The Cable

How Trump Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the (Climate) Bomb

The president is ready to scrap Obama’s climate change measures.

cc crop

President Donald Trump is poised to eviscerate his predecessor’s legacy on climate change with executive actions as early as this week, even though the world is throwing up increasingly alarming signs of dangerous warning and key parts of the administration keep flagging climate change as a key national security challenge.

Trump will reportedly instruct Environmental Protection Agency chief Scott Pruitt to scrap and redo a landmark batch of regulations known as the Clean Power Plan, a hallmark initiative of former President Barack Obama that would have helped curb U.S. emissions of greenhouse gases. According to the New York Times, which obtained a draft document of the order, Trump will also outline ways to block or cripple “about a half dozen” other climate-related executive orders from the previous administration.

Those orders would fulfill some of Trump’s campaign promises — he’s called climate change bullshit” and “an expensive hoax” and promised to resuscitate the moribund coal industry — but would also run smack into scientific, political, and policy reality.

The runaway warming is already making 2017 a doozy. The Arctic — where temperatures have been absurdly above normal — just notched its lowest-ever winter sea ice cover, breaking the old record set way back in 2015. Antarctica is falling apart. The Gulf of Mexico is “freakishly warm.” Chinese coastal sea levels are the highest in decades — three inches higher than at the turn of the century.

But there’s a huge clamor to repeal Obama’s rules to limit pollution from power plants, right? Actually, a majority of people in every congressional district want to see lower emissions from coal-fired power plants, the heart and soul of the Obama plan. Most in the energy business, even oil companies, are planning for a lower-carbon future. Meanwhile, Trump’s defense secretary insists that climate change will be a threat multiplier for the U.S. military in years and decades to come, raising the risk of droughts, famines, civil war, and humanitarian disasters.

Trump’s executive orders will seek to dismantle much of the U.S. program to curb emissions, but won’t necessarily end U.S. commitments to the 2015 Paris climate accords, under which countries around the world pledged to rein in carbon emissions.  

Obama pledged to slash U.S. greenhouse gas emissions by 26 to 28 percent by 2025 under the Paris agreement, equivalent to about 1.7 billion metric tons of emissions. It’s one-third of the way there, in large part because of the flood of cheap (and cleaner-burning) natural gas unlocked by the fracking revolution. If Trump undoes Obama’s climate change actions, the United States will almost certainly fail to meet its Paris targets.

But the president and his EPA chief dismiss basic climate science, and plan to handcuff government efforts to investigate it. In his proposed budget, which would spike defense spending by about $54 billion, Trump looked for cuts in vital programs including huge reductions to the EPA and Department of Energy; scrapping NASA’s climate-related missions; cutting National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration programs; and ending U.S. contributions to the International Green Climate Fund, meant to help developing countries start tackling climate change.

That approach is not seconded at the Pentagon, where Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis highlights the threat to national security. In written testimony to the Senate Armed Services Committee in March, Mattis said: “Climate change is impacting stability in areas of the world where our troops are operating today.” He added combatant commands need to incorporate the impacts of climate change into their planning, as the Pentagon directed them to do last year.

While Trump drags U.S. progress on climate change to a halt, experts say the world will continue to move forward without him. And not just other countries, but industries.

“Across the board, most major companies have begun to pick up their efforts on climate change,” said Sue Reid, who oversees climate and energy programs at Ceres, a network of companies and investors pushing climate leadership through business.

Businesses and even cities and states “may compensate for what’s lost” under Trump’s proposed federal climate repeals, she said. They aren’t just motivated by altruism; climate change can impact profit, too, she said. “They’re seeing the impacts of climate change on the bottom line and their supply chains and just trying to react,” she said. Rising sea levels, for example, threaten vital infrastructure such as ports; more intense storms cause more damage and worry insurers.

Trump also faces pushback on sweeping climate change under the rug from his own party. A growing network of conservative green groups, including ConservAmerica and republicEn, have quietly tried to drag the party toward a realistic appraisal of climate risks.

“Our hope is to build support in the heartland so that conservatives in Congress can feel comfortable leading on” climate change, said Bob Inglis, former Republican Congressman from South Carolina and executive director of republicEn.

They support replacing Obama-era regulations with more market-friendly fixes, but stand by U.S. commitments to the Paris agreement. Inglis said the United States would be “abdicating its leadership role to China” if it withdrew from the treaty. “I’m sure the Chinese would love to receive that signal,” he said.

There’s a bit of progress. Some 20 Republicans in Congress have spoken out about the threat of climate change this year. Though it’s a small proportion of the 237 Republicans in the House, environmental organizations across the spectrum are hoping the bloc, combined with Democrats, has enough critical mass to push back against Trump’s climate change skepticism.

“He could not possibly believe” that climate change is a hoax, Inglis said. “He is either playing to the crowd or joking. Otherwise the joke will be on us. The joke will be on America.”

Photo credit: Kevin Frayer/Getty Images

Robbie Gramer is a diplomacy and national security reporter at Foreign Policy. Twitter: @RobbieGramer

Trending Now Sponsored Links by Taboola

By Taboola

More from Foreign Policy

By Taboola