Trump reverses US course on climate change
Yesterday, the president issued orders that threaten to undo much of Obama’s action on climate change. Campaigners say that the timing could not be worse. Why is Trump doing this?
Two years ago, Republican Senator Jim Inhofe walked into the Capitol with a snowball. This, he told the Senate, was proof that global warming is a hoax.
Inhofe was widely mocked for misunderstanding what global warming means. Yet his scepticism is common among Republicans, who have been called “the only major political party in the world not convinced by climate change”. President Trump’s actions yesterday brought this home.
In a series of orders, Trump set about dismantling Barack Obama’s policies to limit climate change. The biggest casualty was the Clean Power Plan, a set of regulations designed to cut greenhouse gas emissions and bring the USA into line with the Paris Agreement. The plan is due to be withdrawn, allowing coal plants earmarked for closure to stay open.
The president also promised to review a major fracking regulation and restart the sale of new coal leases on federal lands. These moves follow a budget, unveiled on March 16th, which recommends huge cuts to agencies that fund research into climate change. Even the US participation in the Paris Agreement is “under discussion”.
Trump’s orders could be held up for years by legal challenges. His budget is only a proposal — the real thing must be passed by Congress. Yet the message is clear: fighting climate change is not a priority for this administration. Environmentalists are appalled. After all, 2016 was the hottest year on record; only last week, the World Meteorological Organization warned that we are in “truly uncharted waters”.
Yesterday’s announcement was hardly a surprise. On the campaign trail, Trump promised to cut green regulations, calling them “job-killing”. Yet his views on climate science are harder to pin down. He has tweeted that global warming is a hoax invented by the Chinese, but he also once co-signed a letter to Obama calling for urgent action on climate change.
There is overwhelming evidence that humans contribute to climate change. Even NASA says so. Why won’t Trump just accept this?
Hot and cold
Because he honestly doesn’t believe it, say some. If his attacks on judges and reporters have taught us one thing, it’s that the president doesn’t respect truth or reputation. He prefers conspiracy theories to hard evidence, and likes to go against the establishment. Climate change denial appeals to his way of thinking.
Trump is savvier than that, reply others. Privately, he is aware of the danger of climate change. But he knows that he will get more votes if he makes a show of defending businesses against regulations. This is the problem with the fight against climate change: politicians rarely go for policies whose benefits will only be felt after they have left office.
- Should politicians always accept what scientists say?
- Can the Paris Agreement survive if the USA pulls out?
- Design a poster aimed at getting people to donate to environmental groups. Make sure to include some facts!
- Choose three of the main arguments put forward by climate change deniers. For each one, write two paragraphs explaining why it is wrong.
Some People Say...
“Climate change is the greatest threat to mankind.”
What do you think?
Q & A
- What do we know?
- CO2 and other gases trap heat. Humans produce these gases. While Earth’s climate has varied throughout history, the current rate at which the planet is warming is unprecedented in the last 1,300 years. According to authoritative studies, 97% of climate scientists believe that climate change is “extremely likely” to be due to humans.
- What do we not know?
- The precise effects that global warming will have on our climate. Of course, this largely depends on our actions now.
- What do people believe?
- A panel of experts predict a global temperature rise of between 2.5 and 10ºF over the next century. This would affect regions differently; in all likelihood there will be more droughts and heat waves, sea levels will rise further, and the ice caps will continue to melt.
- The building in Washington, DC that houses Congress.
- “Global warming” means that Earth’s atmosphere is heating up on average. It is not disproved by the odd cold winter — in fact, it could help cause extreme weather. See the Scientific American article in Become An Expert.
- By Jose Aguto, of the Catholic Climate Covenant.
- Clean Power Plan
- In fact, the plan is currently on hold due to various legal challenges from states and companies.
- Paris Agreement
- A landmark agreement to limit greenhouse gas emissions, backed by the UN and adopted by 195 countries in 2015.
- Also known as “hydraulic fracturing,” this technique involves breaking open underground rock (by injecting pressurized liquid) to extract oil and gas. It can release polluting chemicals and encourages dependence on fossil fuels, so many environmentalists oppose it.
- From 2008 to 2015, the number of American jobs in coal mining fell from 127,745 to 98,505 (according to the Mine Safety and Health Administration), but industry bosses admit many were killed by technology, not regulations.