On 9th November 2016, the inevitable happened – Donald Trump was elected as the 45th president of the United States, despite the sexism, the outrageous display of racism, and the lack of any political experience whatsoever. Even though Hillary Clinton had a higher popular vote than Trump (48.2% compared to 46.5%), he still managed to secure victory by 306 electoral votes, as compared to Clinton’s 232.

International reactions to the election result have mostly been solemn and have reaffirmed the need for unity and cooperation within and outside of the US. UN General Secretary Ban Ki-Moon said that it is “worth recalling and reaffirming that the unity in diversity of the United States is one of the country’s greatest strengths. I encourage all Americans to stay true to that spirit.’ Clinton sounded quite sombre herself during her concession speech, saying that “this is not the outcome we wanted or worked hard for” but she encouraged Americans to have an “open mind” to Trump’s presidency.

However, let us not forget the nature and comments of the man voted to lead what is, arguably, the world’s most powerful country. He has referred to Mexicans as “rapists” and “killers,” and accused them of bringing crime and drugs into the US. He’s made despicable comments about women, including those from a 2005 video in a conversation with Billy Bush, claiming that “when you’re a star they let you do it. They let you do anything.” He’s talked about the “total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States.” His whole election campaign has been fuelled by sheer ignorance and bigotry.

It is not surprising then to know what his stance is on climate change. Way before the election, in 2012, he tweeted that “the concept of global warming was created by and for the Chinese to make U.S. manufacturing non-competitive.” Another tweet in 2014 labelled climate change as “bullshit” and “nonsense.” When called out by Clinton for making such comments during the first presidential debate, he appeared to be in a state of denial, retorting ‘I did not. I did not. I do not say that.’

 

Trump has more horrifying and troublesome future energy plans in store

 

His pre-election remarks stayed rigidly aligned with his past views. In January 2016, he told Fox and Friends that “climate change is just a very, very expensive form of tax” which is “done for the benefit of China, because China does not do anything to help climate change.” Ironically enough, Liu Zhenmin, China’s Vice Foreign Minister, said that it was George Bush, Sr. and Ronald Reagan (both Republicans) who helped the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) in starting global warming discussions before China was even aware that such talks were happening. Later in the year, speaking at Williston Basin Petroleum Conference in North Dakota, he gave his first speech on energy-related issues, vowing to revoke the Obama-administration environmental policies, and bring back construction of the Keystone XL pipeline claiming that he would seek a ‘better deal’ on this project. He further said ‘A Trump administration will focus on real environmental challenges, not the phony ones we’ve been looking at.’

 

Let’s shift focus for a minute and concentrate on some vital contextual information – the first thing to do is to establish the difference between the terms ‘global warming’ and ‘climate change.’ Global warming simply refers to the long-term and continuous warming of the planet, whereas climate change is an umbrella term which refers to the broader changes happening to the planet, including global warming. Moreover, there is an overwhelming amount of evidence for climate change. The best example is a change in global temperature, which has been on a rise since the early 20th century, with most of the warming having occurred in the past 35 years. Since 1880, the average surface temperature has increased by 0.8 °C. In fact, per NASA and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), 2016 has been the warmest year since 1880, with globally-averaged temperatures being 0.99 °C. Another example is sea level rise, which has risen by approximately 6.7 inches in the last century and the rate in the last decade is almost twice that of the last century – the Republic of Maldives is particularly vulnerable to this. More evidence includes (but is not limited to) warming oceans, declining Arctic sea ice and shrinking ice sheets.

 

Naturally, such steady changes will bring steady, but drastic, consequences. Some of these are changes in precipitation patterns, increase in heat waves, stronger hurricanes and Arctic likely becoming ice-free. Additionally, scientists have predicted that global climate change will continue over the course of the 21st century and beyond, dependent on the amount of heat-trapping gases emitted globally. Nearly all these gases are a product of human activities, especially carbon dioxide – about 80% of this comes from burning fossil fuels for activities such as electricity generation, whilst the rest is a result of deforestation. Methane concentrations have also increased because of certain fossil fuels, and agriculture, mining and raising stock.

 

What is one of the things that Trump wants to focus on in terms of energy? More fossil fuel burning, therefore more heat-trapping gases, resulting in more global warming. He aims to do this through lifting restrictions on energy production. An example would be revoking the Clean Power Plan, which would in turn encourage fossil fuel production.

