures were 1 degree Celsius or more above the 1880-1899 average, and 2016 was hotter still.
Whilst I appreciate the are just numbers, these numbers translate into very real effects. The Greenland and Antarctic ice sheets have decreased in mass. Data from NASA’s Gravity
Recovery and Climate Experiment show that Greenland lost 150 to 250 cubic kilometres of ice per year between 2002 and 2006, with Antarctica losing a similar amount in the same
Moreover, higher temperatures lead to greater rainfall and greater convection currents, as well as disproportionately lower temperatures in some parts of the world. As such number of record high temperature event in the United States have been increasing, while simultaneously the number of record low temperature events have been decreasing, the US
has also witnessed the increasing numbers of intense rainfall events. In other areas of the globe, the Paris floods of 2016 and the Arctic heat wave are just two examples of where
climate change contributed to extreme weather in 2016. What is even more concerning is that extraordinary events are becoming ordinary – think back to the underwhelming reaction to the freak snowfall in the Sahara in December.
The aforementioned are just the tip of the proverbial iceberg, and I would go on. Yet I feel that any reasonably intelligent person would have realised by now that climate change represents a problem. But are we solving it?
Well, not even close. Absolute reductions in carbon emissions of 50-85 per cent are required by 2050 in order to meet the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s (IPCC’s) 450 ppm stabilisation target. Yet so far, despite declining energy and carbon
intensities, carbon dioxide emissions from fossil fuels have increased by 80 per cent since 1970. And emissions today are almost 40 per cent higher than they were in 1990 – the Kyoto base year – and since the year 2000 they have been increasing at over 3 per cent per year.
Some positives can be drawn from China, whose chief climate envoy, Xie Zhenhua, recently told reporters that China could now surpass its 2020 climate change commitments, which included a pledge to reduce 2005 levels of carbon intensity – the amount produced per unit of economic growth – by 40 per cent to 45 per cent.
Further good news from the world’s largest polluter is that they are now the world leader in renewable energy spending, far outstripping the European Union. And is also building the infrastructure for cleaner electricity at the world’s fastest rate, a pretty darn good effort considering last year up to 90 per cent of new energy capacity came from renewable sources, according to a report from the International Energy Association. China’s coal consumption also began falling in 2014 for the first time this century, and in 2015 its carbon emissions followed, falling by 1.5 per cent.
The EU and the US should at the very least be keeping pace. The former is simply falling behind, yet the latter is stopping, turning around and taking a leap back into the dark ages. As I have already mentioned, a man who has sued the EPA a total of 13 times now feels able to lead it. Mr Pruitt is a climate change denier with close ties to the fossil fuel industry,
and has a long record of attacking the EPA and undermining environmental regulations. His boss has also regularly threatened to dismantle the EPA and roll back many of the gains made to reduce American’s exposures to industrial pollution – and Mr Pruitt’s appointment suggest these are more than just mere threats.
Trump has also signed legislation ending a key Obama administration coal mining rule, specifically the Office of Surface Mining’s Stream Protection Rule. An environmentally destructive step, and one that will bring back hardly an jobs at all.
The Trump administration seems blissfully unaware that the coal mining industry has died its death and will not be resurrected, and for good reasons – it is no wonder that former Nobel Prize winner Paul Krugman described the Republican Party as “aggressively anti-science, [and] indeed anti-knowledge”.
Bob Ward, policy director at the Grantham Research Institute on Climate Change at the London School of Economics, said: “Any politician who denies this evidence from world-
class climate scientists will be wilfully turning a blind eye to rising risks that threaten the lives and livelihoods of their citizens.”
We have undoubtedly reached a pivotal moment in history, the point at which we really ought to start heading down a more responsible and sustainable path, and ramp up the pace of investment in renewables (apart from those utterly ridiculous bird-killing windmills). Yet it seems unlikely that the US will be taking that path any time soon.
Of course Trump’s foreign and immigration policies have caught the headlines in recent months, but I would argue that his environmental policies will have equally, if not more
disastrous long-term consequences. The debate surrounding this topic really ought to be brought to the fore.