What might a four- or eight-year Trump administration’s denial of climate change and climate science do to the world your children and grandchildren will inherit? The best-case predictions are dire. This post is based on material from Yale University and a peer-reviewed paper published in Geophysical Research Letters, a journal of the American Geophysical Union. Links are at the end of the post.
First, let’s establish what Trump’s views are. Trump has called climate change a hoax and
bull --- t, created by and for the Chinese to harm American industry. Within a few hours of his inauguration, all climate data were removed from the whitehouse.gov web site. He has promised to gut the EPA’s climate science mission. More recently, he has muzzled government agencies’ and employees’ abilities to communicate with congress and the public. He has promised to withdraw the US from the Paris Climate Accord.
On the Energy Policy page of the White House web site, Trump promotes “clean coal technology” * and shale oil. He expresses a commitment to eliminate the Climate Action Plan, the Waters of the U.S. Rule, and the United States’s involvement in the Paris Accords. He has overruled (as far as he can do so in an executive order) official objections to the Dakota Access and Keystone XL Pipelines. He signed another executive order to “expedite” environmental reviews of new projects.
* There is no such thing as clean coal; it’s the dirtiest of all fossil fuels. Rebranding it “clean coal technology” doesn’t change the facts.
His attempts to normalize himself with the press and his opposition are quite unbelievable. They are contrary to everything he stands for and has stood for.
His denial of climate change, his commitment to pumping more CO2 into the atmosphere by promoting coal and other fossil fuels, and his suppression of voices of science and reason in the government let us know in no uncertain terms that dealing with climate change will not be a significant part of his administration.
Recently, two climate scientists have said that such a delay in addressing climate change, specifically mitigation of CO2, “could lead to substantially exceeding global temperature limits… .” They suggest that four-to-eight years of inaction could result in a fifteen-to-twenty year (or more) setback in attempts to keep Earth’s temperature from rising beyond the 2C* limit established in the Paris Accord.
* A two-degrees-Centigrade rise in average global temperature is presently thought to be the most the planet can absorb without catastrophic results. The desired goal is no more than a 1.5 degree Centigrade rise.
The scientists say that “even if emissions were to decrease… after eight years, it could take an additional 15-25 years for emissions to get back to current levels…” But this assumes greater efforts toward carbon reduction and carbon sequestration in the future than are currently expected.
The global average temperature rise since the beginning of the industrial age has already reached one degree Centigrade. Scientists are largely in agreement that one more degree would result in catastrophic increases in storm intensity, heat waves, droughts, and extreme cold. No, it’s not “global warming,” it’s global climate change, and the one degree rise in temperature is responsible for the very cold Arctic Vortex.
The amount of carbon that the atmosphere can hold before the 2C limit is exceeded is called the “carbon budget.” The budget for the 2C limit is 1,000 billion tons of CO2. We’ve already used 600 billion tons.
If Trump succeeds in pushing coal and shale oil, we can expect a significant investment in those fuels and in power plants that use those fuels. Even after a Trump defeat at the polls, those investors would expect and be allowed to continue to profit from them. Trump’s destructive policies would live long after his administration.
Further, the climate has a form of inertia that would make the damage done during a Trump administration continue to grow for years, perhaps decades.
Physical inertia is what keeps a pool ball rolling after it’s hit. It’s what keeps your car rolling on a level road after you take your foot off the gas. Climate system inertia isn’t the same.
One example of climate inertia is that even if CO2 were stabilized (no net emissions—something not considered possible anytime soon), there is already enough CO2 in the atmosphere to keep temperatures rising in small increments for years. Another example is that major melting of sea ice in the Arctic and ice shelves in the Antarctic create changes in ocean circulation patterns that can further disrupt climate.
What will be the likely results of the Trump climate policy? Here are a few of which I have high confidence. There are others, and I will address them in the future.
Figure 1 Florida after a 5 meter rise in sea level
Trump on Climate, White House web site: Blog Post 2017-01-22
Effect of Trump’s Climate Denial
Climate System Inertia
Registered Curmudgeon, scientist, skeptic, humanist, and writer.