Like many Americans, environmentalists are alarmed at the results of the 2016 election. With the House and Senate firmly in Republican control and Donald Trump ascending to the White House (“President Trump”!), eight years worth of unprecedented progress on climate change mitigation and conservation could be rolled back.
What worries environmentalists most is Trump’s call for reneging on the landmark Paris climate accord which secured commitments from the world’s largest polluters to scale back emissions. The agreement just went into force and the U.S. is committed to it for four years, but Trump insiders report The Donald may try to submit the agreement for ratification by an unsympathetic Senate (Obama has maintained ratification isn’t necessary) in efforts to derail U.S. participation.
“If Trump yanks the United States out of the Paris agreement, the deal won’t die, but momentum could wane,” reports Brad Plumer on Vox.com. “One can imagine China and India deciding they don’t need to push nearly as hard on clean energy if the world’s richest and most powerful country doesn’t care. At best, progress would slow. At worst, the entire arrangement could collapse, and we set out on a path for 4°C warming or more.”
Meanwhile, United Nations Environment Programme head Erik Solheim insists that the vast majority of signatory nations would continue to honor their commitments under the Paris agreement regardless of Trump’s actions.
“The drive for change is unstoppable,” Solheim told the Washington Post. “The world will continue to move, whatever happens.” While he acknowledges that Americans pulling out would weaken the agreement, he adds that Americans themselves will suffer as a result of the loss of business opportunities that cleaner energy promises.
Another sore spot for environmentalists is Trump’s attitude towards the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). Initially The Donald said he would disband the agency, but more recently he said he would keep it in a stripped down form refocused on its “core mission of ensuring clean air, and clean, safe drinking water for all Americans.”
“Myron Ebell, a climate skeptic who is running the EPA working group on Trump’s transition team, is seen as a top candidate to lead the agency,” reports Politico. “Ebell, an official at the Competitive Enterprise Institute, has come under fire from environmental groups for his stances on global warming.”
Environmentalists are already starting to refocus on what they can do without the support of the White House. For his part, Vox’s Plumer hopes that ambitious existing climate policies in big states like California and New York could be so successful that other states follow suit, rendering federal climate action immaterial. Plumer also is keeping his fingers crossed that increasingly cheaper prices on wind and solar power and electric cars could bring down emissions domestically even without the help of the Trump administration.
“Climate activists will continue to push for action at local levels — much as they did during the George W. Bush years, when the Sierra Club began blocking a major planned expansion of coal power,” says Plumer. “It’s possible that opposition to Trump will galvanize a new generation of climate activists who find new, creative ways to address the problem.”
Kate Colwell, an activist with the non-profit Friends of the Earth, concurs that environmentalists and advocacy groups will have to play an increasingly larger role in pushing Americans towards greater restraint in terms of burning fossil fuels. “Under President George W. Bush, the environmental community took the battle to the courts and Congress and watchdogged political appointees; we blocked attacks on the environment; we galvanized the public to take action,” says Colwell. “After the more recent fights to kill the Keystone XL pipeline, ban fracking and shut down coal plants, the environmental movement is stronger than we have ever been.”
“We will have to harness our new energy, join together, and use every strategy possible to fight against hate and greed and environmental destruction,” she adds. “While I wish we had a different fight before us, we must fight the one presented to us. The future of our country and planet depends on it.”