Donald Trump’s latest executive order is a global warming fan’s dream
Sometimes it’s nice to be proven right. When you’ve put a 25-1 bet on a Grand National winner, for example. Other times, it proves to be more of a hollow victory. When I wrote about Al Gore’s meeting with American president Donald Trump, I was somewhat sceptical that the man behind An Inconvenient Truth had made much of an impression on the president, and judging by the latest executive order from the White House, I was right to be downbeat.
Yesterday, flanked by coal miners and company executives, President Trump signed an executive order rolling back more than half a dozen of Barack Obama’s policies designed to tackle climate change. Part of the order instructs the Environmental Protection Agency – y’know, the one headed by a climate change denier recently instructed to hide climate change statistics – to reevaluate the Clean Power Plan (CPP), which required states to reduce carbon dioxide emissions to meet the country’s obligations from the Paris Climate Change agreement.
The president described the move as “the start of a new era” in energy production – albeit one that feels depressingly similar to the old era of energy production that got us into this mess. “With today’s executive action I am taking historic steps to lift the restrictions on American energy, to reverse government intrusion and to cancel job-killing regulations,” he added.
It leaves some speculating that China will be left leading the international response to climate change as the US abdicates its responsibility. Which is something of an irony given Trump once tweeted this:
Perhaps they were playing the long game in making the US uncompetitive. Given private investment in renewable energy hit $350bn last year, for the first time eclipsing new investment in gas and oil, it’s an odd time to try and turn back the clocks.
Does Trump believe in climate change? 53 tweets from the days before the Venn diagram of reality TV stars and US presidents existed would suggest not, but he says he’s now more open to the idea. Still, when asked directly if Trump accepted the science consensus on man-made climate change, a White House official gave the least convincing response I’ve heard in my life: “Sure, yes, I guess, I think the president understands the disagreement over the policy response and you’ll see that in the order … We’re taking a different path.”
If you squint, there are some faint reasons for optimism however. The first is that the CPP has never actually been enforced, thanks to legal action by 28 states kicking it firmly into the long grass. So Trump is essentially killing off something that doesn’t exist yet and may have never existed. The second is that even before it came into force, it was 75% of the way to meeting its target with 14 years left on the clock. True, that might be evidence of an under ambitious target, but there’s a reason that some optimists – including Barack Obama – believe that the move towards clean energy is irreversible.
All the same, with Trump openly hostile towards the historic Paris climate change deal, it’s an open question as to how the rest of the world will respond when the second biggest polluter on the planet begins to tear up its commitments to fighting climate change. As Harvard law professor Richard Lazarus told The Guardian: The CPP “was launched before Paris for a reason. Everyone knew if the United States didn’t make a serious commitment, Paris wouldn’t happen. It’s now an open question how the rest of the world is going to respond if the United States eliminates a linchpin of its commitment.”
The world holds its breath. Which is probably a sensible policy given the fumes all those new coal power plants are going to generate…
Image by Jon Feinstein, used under Creative Commons.