The world reacted with disbelief, even shock, early Wednesday morning as Donald Trump won the election for the 45th president of the United States of America. Some voters were jubilant. Others felt fear. One thing was for sure. This is going to change things.
Throughout a campaign filled with talk of private email servers, allegations of sexual assault and Trump’s incendiary remarks, the environment was seldom mentioned, except for the Ken Bone moment, of course.
Journalists, environmental organizations and the like have been analyzing what effect Trump’s presidency will have on our environment. The overall impression? It won’t be good, although some remain more hope than others.
So, what exactly are Trump’s views and policies regarding the environment? What, specifically, can we expect from a Trump presidency?
A New Age of Denial
Trump has said that he doesn’t believe in climate change and contends that it is instead a hoax perpetrated by the Chinese. He attempted to retract this statement during the first presidential debate but has other times repeatedly expressed the view that global warming isn’t real.
Trump’s campaign website does not mention climate change and hardly brings up pollution. The closest he gets is the assertion that clean air and water are important issues, issues his site calls “real” problems, not “phony” ones. It doesn’t say what phony issues are being referred to, but it seems reasonable to assume global warming is one of them. Trump does believe energy is a serious issue but views it mainly as one of economics rather than the environment.
Trump will likely appoint those with similar views to important environmental positions. Myron Ebell, a climate science denier, is running Trump’s EPA transition and has been named a top contender to run the agency.
Mike Pence, Trump’s vice president, professes a less extreme but still very skeptical view on climate change. He’s no stranger to denying accepted science, however. In 2000, he penned an op-ed piece about how smoking doesn’t kill.
Deregulate, Deregulate, Deregulate
One of the main aspects of Trump’s energy plan is deregulation. Trump says that he will retract any regulation he deems bad for workers. In fact, whether a regulation is good for workers or not is his one test for any future rules.
Specifically, he’s promised to scrap the Climate Action Plan, a string of regulations aimed at reducing carbon emissions. These regulations and others like it destroy jobs and stifle innovation, according to Trump. Now that Trump has a Republican Congress, rescinding these rules could actually be doable.
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Exclude No Energy Source
Also in the interest of creating jobs, Trump wants to expand various forms of energy production. Deregulation, he hopes, will allow innovation in all types of energy. Trump says he will not favor one energy source over another but will instead let the free market decide.
He doesn’t exclude renewables like wind and solar but has said other forms of energy work better, and he plans to stop all federal money going toward renewable energy. Oil, natural gas and coal seem to be the energy sources he thinks we should focus on.
To accomplish these goals, Trump proposes opening new lands to drilling. Trump can remove regulations, but it’s not likely that he’ll be able to have a particularly significant effect on the coal and oil industries. Their decline has been due in part to regulations but also to market forces that they probably will not recover from.
Energy Independence or Isolation?
Trump has repeatedly called for energy independence, a phrase with somewhat uncertain meaning. The premise, though, is that we produce enough oil that we won’t need to import anything.
Achieving energy independence could prove to be quite difficult. A study by the Fuel Freedom Foundation found that, without widespread adoption of alternatives to oil, becoming energy independent is highly improbable.
Not only does Trump want to end our need for foreign oil, he also wants to take the U.S. out of major talks about climate change. The most notable of these is the Paris Agreement, the landmark pact in which nearly 200 countries agreed to work together to mitigate the effects of global warming.
Getting out of the agreement is feasible but would be very tricky and would have widespread consequences for the environment and foreign relations. The U.S. is legally bound to the agreement for four years. Breaking the treaty would be breaking international law, which would have serious consequences for the U.S.’s relations with the United Nations and the involved nations.
If Trump is willing to take drastic measures to get out of the agreement, there is something he could do. He could have the United States leave the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, a body he has criticized. There’s also the less-extreme tactic of not formally backing out but simply ignoring the deal’s requirements.
The Window Narrows
In case it isn’t clear by this point, a Trump presidency will do almost nothing to address climate change. He doesn’t believe in it, and it is not a priority for him. The battle for our planet, then, must be waged without him.
The president does not have ultimate power when it comes to the environment. Congress and the courts could take on the fight against global warming, although Republicans now control them, which makes that less likely. Still, they may at least oppose Trump’s more extreme propositions.
State governments, such as those in California and New York, could continue their own environmental efforts.
Market forces will continue to make alternative sources of energy more affordable. Technology will continue to offer up new solutions. Climate activists and environmental organizations will continue their work to save our planet.
Individuals can continue to vote with their wallets, live consciously, educate themselves and pressure the government and others for action.
Still, scientists have long agreed that the window for avoiding widespread damage due to climate change is extraordinarily narrow, if not already completely closed. A Trump presidency will make that window narrower still.