Environmentalists the world over are braced for the worst. Donald Trump, an extremely right wing, climate change denier is now running the world’s biggest economy. Undoubtedly, precious ecological systems and reserves of nature are going to suffer badly in the next four years. Climate change policy is the top level of a government’s attitude to the planet. What is likely to influence the 45th US president?
1) Probably not science!
Trump has regularly called climate change a hoax, even saying the Chinese invented it! In typical style, he has also tried to deny that he said these things. This is a man who will believe whatever suits him at the time. That’s bad news for climate policy, which needs a consistent long-term vision.
2) The cost of renewables.
Trump says he will stop investing state funds directly in new technologies. Conversely, he’s made clear he wants to create American jobs – which may mean less direct ways of developing the US’s renewables manufacturing base. He also wants to be less reliant on China, and it’s not going to take him long to find that Americans (like everyone else) buy a lot of Chinese renewable technology products. If he’s going to try slapping tariffs on them, that may incentivise home production.
3) His new Supreme Court judge appointment
The Clean Power Plan passing through Congress was always expected to end up in the Supreme Court. Trump’s choice of judge may well decide its fate. Dr Niklas Hohne, professor for mitigation of greenhouse gases at Wageningen University, says that failure to implement the plan would mean that in 2025, global emissions will have made little progress (6% reduction) in 2 decades.
4) Probably not the Paris agreement
The clever design of the Paris Agreement wording stops him formally exiting inside his 4 year term. Still, if he simply does whatever the fossil fuel industry wants, paper commitments will mean very little.
5) The weather?
Trump famously dismissed global warming as just “weather”. Well, weather is something he’s unlikely to be able to ignore over a period of 4 years as president. On that kind of timescale in today’s hot temperatures, America’s bread basket is vulnerable to depression-era style droughts, its Eastern seaboard to increasingly severe storms, and major cities like Miami and New York continue to face rising sea levels. If Trump is unwilling to tackle the causes, he may be forced to invest in more adaptation to deal with the effects of a warming world.
6) More focus on communicating climate issues
For years scientists have been concerned about the gap between their knowledge and that of politicians and the general public. Communicating climate information is a massively underfunded and poorly understood area. Now scientists are talking openly about a “post-truth” world. In fact psychologists, spiritual leaders and a lot of people with common sense have long known that people are not computers, processing information logically like Spock (that’s why Spock is so strange!) Emotional factors are more important that the information itself if you want to get people on board with big changes. It’s not even about having a “positive” message – in the end it’s about relationships. People listen to those they sense care about them and their concerns. Which brings us to…
7) The people!
People talking to their neighbours about their valid climate concerns instead of staying silent. People helping each other clean up after floods. People putting solar panels on their roofs and sharing the energy they generate. People bringing lawsuits against authorities that fail on climate commitments. And people brave enough to square up to the extreme energy industry when Trump gives his full backing to military and police forces to get them out of the way.
The Trump Presidency puts the ball in our court… it is up to us now to make the changes we need to see in the world.
Let’s not be naïve; Trump is going to be merciless to his opponents. He presents himself as a man of the people, but he’s really only the man of one person – Donald Trump. He’s an opportunist and a damaged narcissist. He is also rich and powerful, with vested interests lining up behind him to brainwash and rip off the American people. Yet he isn’t a god. At the grass roots, caring for people and planet builds community and changes hearts in ways he and his supporters can neither understand nor prevent.
Perhaps Rev Dr Martin Luther King Jr, who – let’s remember – experienced many setbacks and never saw his dream come to fulfilment, said it best: “I refuse to accept the view that mankind is so tragically bound to the starless midnight of racism and war that the bright daybreak of peace and brotherhood can never become a reality… I believe that unarmed truth and unconditional love will have the final word.”
By Matt Carmichael – co-author of Spiritual Activism with Alastair McIntosh, out on Green Books.