Donald Trump and the Possibilities of Climate Disaster

Editor’s note: In this op-ed post, RU biology major Mark Barr reflects on the implications of Donald Trump’s election for environmental policy.

Upon Donald Trump’s election, the sentiment among many was “give him a chance.” Individuals with backgrounds in science in general, but climate science in particular, were worried, but some nevertheless maintained hope that his stances on climate science and environmental protection would be more moderate than what he exclaimed throughout the election cycle. Trump has been on both sides of the spectrum regarding climate change. A tweet from his twitter account stated that global warming is a hoax propagated by the Chinese government to hurt the American economy; but as recently as November of 2016, Trump stated that there is “some connectivity” between human actions and the climate, so it’s difficult to tell what his stance will truly be. More than one month after the election, the man has yet to officially take office and is already alarming the entire science community. The “give him a chance” sentiment is turning out to be a nightmare in terms of the planet’s chances of fighting climate change and environmental issues.

On November 9th, Scientific American published a story in which Trump’s views on many science policies seemed rather moderate, for his standards at least. The article included a discussion with a representative from the Trump campaign and asked a few questions regarding 20 different science issues facing the country. While the campaign’s response to a question about climate change, that there is too much “unknown” in the study of climate science, leaves much to be desired, the campaign representative did mention that a major goal of the administration will be to attain energy independence through the continued development of wind, solar, nuclear, and bio fuels. This mention of a focus on alternative fuels for an economy more independent from the geopolitical entanglement that is the fossil fuel industry gives a slight glimmer of hope for the climate over the coming years; however, these were just words on paper in the early stages of Trump stepping into his role as the President-Elect of the United States. Trump’s actions over the next four years may be very different from these words. As many know, actions speak louder than words, and the actions that Trump has taken thus far are terrifying.

First and foremost, let’s examine the notable cabinet positions that Trump has awarded to proponents of the fossil fuel industry. Scott Pruitt, the attorney general of Oklahoma and a known antagonist in the fight against climate change, has now been nominated by Trump to head the EPA. Not only has Pruitt sued the EPA over the Clean Power Plan, the Obama Administration’s proposed plan to reduce emissions from the energy sector, he’s quite openly received funds from Big Oil. Over the course of his political career, Pruitt has received over $300,000 dollars in campaign contributions from the fossil fuel industry, which may cause a conflict of interest with Trump’s supposed interest developing alternative fuel sources.

Additionally, Rex Tillerson, the chief executive of ExxonMobil, has been nominated as the Secretary of State. A Washington Post article released after the nomination became public noted other high-ranking Republican party members’ concern with the pick. Marco Rubio, a former Republican presidential nominee and a member of the Foreign Relations Committee, said “The next secretary of state must be someone who views the world with moral clarity, is free of potential conflicts of interest, has a clear sense of America’s interests.” Tillerson’s ties to Russia and Vladimir Putin will surely come under intense scrutiny from the Republicans vetting him for the position. The Trump campaign expressed an interest in developing the alternative fuels market of the United States, but these two cabinet picks cast doubt on the likelihood of that interest being pursued.

Only time will tell what the Trump administration will mean for the climate as Trump has shown to be rather back and forth on a multitude of issues throughout his campaign and in the time leading up to his inauguration; but it seems as if the plan to continue and even increase the production and use of fossil fuel is in place. This could be devastating for the climate and the environment alike. Giving Trump a chance may have relinquished our chances at combatting irreversible climate damage.

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