A Confederacy of Deniers

Published: April 27, 2017 - 17:50 Updated: August 1, 2017 - 17:12

The Trump administration's recalcitrant climate change denial will end up hurting the planet in the long run


In April thousands of scientists and science enthusiasts braved cold, rain and all kinds of horrid weather to march in Washington to protest against the Trump administration’s climate change denial and its hostile attitude towards science and research. Some of the brightest minds of America held placards and banners to protest against the destructive policies being set into motion by a narcissistic dunce. The irony was not lost on anyone. 

Donald Trump believes that climate change is a hoax invented by the Chinese. His addled climate change conspiracy theories would have been amusing had it not been for one simple fact: Earth’s 2016 surface temperatures were the warmest since modern recordkeeping began in 1880, according to independent analyses by NASA and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). The disintegration of the Greenland and Antarctic sheets has sped up and could mean that sea levels could rise by three to six feet by 2100. Global emissions are rising, faster and faster. Between 2000 and 2007, they rose at around 3.5 percent a year; by 2009 it was up to 5.6 percent. In 2010, we hit 5.9 percent growth, a record. 

Instead of slowing down the global slide towards this climate holocaust, the Trump administration has accelerated in the opposite direction. Trump and the GOP are planning devastating rollbacks of environmental protections. The gutting of these programs represents a profound danger to all life on earth. In a span of 100 days, Trump and his acolytes have ensured that every little progress that the Obama administration had made has been rolled back or is in the process of being rolled back. The laundry list of damage is eye-popping already. The Trump administration's proposed budget would slash the budget of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) by one-third. This came on the back of Trump asking NASA to stop collecting evidence of climate change. Some of NASA’s most vital earth-science work has been done at a tiny climate research hub, the Goddard Institute for Space Studies. Trump’s budget cuts threaten to defund the institute altogether. 

 The number one target of this inquisition against environmental regulation is the Clean Power Plan. The Clean Power Plan was President Obama’s signature climate policy. It looked to cut emissions from existing US power plants by 32 percent by 2030. The plan is now in the crosshairs of Scott Pruitt, head of EPA and noted climate change denier. What was significant about the plan was that it aimed to keep hundreds of thousands of tons of sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxide pollutants from ever being emitted. This is significant because these two pollutants are the leading cause of asthma in children. Pruitt might also capriciously try to scrap the requirements regarding carbon-dioxide emissions altogether. If this happens then decarbonisation of the atmosphere will be pushed back by decades. Carbon dioxide is not the only greenhouse gas, there is also methane that seeps into the atmosphere during oil and gas extraction. Obama set a goal of reducing these by 40 percent of 2012 emission levels. The Trump-Pruitt duo is practically ensuring that the US will fail to meet the targets that it committed to in the Paris accords. There are other moves too that have been carried out in a clandestine manner. The administration has postponed energy department efficiency standards for consumer and commercial appliances, withheld grants for research into next-generation energy technologies, and ordered the government to revise a metric called the “social cost of carbon” that seeks to factor the impacts of climate change into regulatory actions. 

Trump is doing all of this in the guise of saving coal jobs. This is supposed to be protecting the futures of the ‘forgotten’ voters. In fact, he is stealing their futures. America has been mining coal for the past 150 years. Whatever coal is left is concentrated in the Appalachian mountain ranges. Extracting that coal is expensive and unproductive. The GOP’s flagrant attempt at rebranding coal is clearly political pandering to the corporate polluters who fund their campaigns —but the consequences are deadly serious. If Trump really wanted to create jobs, he would make a push for creating jobs in the renewable energy sector the U.S. solar industry alone now employs twice as many workers as the coal industry, and more workers than the oil and gas industry combined. In addition to this Trump’s budget proposes completely eliminating ARPA-E’s 350 million budget, killing a program that incubates clean energy technologies until they are ready to commercialise. Every ARPA-E project builds on an innovative idea that has the potential, if successful, to transform the way energy is generated, transformed, stored, used or transported. By stifling clean energy research Trump and his climate change denying stooges have ensured that the US is left out of the potentially trillion dollar clean energy economy. 

Trump’s willingness to relinquish America’s alpha dog status in the effort to combat climate change has meant that China is now poised for leadership on climate change. China has already halted the construction of many of its proposed coal-fired plants and plans to pour in close to 300 billion dollars in clean energy research over the next decade. The Chinese government is succeeding in cutting the use of coal, which provides around 70 percent of China’s electricity. In 2016 coal consumption dropped by 4.7 percent, the third consecutive year of decline. As the United States continues to dither under an ignoramus president and an administration that is prioritising short-run profits over long run sustainability, it is the planet that is suffering. There is still hope for our beleaguered planet. Last year, scientists had reported that the hole in Antarctica’s ozone layer has shown signs that it’s retreating. Although the improvement has been slight so far, it is an indication the treaty signed back in 1987 that phased out the use of chemicals known as chlorofluorocarbons or CFCs is working. Ozone, a layer high in the atmosphere, protects life from ultraviolet radiation. The layer was under attack from CFCs, chemicals used for decades as refrigerants or propellants in ordinary products like hair spray. So treaties, laws and the people who support them do make a difference. It is up to the rest of the world to do something.