To see how seriously Donald J. Trump takes the health of the environment, you need look no further than his transition team’s website. Environmental issues aren’t even listed — though there is a page pledging to achieve “energy independence” by opening up public lands and offshore sites for oil-and-gas drilling, magically reviving the coal industry and scrapping smokestack emissions regulations. All, of course, “while protecting the country’s most valuable resources — our clean air, clean water, and natural habitats.”
That last bit isn’t the biggest lie the president-elect has told, but it is a whopper. Trump’s approach to energy policy poses an enormous risk to the environment and makes no sense in the face of scientific consensus that human use of fossil fuels is behind climate-changing global warming. Trump’s proposals would undo the positive steps taken — finally — by the Obama administration and would put the country back into see-no-evil mode.
The world simply can’t afford that. The International Energy Agency reported last week that even if all the nearly 200 nations (including the United States) that have joined the Paris agreement on global warming adhere to their initial promises to reduce carbon emissions, it will not be enough to keep global average temperatures from rising more than 2 degrees Celsius (3.6 degrees Fahrenheit) above pre-industrial levels. That’s the line beyond which climate scientists say potentially catastrophic environment changes will occur. The new IEA report says current targets under the Paris Agreement would curtail the temperature rise to 2.7 degrees Celsius, indicating that much more needs to be done.
So at a time when not only the nation, but the world, needs strong leadership and an even deeper commitment to reducing the amount of carbon spewed into the air, the incoming president intends to move in the other direction. He believes global warming is a hoax (he once suggested it was perpetrated by China as a ruse to gain a competitive advantage in international trade) and has pledged to end U.S. involvement with the Paris Agreement. He also intends to dismantle Obama administration regulations aimed at reducing smokestack emissions and hopes to revive the domestic coal industry, the most-polluting form of fossil fuel.
Fortunately, the rest of the world’s nations see the danger more clearly and appear likely to carry on with the fight. (We hope no other countries take Trump’s renunciation as an excuse to backslide.) And there are also market forces driving the shift to renewable energy, and lower-level governments (like California) that have made it a priority.
Trump’s denial of commonly accepted science does nothing to mitigate the reality of climate change. The Pentagon reported to Congress last year that “we are already observing the impacts of climate change in shocks and stressors to vulnerable nations and communities,” and that “climate-related stress will disproportionately affect fragile and conflict-affected states” but “even resilient, well-developed countries are subject to the effects of climate change in significant and consequential ways.”
In fact, rising seas will create unique risks to American national security, beginning with the inundation of military bases. The Union of Concerned Scientists reported last year that a three-foot rise in sea level would threaten 128 military installations valued at $100 billion (43% are naval bases, including the 6,000-acre Norfolk Naval Station in Virginia, already susceptible to routine flooding that naval officials believe has been exacerbated by climate change).
More broadly, the Pentagon says climate change will destabilize areas of the world through flooding and drought, spawning more mass migrations and increasing the likelihood of more military engagements. The receding polar ice cap, which is expected in the next 20 years to open the Arctic to navigation for part of the summer, adds another point of friction as nations compete for passage and extraction of natural resources.
But a president-elect who thinks he knows more about defeating Islamic State than the generals isn’t likely to put much weight in this warning by experts, either. Government by ignorance rather than sober analysis is one of the biggest risks to the nation and the world. We can only hope Trump’s bluster will dissipate in the face of facts. The stability of the world, in fact, may depend on it.