Trump Drives A Nail Through The Heart Of Obama's Climate Legacy

03/29/2017 07:57 am ET Updated Mar 29, 2017
Kevin Lamarque / Reuters

It’s astonishing how much destruction can be unleashed by a pen. But, most of Barack Obama’s hard fought efforts to save our climate were undone by the stroke of Donald Trump’s hand on Tuesday.

Flanked by coal miners by his side, the Tweeter-in-Chief signed an excutive order to overturn his predecessor’s Clean Power Plan which sought to rein in pollution from America’s vast fleet of coal fired power stations:

“C’mon, fellas. You know what this is? You know what this says?”, the president said to the miners: “You’re going back to work.”

But, as power stations account for the majority of US carbon emissions, it will now be impossible for Washington to honour its commitment to the Paris climate accord. Although Trump stopped short of tearing up the Paris pact, if he reneges on its terms, he is essentially turning his back on the deal.

Alas, the tragedy of this situation can not be overstated.

Unless radical action is taken to curb the worst effects of man made climate change, our children and their children will be condemned to a life of sweltering purgatory.

According to the United Nations, world temperatures are in danger of breaching the four degrees celsius mark well before the turn of this century. And, whilst this may not sound like much, it’s enough to bring about changes not seen since the last Ice Age, ushering in a mass extinction event which will make the elimination of the dinosaurs look like a bedtime story.

In the words of one climate scientist: “We are all polar bears now.”

But, 15 months ago, over 200 nations shrugged off their differences when they gathered in Paris to sign a deal to to limit global warming to 2C, with further ambitions for 1.5C. The product of nearly twenty years of torturous negotiations, the Paris climate accord was hailed as a historic triumph for man kind.

But, what a difference one year and a US election can make. Never mind that the presidency was stolen for Trump by the Kremlin. A deal designed to save our climate is now one step away from annihilation: the fate of our planet, quite literally, hanging in the balance.

At the heart of the Paris accord was a breakthrough agreement between the US and China, the world’s largest and second largest polluters. In 2014, the two powerhouses vowed to slash emissions, and spearhead a global deal to save our climate. Obama unveiled his Clean Power Plan as proof of Washington’s commitment to the cause. But, if Trump reneges on America’s side of the bargain, perhaps China, India and Brazil will pull out too.

“The worst-case scenario is that the Paris agreement will unravel,” said Robert Stavins, a professor of environmental economics at Harvard: “That would be a great tragedy.”

“If there was any doubt that big oil was back in charge under the Trump administration, today’s executive order lays that to rest,” said Chuck Schumer, the minority leader in the Senate. “It reads as if it was written in an Exxon boardroom, with no regard for the health and safety of the American people, or the planet.”

Whether Trump will be able to fully eradicate Obama’s climate legacy remains to be seen. According to lawyers, it will take years for the EPA to unwind all of his regulations. Moreover, such actions will be ensnared by legal challenges every step of the way.

In fact, some states such as California and New York have already pledged to fight the president: “If they want to repeal, they have to replace,” said Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman of New York.

The news comes two days after Trump’s head of the Environmental Protection Agency Scott Pruitt, excoriated the Paris pact for being biased in favour of Asia:

“China and India got away scot-free. They didn’t have to take steps until 2030. So we’ve penalised ourselves through lost jobs while China and India didn’t take steps to address the issue internationally.”

But, this is a quite simply untrue: many countries are cutting emissions in 2030, including the European Union. Moreover, although China and India plan for their emissions to peak by 2030, they will both ramp up their use of clean energy well before that date in order to meet those targets.

Ironically, whilst the tycoon tweeter pretends not to believe in global warming, his administration is busy hatching plans to hack our climate with a controversial technology called solar geo-engineering. It hopes to cool down the earth’s temperature by spraying sulphate particles into the atmosphere in order to reflect the sun’s radiation back into space.

The technology received little love during the Obama era owing to its many dangers: scientists have long warned that it will bring about catastrophic changes to the earth’s weather systems. According to their models, it will usher in severe droughts throughout Asia, Africa and South America, ravaging the food supply for billions of people.

But, according to several high ranking officials within the Trump administration, it’s a cheap and easy way to fight climate change.

“Worryingly, geo-engineering may emerge as this administration’s preferred approach to global warming,” said Silvia Riberio, with technology watchdog ETC Group: “In their view, building a big beautiful wall of sulphate in the sky could be a perfect excuse to allow uncontrolled fossil fuel extraction. We need to be focussing on radical emissions cuts, not dangerous and unjust technofixes.”

Sadly, this common sense approach to fighting climate change will fall on deaf ears during the Trump era. The new head of the EPA doesn’t even believe that CO2 emissions are warming up our climate. Such a position puts him at odds with the ethos of his own agency. On its website, the EPA very clearly states that carbon dioxide is the “primary greenhouse gas that is contributing to recent climate change.”

When the leader of the world’s most powerful nation hands a notorious climate sceptic the top job at its leading environmental regulator, one can’t help but despair: what kind of twisted dystopian tragi-comedy are we living in? Let it be clear: this president is threatening to take us back to the climate dark ages.

But, as the fate of our children and their children lies in his grubby hands, its time to hold this vulgarian to account. There is still time before his stupidity translates into real life policy. But, we the people, must make our wrath known: future generations are counting on it.

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