President Trump and his cabinet are either climate change deniers or fierce skeptics. Our responsibility lies in this very truth alone while as Trump tower stays above the sea level, we won’t.
Trump voters got their man, but what else comes with the ticket, if anything? While Trump plans change as all incoming President-elects naturally do – change which mightn’t be always progressive – his term will essentially be judged on the work done by him, his selected cabinet and their respective departments. It hasn’t unfortunately got off to a great start, as seen in the latest confirmation hearings with Energy pick Rick Perry refusing to categorically state that climate change is a crisis.
Alternative Facts for a Real Problem
Quoted in the past as stating that some climate change was due to human activity, Perry was asked by Senator Al Franken at the confirmation hearings to provide a figure on that, but could not do so, stating he wasn’t a climate scientist and thus couldn’t know. As Sen. Franken accurately pointed out however, he was going to be head of the Department of Energy, and really should know such fundamental figures he was claiming to be true. Perry noted he would hire “really good scientists” even though his evolving views are still at odds with these very people he will head in the Department of Energy. This position is being supported by even more baffling claims that carbon dioxide is a “trace greenhouse gas”, made by Doug Domenech who is head of the interior department transition team.
This disregard for the real figures on climate change contributions probably stems from Perry’s disregard for the very department he will head. In a 2011 presidential debate, after momentarily forgetting the name of the Department of Energy, Perry recalled indeed that this was the department he wanted rid of, along with the Department of Education and the Department of Commerce. Stating before that Trump was ‘a cancer on conservatism’, it seems surprising at all that Perry has secured a position in the administration, but this is after all politics and all may be forgiven in one’s own pursuit for power and influence.
Conflicts of Interest & Outright Denial
Similarly, and more surprisingly, Scott Pruitt has been installed as the head of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). From being a climate change denier in the past to a believer-of-sorts, Pruitt has in a rather timely fashion come to accept in a roundabout way that climate change is indeed happening, but hotly debates its causes, which is essentially climate denial. He has called the EPA’s rule as “unlawful and overreaching” and has sued the agency fourteen times in disputes over its federal capacities. Asked by Sen. Bernie Sanders why the climate is changing, Pruitt simply said it was not his position to say so, that he was constrained by the statutes of those imposed by the senate on the EPA and that his opinion was “immaterial”.
Pruitt has an ongoing litigation challenge against the EPA on its critical rules that reduce levels of hazardous smog, mercury and carbon pollution, and has a one year period granted by the Ethics Council of the EPA to recuse himself from matters that may arise between himself as challenger and as the director of the EPA. What this essentially means is that after this one year period, Pruitt need not recuse himself from such matters in litigation, cases that without a doubt will extend past this one year period. Even if Pruitt lost his running case against the EPA, he is now director of the agency anyway, and so can overturn its rules on hazardous smog, mercury and carbon pollution.
Pruitt has refused to categorically recuse himself from all related cases to himself, which is a major cause for concern as a conflict of interest and lack of impartiality on his part. He has instead cited the Ethics Council of the EPA as his source of future consultancy, but this is too opaque a response to set aside these concerns that he will make considerate efforts to remove himself completely from his own litigation.
It will be interesting to see how Pruitt carries out his mandate in a federal agency, one in which he ultimately supports more power to be placed in the hands of the states. By doing so, the ability to tackle climate change on a national level will disintegrate, and will not bode well for the implementation of far-reaching schemes to encourage the cutting of CO2 emissions in this administration’s term. The idea must be entertained that this is part of the Trump administration’s plan to dilute the agency’s power, and thus curtail climate change as an issue at all. They will defend such moves claiming they are giving the power back to the states, but with lines being drawn in the sand on the issue – regardless of the overwhelming scientific consensus – nothing will be accomplished to tackle climate change through this dilution.
Fossil Fuels Take Front Burner
It doesn’t stop there unfortunately. Rex Tillerson is well disposed towards the fossil fuel industry. He is the outgoing chairman of ExxonMobil after 41 years at the company and now the incoming Secretary of State, and is a climate change skeptic. The state-owned Russian oil company OAO Rosneft has large investments in ExxonMobil’s overseas ventures, and considering the fact that Tillerson still owns about $151 million in ExxonMobil stock, it is hard to refute the concern that there would be a conflict of interest were the U.S to become embroiled in a conflict with Russia, or any issues on the environment. It will quite possibly be the opposite, with the U.S and Russia cosying up over big business in the fossil fuel industry. Improved relations should be welcomed, but not at a further cost to the climate, or other inalienable rights.
