There are plenty of reasons to be sceptic about Donald Trumps victory in the American presidential elections: his racism, misogynism and off course his hair. But what can we expect concerning the welbeing of the planet of someone who claims climate change is a hoax?
Climate change is a fact. Even if you deny it
Worldwide a staggering 97 percent of climate scientists agree that the earth’s climate is changing due to man. That doesn’t help some politicians to deny our roles, whether they actually believe it or seek electoral gains. Many conservative voters are convinced man’s influence in such a grand matter should not be overestimated.
In one of the presidential debates Donald Trump seemed to realize denial of climate change is pretty silly. He tried to back down, denying to have said climate change is a hoax created by the Chinese government to mess with the American industry. The thing is that his 2012 tweet in which he said just that is still online, along with all his other tweets in which he calls climate change a ‘hoax’ or ‘bullshit’ often in reference to the cold weather in what even place he would be at the time.
The concept of global warming was created by and for the Chinese in order to make U.S. manufacturing non-competitive.
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) November 6, 2012
Just to be clear: the fact that it’s cold outside in certain places does not mean the climate is not changing. The term climate change is nog interchangeable with global warming. The latter leads to climate changes, making it warmer and more stormy in some places and colder in others (like The Netherlands, where I live). In Leonardo DiCaprio’s newest documentary on climate change, Before The Flood, a scientist explains how the melting of the polar ice caps leads to shifts in weather patterns around the globe, enabling colder air to flow in to my part of Europe.
‘Paris’ down the drain
Trump has promised his voters to get rid of all legislation that’s bad for America’s national interest and he considers the unique agreement on climate change world leaders made in Paris an example. Now I know many of you reading this will have an idea about what a bad idea this is but before I get into that in more detail, just allow me to take a step back and in Trump’s words ‘try to figure out what the hell’s going on’ when he said that. Rising sea levels in poor overpopulated countries like Bangladesh, extreme air pollution in dense industrial areas in China or even the city of Paris itself are all way too far away to care about for most voters that lost or might soon lose their jobs. If you take the notion that Trump and his compatriots deny climate change and add it to the billions of dollars the Obama administration has spent on the climate and agreed to spend even more in Paris, then you might understand the American general public’s sceptisicm on climate spending.
The harsh reality is that the United States have been the biggest poluters of the planet so far. China has been adding to the troubles lately, but is still way behind in negative impact. More importantly China also sees not only the responsibility to the planet to change its ways but also sees the business opportunity from investing in clean energy. I has already overtaken Germany in production of solar power and is looking to triple its output by 2020. Emerging economies like India are still some ways behind and don’t yet have to resources to make the same changes. They too want to profit from fossil fuels like the US and China have before them, which will add another huge amount of emissions into the atmosphere.
President Barack Obama recognized his country’s responsibility and knew it was time for some change. Now, I’m not out to make him look better than he was, but at least he was starting to show the willingness to change the was lacking in climate meetings before Paris. With his support and also of his Chinese colleague and dozens of other world leaders an agreement was reached on starting to work on a solution. Many agree it was long overdue and others would argue it was not enough, but it was a start. It was also interesting to see, that it invoked change from bottom up, making each nation responsible for their own promises. This dependence on willingness without sanctions to stop global warming may now prove to be a mistake.
Trump cannot just back out of the Paris agreement. It is a proces that will take four years, or at least one year using the backdoor Trumps advisers found. But tearing up the agreement is not even necessary. He can just ignore the thing altogether or deny funding for parts of the legislation needed to comply with its goals. Not putting in any effort to limit emissions of greenhouse gasses will make a huge difference, and I’ll get back to that later. What might be even worse is the risk that other nations will ignore their Paris promises as well. Just imagine American companies unbothered by climate legislation competing with companies abroad that do have to comply to rules in their countries.
So, what does Trump want and how does it affect us?
Up until the elections Trump didn’t say a lot about his plans for climate (partly, because no one asked) but what he said wasn’t hopeful. Apart from his plans to ditch the Paris agreement, he wanted to cancel all spending on clean energy, retract as many of Obamas legislation against climate change and get rid of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). According to Lux Research these proposals would result in 3.4 billion tons of extra emission of CO2 equivalent, compared to Hillary Clintons plans. That’s one and a half times as much as the yearly emissions of all people in the US. Put that in your pipe and smoke it.
