Has Trump’s Election Ruined All Our Chances to Reverse Climate Change?
Don’t call them “skeptics.” Richard Dawkins is a skeptic. So was Christopher Hitchens. No — the folks now controlling all three branches of the federal government are deniers and liars, plain and simple.
And it starts from the top down. President-elect Donald Trump believes climate change is a hoax invented by the Chinese. Why? Who could say — but this preposterous claim has now been re-tweeted 104,000 times. Now, when just a year ago they were finding unlikely common ground with President Obama, China has to waste time directly refuting Trump’s claims: Chinese Vice Foreign Minister Liu Zhenmin has been quick to take Trump to task in the aftermath of the US election, saying: “If you look at the history of climate change negotiations, actually it was initiated by the IPCC with the support of the Republicans during the Reagan and senior Bush administration during the late 1980s.”
And yet, from Donald Trump on down, his new administration-in-waiting is chock full of climate change deniers and corporate shills. They all ignore the bipartisan roots of organized climate change action, and all stand to make a buck from failing to take seriously a threat we knew was real 40 years ago — and still did nothing to ameliorate.
What are we going to do about this?
Is the Paris Agreement at Risk?
Last year marked an important milestone, with the coming together of 200 nations in Paris to collectively recognize the global threat of climate change and to publicly commit to doing something about it. Thanks largely to President Obama, who deftly side-stepped our Republican Congress, and to some unlikely leadership from China and India, things were finally looking rosy not just for reversing climate change, but also for renewing our commitment to global cooperation in general.
But like a spray-tanned, toupéed wrecking ball, Trump’s election now threatens to dash that progress to pieces and re-legitimize climate change denial the way he’s re-legitimized bigotry and sexism. Is ignorance the new normal under President Donald J. Trump? And worse — is the climate doomed because the man who now leads the free world is wholly uninterested in either truth or progress?
I’m happy to say the answer is probably “no.” The world can’t turn back even the modest progress we’ve made on this front, although under President Trump it’s likely to slow to an agonizing crawl. With his help, Big Oil and Big Gas will embarrass themselves further as scrabble around in the dirt, sniffing out the last scraps of profit buried there, like truffle-hunting pigs. Yes, progress is going to be so slow as to be non-existent for four years or possibly more — but we’ve come too far to turn back now.
That’s the silver lining here: for all his bluster and rhetoric, Trump is powerless against true progressive change. Here’s the good news, since we all likely need it: Trump can almost certainly not withdraw the United States from the Paris agreement.
Market Forces Are Already at Work
The Paris agreement was worded deliberately, in a way that prevents President Obama’s successor from outright tearing up the agreement or backing the United States out of it. If Trump does wish to end our participation, such a change wouldn’t take full effect for four years — long enough for Progressives to get their act together and field a strong candidate in 2020. And whoever he or she turns out to be, they won’t need Congress’ approval to reinstate the agreement.
In other words, this isn’t a change Trump can make overnight — no matter how hard he promises to do so.
Moreover, market forces are already at work doing what they do best: looking for the next big thing. And that next big thing is unquestionably solar power. Even the least sunny parts of the United States average 3.5 hours of sunlight per day, with the sunniest topping out at six hours per day. This is effectively free energy. Yes, the equipment carries a one-time cost, but even this price tag is falling precipitously as more and more Americans commit themselves to making a change that’s both wallet-friendly and environmentally sound.
Republicans almost always get economic policy wrong, but in this instance, the free market really is the stabilizing force — and it has spoken. The world wants solar power, now more than ever, and not even an ignorant leader can stop that kind of progress.
Over the last couple years, the solar power industry has grown at an almost unprecedented rate. Point of fact, solar adoption has outpaced even cell phone adoption. That’s simply amazing — and, again, no matter who’s sitting behind the Big Desk, it can’t be stopped.
To put it more simply, solar power is too profitable to be ignored. If ethical concerns don’t sway Trump or his cronies, the sweet smell of dollar bills will probably do the trick. I fully expect Trump Tower to be sporting a few solar panels before too long.
The Silver Linings
It can be difficult to find silver linings in times such as these, but they’re there — and some of them are hiding in the plain, cleansing daylight. The world will keep turning, and one way or another this planet will begin to heal. We thought we had the beast cornered, but we were all surprised by the pettiness and vitriol of American politics that swept tyranny into the White House.
Progress will slow, but it can’t be stopped — not by Trump, or anybody else.