A year into his presidency, Donald Trump’s environmental policies put the world in danger, while the U.S. remains a major contributor to global warming.
The 20th of January 2018 marked a year since Donald Trump officially became President of the United States. For anyone who has been following President Donald Trump on social media over the past year, they will have figured out already that he is not best friends with science and scientists. In the previous years, as a business figure and as president-elect, Donald Trump had repeatedly expressed anti-scientific claims publicly, calling climate change a concept created ‘by and for the Chinese in order to make U.S. manufacturing non-competitive’ and supported the baseless and unscientific claim that ‘vaccines cause autism’.
For the past year, we have been living in (what can be characterised as) a post-truth world, in which anything on the anti-government agenda was called ‘fake news’, and ‘alternative facts’ gained considerable ground in supporting unscientific opinions, most of the time with the aid of the POTUS and his government officials. Scientists, on the other hand, have been battling to keep the discipline on good grounds. Science, by its very own nature and by carefully using the scientific method, aims to provide the world with facts which are not open to be challenged by any opinion labelled as ‘alternative’, but only by theories which have been developed using the scientific method. Sadly, the Trump administration, and the President himself, does not understand the basic concepts of science and scientific thinking, in turn making illogical and unscientific decisions that affect people on a local, but also global, level. Given his positions on science, how does his year as Donald Trump’s presidency measure from a scientific point of view, on the policy of the United States regarding climate change?
The US government’s climate change and environmental policy over the past year is not something that the country should be proud of. Bad environmental decisions have been largely driven by the mere opinions of Donald Trump and his appointment of anti-environmentalist officials in senior positions. More specifically, Trump appointed Scott Pruitt as head of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, an attorney general who openly opposed environmental regulations and questioned scientific claims behind climate change. What’s more, Trump had appointed former Texas Gov. Rick Perry, who is not a scientist and is a climate change sceptic for Energy Secretary. Further, Rex Tillerson, CEO of ExxonMobil, was nominated by Donald Trump for the US Secretary of State. Tillerson reportedly said ‘The world is going to have to continue using fossil fuels, whether they like it or not’, in an executive meeting in May 2016, in which ExxonMobil shareholders were putting pressure to the company to improve its environmental policies.
Donald Trump’s publicly expressed views highlight his misunderstanding of climate change, the driving forces behind it, and its consequences.
In the East, it could be the COLDEST New Year’s Eve on record. Perhaps we could use a little bit of that good old Global Warming that our Country, but not other countries, was going to pay TRILLIONS OF DOLLARS to protect against. Bundle up!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) December 29, 2017
In this tweet, the President is using the local weather conditions in a specific area in the United States to make claims about the climate on a global level. Two fallacies are immediately obvious: First, one can’t make claims about the whole (in this case, the whole world) by referring to specific parts (in this case, the East coast of the United States). Second, and connected to the first, the terms ‘weather’ and ‘climate’ do not denote the same thing. When referring to ‘global warming’ as the President does, ‘climate’ is a much more important term and indicator than ‘weather’. ‘Weather’ refers to the atmospheric conditions in specific areas over a short period of time, while ‘climate’ is a much broader term, covering larger geographical areas and explaining the typical atmospheric conditions in these areas. Hence, the President’s claims are fallacious and baseless.
This is not the first (and surely, not the last) time Donald Trump has denied global warming. In 2013, Donald Trump had called global warming a ‘total and very expensive hoax’ because, at that time, there was an ice storm from Texas to Tennessee and it was freezing in Los Angeles, where he was located.
Ice storm rolls from Texas to Tennessee – I'm in Los Angeles and it's freezing. Global warming is a total, and very expensive, hoax!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) December 6, 2013
Looking at the actual science, however, behind climate change and global warming, shows how the President’s claims can be battled by the presentation of facts and actual figures; something that Donald Trump largely despises. 2017 was one of the warmest years on record, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and NASA. Since 1880, the annual global average temperature increased at an average rate of 0.07 degrees Celsius per decade, and it is projected to rise by between 1.8 and 4.0 degrees Celsius, while sea level will rise between about 20 and 50 cm by 2100.
Donald Trump’s claims are easily regarded by a rational individual as false, unscientific, and unsupported. However, he has the power of persuading a large amount of his followers on Twitter who do not question his claims regarding climate change nor look for the actual facts which render his claim false.
Given Donald Trump’s views on climate change and the composition of his government, it is no surprise that he has made some inherently dangerous decisions regarding environmental policy and climate change. Moreover, it is no doubt that the above figures regarding rising global temperatures and sea level rises, which are largely the product of human actions, are ignored by the Trump administration and are not considered when deciding government policy. This was obvious during Trump’s presidency in the past year.
