As the November U.S. elections approach, the nightmarish thought of Donald Trump being elected to the White House has at times appeared a grim possibility. An average of popular Presidential polls (pre-Busgate) from across the US had placed Trump just two points behind Clinton – 43.5% versus 45.5%. In the same month the earth’s environment surpassed a worrying milestone with September CO2 levels recorded above 400 parts /million for the first time since human records began.
While most of the media’s and commentators’ attention has focused on Trump’s questionable character, misogyny and racism, one of the most worrying aspects of his potential term in office is the detrimental effect the republican’s election would have on our planet’s environment. His atrociously backwards position on climate change and global warming could spell further disaster for a global environment that some argue already rests on a knife edge.
The US, as the largest economy in the world and the second largest polluter, bears a huge environmental responsibility. It is vital that the US utilise their massive global influence to fight climate change if the global community is to meet the goals set out by world leaders at the 2015 Paris Agreement. However, just weeks out from Election Day, Mr. Trump has failed to release any semblance of a coherent environmental policy.
Time for Change
Recent years have witnessed a positive shift in attitudes towards climate change across the globe. A notion once branded as ‘absolute crap’ (Tony Abbott, Australian Prime Minister) and ‘voodoo nonsense’ (Republican Congresswoman, Michele Bachmann) has now been accepted as one of the most pressing and challenging issues of our generation – well, at least by 97% of all climatologists (but of course, Trump knows better).
In the US, a number of game-changing steps have been taken in recent years to reduce the impact of the country’s massive industry and population on our planet. Barack Obama was at the fore of this attack on the country’s emissions, with a 12% decrease in CO2 emissions occurring between 2008 and 2013. While half of this reduction can be attributed to the economic downturn of 2008, majorly progressive policies introduced by Obama, such as the introduction of Fuel Economy Standards for all vehicles and carbon pollutions standards for power plants, played a vital role.
Obama has left behind a substantial environmental legacy after two terms in the Oval office, despite being met with fierce opposition at every turn. Amongst his most notable successes was the introduction of the Clean Power Plan, a blueprint for relieving the US’s dependence on fossil fuels, which Obama branded as “the single most important step that America has ever made in the fight against global climate change.”
Obama’s positive influence was also been felt globally as other large polluters were encouraged to make pledges to reduce their net emissions and create greener economies. $3 billion was pledged to the Green Climate Fund in an effort to help prepare developing countries for the onset of a changing climate while President Xi Jinping committed China to peaking its emissions by 2030 after lengthy discussions with Obama.
While Obama must carry the blame for failing to deliver actual climate change legislation, no one can deny that Obama ensured that the issue of climate change and global warming was brought to the forefront of public debate, and ensuring that it became a permanent point of discussion in both the Congress and Senate.
Now we are met with the unfortunate possibility of Donald Trump completely destroying the path Obama paved towards a greener, more sustainable future for America. Trump has captured the imaginations of so many with his dogged determination and bluster to revive the American economy. A particularly worrying facet of Trump’s plans to ‘Make America Great Again’ is his vision of ‘Complete Energy Independence’. Reaching full-scale energy independence is a massive milestone, one which was recently achieved by Portugal, who met its energy needs on nothing but energy generated through renewable sources for 107 hours.
Sadly, by contrast, Trump plans to achieve his goal through a dramatic, short-sighted revival of fossil fuel production. Under the Republican’s ambitious 100 day plan for absolute energy independence, previously federally protected lands, including national parks and forests, would be reopened for oil and coal exploration. Atlantic exploration lease sales (which were cancelled by Obama after the disastrous Deepwater Horizon oil spill of 2010) would be reintroduced, while huge amounts of currently environmentally protected waters (up to 87% of the U.S outer continental shelf) would also be made available for offshore mining and drilling.
This American fossil fuel ‘renaissance’ would see a massive decrease in Clean Energy investment which flourished so well during Obama’s term in office, when the use of wind power tripled and solar power increased 30 fold. Burning of coal in the US accounted for 1,364 million metric tonnes of CO2 emissions in 2015. That is more than the total emissions of Germany and France combined, or over 22 times Ireland’s total emissions that year. Trump believes that harsh environmental protection regulations such as carbon caps on power plants are to blame for the decline of the American coal industry and related job losses.
Peabody Energies, the world’s largest privately owned coal company, recently filed for bankruptcy and attributed its fall from grace to the boom of cheap natural gas, not overly strict environmental regulation. Trump has promised to end Obama’s ‘war on coal’ and create 400,000 new jobs per annum in a dying industry by rescinding large amounts of important environmental regulations.
Pivotal Electoral Decision
In stark contrast to Trump’s vision of a coal-fuelled America, Senator Hillary Clinton has released plans of her own which will see over half a billion solar panels installed across the country during her first term in office. Her energy agenda declares that “The United States will generate enough renewable energy to power every home in America within 10 years of Hillary Clinton taking office”.
Trump would also approve the completion of the Keystone XL petroleum pipeline, a project whose planning rejection was considered to be a major move away from fossil fuel dependent industry in the United States. While employment in renewable energy explodes (there was a 6% increase in clean energy jobs in 2015), workers are calling out for reskilling programs that would prepare them to work in a new era of energy production. Yet, Trump remains adamant that coal and oil are the answer to America’s economic struggles. With the likes of Harold Hamm (oil and gas tycoon and CEO of Continental Resources) in line to be appointed as Trump’s Energy Secretary, however, one can only assume that vested interests will overpower the calls for clean, sustainable energy development in a Trump-led America.
If elected, Trump would be the only national leader not to recognise anthropogenic climate change, and most definitely the only one to believe global warming to be “a Chinese hoax”. Trump’s utter lack of interest in this crucial issue should not only be a cause for concern, but considered a direct threat to our planet’s future and our own security. This is a man who would “cancel the Paris Climate agreement”, abandon the effort to protect natural resources and endangered species, and turn America’s back on renewable energy. He is a man who does not recognise the most pertinent threat to the well-being of our future generations, a man who is not fit to be President of the world’s second most polluting country. The fate of our planet will be hugely influenced by the decision of the American people who cast their votes on November 8.
For all our sakes, let’s hope that they make the right choice.