 

as someone who has essentially backtracked on his numerous pre-election promises already, it is possible he can also backtrack on this softened stance

 

He has also enforced Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt, fellow climate change sceptic and supporter of the oil and gas industry, to lead the US Environmental Protection Agency. It is a bizarrely ironic choice, as Pruitt has sued the EPA 14 times, and lost every single case. When questioned about his opinions on by Bernie Sanders on his confirmation hearing, he responded ‘My personal opinion is immaterial.’ He further believes that human activity only has an impact on climate change, rather than being its cause.

This is not it though – Trump has more horrifying and troublesome future energy plans in store. The most important is potentially cancelling the Paris Agreement. This is a vital legally binding contract signed by 195 countries in the Paris climate conference of December 2015, and is described as a ‘bridge between today’s policies and climate-neutrality before the end of the century.’ In short, the agreement consists of a set of rules that governments have agreed to follow and implement to limit global warming below a temperature of 2 °C.

Is it possible for Trump to simply ‘leave’ the agreement though? The answer is both yes and no. From his very first day in Office, he can withdraw the US from the contract, but it will take 4 years for the country to fully leave because of how it is structured. The US must wait 3 years after joining the agreement to file paperwork for withdrawal, plus an additional year. Then there is the more impulsive action, which would be to pull out of the 1992-established UN Framework Convention Climate Change (UNFCCC) with one year’s notice. This would simultaneously withdraw the US from the Paris Agreement and Trump wouldn’t even need the Senate’s permission for this. Nonetheless, this option would be a drastic move and would change US relationship with the international community. It could quite possibly upset allies, resulting in heavy diplomatic repercussions.

 

…[a study] found that the U.S. has the highest carbon emissions per capita but is the least concerned about climate change!

 

His immediate post-election climate change remarks seemed to shift a little, at least on the surface. He told the New York Times that he believes there to be ‘some connectivity’ between global warming and human activity and that he has an ‘open mind’ surrounding the Paris Agreement. Nonetheless, as someone who has essentially backtracked on his numerous pre-election promises already, it is possible he can also backtrack on this softened stance.

In fact, the shift of the Trump administration from battling climate change and towards energy use has already begun. Upon his Inauguration on the January 20th, all mentions of climate change were removed from the White House website and replaced with ‘An American First Energy Plan.’ This plan aims to remove those apparent ‘burdensome’ energy regulations and eradicate ‘harmful and unnecessary policies such as the Climate Action Plan and the Waters of the U.S. rule.’ There will also be a focus on reviving the US coal industry and taking advantage of untapped shale, oil and natural gas reserves to ‘bring jobs and prosperity to millions of Americans.’ Nevertheless, in a recent report published by the US Department of Energy, solar energy in the US employed the largest numbers of workers in the Electric Power Generation sector – it accounted for 43% of the sector, whereas the fossil fuels only made up 22% of the workforce.

The obvious fact is this – fossil fuels are an unrenewable source of energy. They are finite. They will run out. Crude oil is disappearing at an alarming rate of 4 billion tonnes a year, predicted to vanish by 2052. Yes, we have gas, and coal too. Increasing their production to fill the gap left behind by oil means that gas will be gone by 2060, and coal by 2088. And let’s think about the huge carbon dioxide emissions this will produce, consequently trapping more heat in the atmosphere, causing an increase in the greenhouse effect, leading to more global warming.

It is a bizarrely ironic choice, as Pruitt has sued the EPA 14 times, and lost every single case

 

The doomed future of climate change awareness seems slightly inevitable when a lack of belief lies deeply within the government of what is, arguably, the world’s most powerful and influential nation. A Yale study published in Nature Climate Change claims that limiting climate change needs changes in current practices, but Trump wants to go in the opposite direction and reverse the already stable US regulations in place. Furthermore, another study conducted in April 2016 found that the U.S. has the highest carbon emissions per capita but is the least concerned about climate change! Furthermore, only 40% of the US population believes that people are being harmed by climate change today, a percentage which will surely drop within the next four years.

Indeed, ignorance fuels ignorance – Trump’s ignorance and, most importantly, his lack of concern for the ever-changing climate will certainly set the US back in terms of energy innovation and achieving climate. Additionally, it will also hurt the US economy, as it can possibly lose its lucrative status as the top renewable energy market for investors.

Nonetheless, the rest of the world still has an opportunity to combat climate change in their own ways. 60% of Europe believes that climate change is still harming people today, so there is certainly an awareness still present. There should be a focus on education, literacy and campaigning to increase this awareness more, as knowledge is the reason behind change.

Sidrah Zubair

Image: Gage Skidmore, Flickr.

 

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