More specifically, in June 2017 Donald Trump announced his intention to withdraw the United States from the Paris Climate Agreement, saying that it is ‘unfair to its businesses and people’ and characterising the United States as ‘the world leader in environmental protection’ at a time when the country is the second largest producer of carbon dioxide, at 16%, emitting more carbon dioxide than Russia, India, and Japan, combined. Amid allegations that the Agreement ‘punishes’ the United States, Donald Trump decided that the United States does not wish to play a role in global environmental protection and enforcement of regulations which secure sustainability for our planet and our resources. Former State Department Climate Envoy Todd Stern, a U.S. negotiator of the Paris Agreement, described the withdrawal as ‘collateral damage’.
This move shows that the United States is not willing to cooperate with other countries to solve environmental issues which affect every country on Earth, and its people. What is making the situation worse is that the United States is responsible, in a considerable way, for these issues, but it backs out from efforts which are targeted in solving them, efforts such as the Paris Agreement which aims to ‘limit the temperature increase to 1.5 °C above pre-industrial levels’ and ‘foster climate resilience and low greenhouse gas emissions development’. It is also worth noting that, as of last year, Nicaragua and Syria were the only countries which did not sign the agreement. However, Syria recently signed the agreement and Nicaragua announced its plans to sign the agreement. What is worth noting is that the reason Nicaragua had not signed the agreement is that it felt the treaty was not going far enough in punishing countries which broke environmental regulations and it did not do enough to help low-income countries apply the regulations nor achieve sustainability. This leaves the United States as virtually the only country in the world which intends to withdraw from this international battle to tackle climate change. The good news is that, if the United States officially decides to leave the Agreement, its withdrawal will not be completed until late 2020, when Donald Trump’s presidency will be coming to an end.
What is more, the United States remains the only signatory of the Kyoto Protocol, an international treaty which aims to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, which has not ratified the Protocol.
More recently, Donald Trump decided to remove global warming from the list of national security threats, which was added under the Obama administration, with the draft document of the removal claiming that it signals an ‘anti-growth energy agenda that is detrimental to US economic and energy security interests’. The Trump administration is not only putting its country’s national interest above the international good, but is also not willing to help tackle an issue whose consequences harm the planet and will be damaging to the world in future years, mentioning that the U.S. ‘actively opposes efforts to reduce the burning of oil, gas and coal for energy’, despite the fact that U.S. environmental actions and policies are detrimental to global warming. The U.S. is unwilling to help vulnerable countries which are heavily affected by global warming to which the U.S. plays a considerable role. On the other side of the Atlantic, Theresa May, who is not generally regarded as an environmentalist, said that ‘tackling climate change and mitigating its effects for the world’s poorest are amongst the most critical challenges the world faces’, stressing the need for countries to enforce environmental regulations in order to not only help their country, but also hundreds of millions of people in other countries who suffer from rising temperatures globally.
Professor Jeffrey Sachs, University Professor at Columbia University has called Donald Trump’s stance on global warming ‘sociopathic, paranoid and malevolent’, due to the fact that the U.S. does not realise the major harm it is causing to the world through contributing to global warming, and does not accept its responsibility in helping to reduce the effects of global warming.
Despite official U.S. government policy, a considerable percentage of the population is against such actions which are hostile to science and undermine the scientific community. This has been the foundations on which the March for Science was organised in hundreds of cities in the U.S. and other parts of the world on April 22 2017, as people gathered together to celebrate the achievements of science and remind the Trump administration and governments around the world that science embraces development and should be the basis of policy-making, while they called for acceptance of the scientific consensus on climate change.
The evidence for human-caused global warming is overwhelming and the world witnesses its consequences every day. Nevertheless, one of the major contributors to global warming in the world, the United States, is not only unwilling to help tackle the problem but denies, primarily through its President, that it even exists. This is both worrying and concerning to the world which has decided, on a number of occasions (Paris Climate Agreement, Kyoto Protocol), that action needs to be taken globally to tackle global warming and ensure a sustainable future for our planet and future generations. Fuelled by Donald Trump’s views on science and global warming, and his appointment of climate change deniers and anti-environmentalists on top official positions, and fully realising the role that the U.S. plays in global warming, Trump’s first year in office was largely damaging to global efforts against climate change, to the environment, and science in general.
Angelos is a Philosophy (MA) student at the University of Durham, UK. He writes on philosophy, religion, politics, and science.