Climate Column: Make your mind up, Mr Trump!

‘If we fail to act now, it is scientifically irrefutable that there will be catastrophic and irreversible consequences for humanity and our planet.’

-Business coalition, featuring Donald Trump, 2009

Written by: Iona Jenkins

The constant overturning of the environmental views of billionaire real-estate tycoon, notorious womaniser and beauty pageant sponsor Donald Trump has founded concern among scientific experts, who fear that his reversal of policies aiming to reduce the impact of climate change will have catastrophic consequences for the planet.

Interestingly, the 45th POTUS wasn’t always so disbelieving of the evidence showing that observable climate change has been caused by the actions and wastefulness of humans, and in particular, large corporations.

Back in 2009, Mr. Trump signed an open letter, from a coalition of high-ranking US businessmen and liberal leaders, calling for swift action from then-President Obama to produce policies and controls aiming to reduce carbon emissions. Signatories also included Mr. Trump’s 3 children, 2 of whom now have roles in the president’s White House operation. The letter called for US leaders to: ‘[model] the change necessary to protect humanity and our planet’.

Trump’s Foundation has also financially endorsed non-profit organisations, such as Protect Our Winters in 2014, which form climate advocacy groups. In stark comparison, by 2015 Mr. Trump was claiming not to be ‘a big believer in man-made climate change’”, and that Obama’s identification of climate change as a ‘major threat to the US’ was ‘one of the dumbest statements I’ve ever heard in politics’. Despite his endorsement of activist groups, Mr. Trump contradicted his former views (as shown by the 2009 letter, and his request to protect his golf courses in Ireland from ‘global warming and its effects’) by insisting from 2012 that climate change is a ‘hoax’, ‘created for and by the Chinese in order to make US manufacturing non-competitive’.

During the  2016 election, Mr. Trump made proposals to back out of international climate negotiations and treaties; in June 2017 he announced his plan to withdraw from the Paris Agreement on climate change, and described it as a ‘totally disastrous, job killing, wealth knocking out’ deal. Furthermore, his appointment of climate change deniers and those with links to the fossil-fuel industry as cabinet advisors suggests he aims to perpetuate fossil fuel use rather than switching to clean, renewable energy sources, and indicates a lack of impetus to create legislation aiming to combat climate change.

In November 2016, however, Mr. Trump revised his denunciation of climate change to claim that ‘there is some connectivity’ between human activity and climate change, and ‘it depends on how much it’s going to cost our companies’. This suggests that it is only worth attempting to combat climate change if it won’t cost too much. In his view, such policies will have a disastrous effect on US businesses and companies, which he claims are currently ‘really largely non-competitive’.

Perhaps the problem lies in the apparent  truth that Mr. Trump can’t  understand simple facts. In a January 2018 interview, whilst touting his beliefs in ‘clean air and water’, he displayed his misunderstanding of the term ‘global warming’ by attempting to declare that the phrase ‘climate change’ is now more widely used because the phrase ‘global warming’ ‘wasn’t working too well’, as there ‘is a cooling and… a heating’. This implies that people are renaming the so-called hoax in order to make it align with the weather patterns.

Scientists have shown that the two phrases are not mutually exclusive. Global warming refers to the Earth’s overall rising surface temperature, whereas climate change stimulates changing weather patterns, wildlife patterns and species abundance. Both refer to the effects of heightened atmospheric CO2 levels, being produced in enormous tonnage since the beginning of the industrial revolution.

Furthermore, Mr. Trump’s claim that ice caps are now at a ‘record level’ is wholly mistaken, even laughable. This record shows that whilst  sea ice extents have indeed surpassed records- these are record lows. In 2010, the total polar sea ice covered 790,000 miles² less than the average global minimum extent in 1981; thus in this short time the Earth lost an area of sea ice larger than Mexico’s landmass.

It is unsurprising that Trump has basic facts of climate change completely wrong. He has surrounded himself by people who would lose out financially from cuts to fossil fuel use in the US. As Mr. Trump’s advisors, they certainly hold leverage on any decisions. His own Environment Chief, Scott Pruitt, is a climate sceptic, and therefore unlikely to be providing Mr. Trump with the necessary scientific facts with which he might reliably make policy decisions acting in humanity’s best interests. Professor Allan Lichtman of American University, Washington D.C., has even gone as far as saying that Mr. Trump’s policies may represent a ‘crime against humanity’.

Mr. Trump claimed in a 2017 interview with the New York Times that: ‘there are few things where there’s more division than climate change’. It seems that the greatest division resides in his own mind, and only his own business or political interests will determine which way he decides to sway next.

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