Waking up on the morning after the 2016 election, America faces four years of a Trump presidency and at least two years with a Republican majority in both houses of the U.S. Congress. There is extreme disconnect between what is happening at the international level and the reality of climate politics in America today. On November 4, the Paris Agreement entered into legal force and negotiations about how this new international agreement will address the complex issue of climate change are currently underway in Morocco.
At the same time, President-elect Trump has made it clear that he will “cancel” the Paris Agreement and double down on fossil fuel extraction. This perspective is mirrored by the Republicans who hold the majorities of both houses of the U.S. Congress.
Nonetheless, America is in the midst of an energy revolution: King coal is dying and being replaced by fracked natural gas from around the U.S. This was a foregone conclusion before the election even got underway. The infrastructure and investments are already in place to replace coal with natural gas. In fact, the battleground state of Ohio leads the US in coal plant retirements, and many of their replacements will rely on natural gas being fracked nearby.
This transition from coal to natural gas has the potential to reduce carbon emissions, but the devil is in the details. To address the issue of climate change adequately, the new President will have to take seriously how methane emissions from fracking contribute to climate change while expanding investments in renewable energy. Although renewable energy capacity now exceeds that of fossil fuels, experts agree that investments are needed to minimize the most pernicious effects of climate change, like extreme weather, rising sea levels, and increasing temperatures.
The stakes are as high as they can get, and there is so much to be done. In May, NASA reported that the global concentration of carbon dioxide passed the 400 parts per million (ppm) milestone and summer 2016 was one of the hottest on record in the U.S.
If we really want to do something about the threat of climate change in Trump’s America, it is our responsibility as citizens to use civil society and our constitutional rights to hold the new president, administration and Congress accountable while working through the channels available to us at the local and state levels.
Otherwise, mass migration away from parts of the U.S. that are increasingly underwater or experiencing extreme drought will ensue, along with numerous other unintended consequences of our fossil fuel addiction. The 400,000-plus people who marched in the streets of New York City as part of the People’s Climate March in fall 2014 will be a drop in the bucket compared to the likely mobilization if we do not take our job as citizens seriously.