Tillerson acknowledges climate change and that fossil fuels are warming the planet, but has dismissed the extent of the impact it will have, saying humanity will be able to adapt and that it is an engineering problem that has an engineering solution. Tell that to people in Bangladesh, the Netherlands, and Shanghai amongst others whose land will disappear if sea levels continue to rise. He does believe having a seat at the Paris Agreement table is better than having none at all, but this language isn’t overly encouraging on his willingness to actively participate. Trump has said he is keeping an “open mind” on whether to withdraw from the accord or not. Tillerson certainly seems more level headed and genuine than some of his compatriots, but his climate change policy doesn’t. It doesn’t stack up to say we as a species can easily adapt to a phenomenon that is effectively making our planet uninhabitable. Moving to higher ground isn’t a problem solver.
Global Commitment to Climate Policy at Serious Risk
The Paris Agreement itself is within the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), the very organisation that Nikki Haley has been appointed to as U.S Ambassador to the United Nations as part of the Trump administration. Her views have been unclear on climate change, until her recent confirmation session in the senate, where she outlined her view that while climate change is always on the table, she would not agree with burdens and regulations that would cost U.S industry. If this were to come about she stated that the Paris Agreement would come under review.
Central to her response was industry, something which she has been strong on in the past. Haley has received large donations in the hundreds of thousands from the fossil fuel industry, and has supported Atlantic offshore drilling for oil and gas in the past as part of the Outer Continental Shelf Governors Coalition. She has clashed with the EPA over reducing carbon emissions from power plants in her state of South Carolina, and demanded the federal authority stay out of the state’s way, citing a concern for jobs should these regulations be implemented. Punters put your money on the Clean Air Act being amended. Logic would dictate that massive increases in renewable energy initiatives would lead to an offset for this concern in the coming term.
This issue on fossil fuel jobs vs climate combined alongside Haley’s close relationship with the fossil fuel industry raises serious concerns for climate change advocates in Haley’s role as U.N Ambassador and how the U.S carries forth its commitments to the Paris Agreement in the future. Obama’s decision to transfer in the dying hours of his presidency a further $500 million to the Green Climate Fund is a further indictment of now President Trump and also U.N. Ambassador Haley. It was an understandable move considering Trump’s immediate sign-off on executive orders expediting approval for the Keystone and Dakota Access pipelines, overturning two major environmental victories of the Obama presidency.
Re-positioning an Environmental Response
Leaders in the field of science, energy, and advocacy have already responded to these immediate moves to curtail climate change policy. More than 800 Earth scientists and energy experts in forty-six U.S states have penned an open letter to President Trump urging to take key steps to address climate change, while Greenpeace and other NGOs have condemned strongly this assault on climate change policy and will advocate its necessity to the new administration. As individuals we need to start investing further in recycling, in fairtrade products, in our diet, in renewable energies in our homes, in renewable products to replace fossil fuel dependant ones, in supporting a carbon tax, in reducing our energy usage, in bikes rather than cars, and in getting politically involved. There are so many ways to get involved that make a difference.
The business sector can really drive these differences further, with many companies springing up around the world. Products such as Tesla’s solar roof are the beginning of the low carbon footprint home, along with large-scally business developments such as the Noor Concentrated Solar Power complex in Morocco ensuring 42% of energy comes from renewables by 2020 for the country. These projects show that green energy is a reliable investment, and one that will flourish exponentially.
Jobs, Jobs, Jobs
It is a global movement, and others are not waiting around. The International Renewable Energy Agency (ERENA) in its 2016 report stated that in the U.S there are more people working in renewable energies than in oil, gas and coal combined at 769,000, while in China the figure is at over 3.5 million. ERENA estimates that at current trends if countries honour their Paris Agreement pledges then jobs in the sector will triple to 24 million by 2030. Jobs jobs jobs as President Trump would say. Studies such as this must encourage advocacy and lobbying of U.N Ambassador Haley and other members of the cabinet such as Scott Pruitt and Rick Perry. Perry may be more open to the idea due to his support of wind power in the state of Texas as its former governor. Even as a climate denier and fossil fuel enthusiast, Perry saw the value in the industry due to the explosion of jobs in Texas in the wind sector. Like many of his colleagues Perry lacks a basic scientific understanding of climate change, but his interest is in jobs and the economy, and the linkage between renewable energies and jobs is something no one can deny, try hard as they might.
For the continuation of efforts to tackle climate change, there are too many jokers in this pack. They may be successful on other policies in their term, but climate change policy will undoubtedly suffer and be made obsolete. The information page on climate change achievements to date on the White House’s website was removed at 11:59am the moment Trump took his oath of office on his inauguration day. No mention of climate change on the White House website remains, and there is a blanket ban on EPA employees communicating with the media. It is the unfortunate prerogative of advocacy groups, businesses and citizens to drive the issue of climate change forward for the next four years to ensure it doesn’t become part of the rhetoric Trump is espousing. Climate change cannot be discarded, fossilised or alternated by fake facts so as to de-legitimise its crucial importance. Trump tower will stay above the sea level, but the rest of us won’t.