The decisions we take now affect the climate in the next couple of thousand years. No pressure. At this point it’s very difficult to undo the damage we have already done but we must try at least not to make it worse, because most of us don’t have a thousand years to spare. Without action the polar ice caps will continue to melt increasingly faster and we are nearing the point of no return. The effects are starting to show more and more: extreme weather, floods, droughts and a record temperature this year. A coincidence? The previous record was recorded in 2015.
What does fear of immigrants have to do with it?
One of the reasons Trump was elected was growing concern about migration. The irony is that Trump voters may be the cause of the next biggest streams of migrants in human history. The changing climate is more than just weather changes. Droughts and floods are ruining crops all over the planet, especially in poorer regions. Famine and lack of clean drinking water are adding to, if not causing social unrest, conflicts and wars. Starved, beaten people often go looking for some place better.
Governments in Europe and other regions are struggling with the influx of a total of 4 million refugees from war torn Syria. But that’s nothing compared to the estimated 50 to 200 million climate refugees that will be flooding the world in the next few years. Where do you thing these hungry, homeless people will go? To places with food and homes. Rich, western countries. The UN is concerned and no one knows what to do.
What’s Trump really gonna do?
Will Trump put his money where his mouth is and make good on his ominous promises? He wouldn’t be the first politician to break a few promises after being elected. Winning elections is not the same as running a country. Do you think he actually doesn’t believe in climate change, or did he just say it to win conservative votes?
It’s difficult to turn idiocy into policy. For instance, Trump claimed he would save 50 billion dollars by cutting spending on climate research and another 50 billion in savings from said cuts during two terms in office (if he would get re-elected). However, the actual governmental spending under Obama was (unfortunately) just a fraction of what Trump claims.
In the first days after the election Trump has repeated his plans to ditch the Paris accord and a bit later he claimed to have an open mind about it. We’ll have to wait for him to make up his mind. Another plan he looked pretty serious about, becoming energy independent and creating jobs by reviving the US coal industry also seems a stretch because it just isn’t profitable. Natural gas currently is a lot cheaper than coal and adding more coal to the market wouldn’t help.
But having trouble taking steps in the wrong direction still doesn’t mean Trump will actually do something to help against climate change.
So, now what?
There is a vicious circle holding us hostage. Governments are pressured by big corporations not to make the needed radical changes. Big oil and gas companies like BP, Shell, Chevron and ExxonMobil employ thousands and thousands of people and add billions and billions to the global economy. Antagonizing them too much will hurt workers, local economies and eventually also the governments. A senior source in one of those companies told me it would significantly stimulate them to decrease emissions when it would be more expensive to emit green house gasses. But governments are afraid to take action.
Companies also point there fingers at consumers. A producer of cattle feed I spoke a while ago when working on a story told me he was reluctant to use soy beans that don’t add to deforestation or organic soy beans, because it would increase the prize of his products and eventually the prices of meat. Consumers, he said, often say they prefer ‘clean’ products but refuse to spend a bit more to back it up. And producing things without demand doesn’t help anybody and is a certified way to go bankrupt.
And consumers, well we kind of expect governments and businesses to take the first step, right? But what if I told you you can make that first step as well. Never underestimate the influence of the consumer. Opt for that slightly more expensive but more durably produced next time you do groceries.
Or better yet, consider making some bigger changes to your life style and skip meat (more often). The production of meat and all other animal products are (depending on who you ask) responsible for 18 to 51 per cent of all green house gasses. Then there’s also the tremendous amount of water used for livestock and deforestation to create space for growing crops for cattle feed. And I personally feel it’s just unethical to view animals as mere resources to use and abuse, but that’s a whole different story.
Every day you don’t use animal products you cut your personal CO2 emissions in half, you save 4000 litres (more than 1000 gallons) of water, 20 kilos (45 pounds) of grain and 3 square metres (33 square feet) of rainforest. And by making an example, you’ll also inspire others to give it a try. Now who still claims that one person can’t make a difference?
(This article is a collaboration with IJsbrand Straatman and an earlier version was previously published in Dutch on thehealthyheart.nl)