Since assuming the Presidency in January 2017, Donald Trump has overseen an administration that has actively and willingly flown in the face of the global fight against climate change. A total opposite of what Al Gore would have done. This begs the question – how far back is Trump setting the US back when it comes to the fight against global climate change?
There are many components that make up Donald Trump – and not all of them are paradigms of virtue. Two components, in particular, are of particular concern when it comes to the environment.
The first is that he holds a nostalgic “chocolate-box” view of the past, that at some hazy, undefined time in America’s past, things were picture perfect and the country was somehow “great.” Of course, going hand in hand with that golden-hued recollection of yesteryear is an America that cemented both its fortune and its place in the world with a heavy reliance on fossil fuels.
The second is Trump’s embrace of pseudo-science and outright scientific quackery. Not to over-embellish the point, but the mere suggestion of his that windmills are potentially carcinogenic, or that a brewing hurricane in some way could have its eye “nuked” tell us all we need to know in that regard.
So, it is no surprise that Trump’s time in the White House has seen continual environmental regulatory roll-back, including (but not limited to) withdrawal from the Paris Climate Agreement, scrapping the Clean Power Plan, weakening the Endangered Species Act and reducing restrictions on methane emissions.
This shows us that while the rest of the world is increasingly focused on how to stop climate change, using a mix of resolve, solidarity and scientific grounding, the US under Trump is headed in the diametrically opposite direction.
The general consensus is that as we move into the 2020s, it will be a complete game-changer when it comes to global climate change. We either leave the same decade with sweeping, effective global measures in place to keep climate change in check or we exit it beyond salvageable repair.
In November 2019, the United Nations reported that with regards to the effects of global change:
Every year of delay beyond 2020 brings a need for faster cuts, which become increasingly expensive, unlikely and impractical.Forbes Nov 26, 2019
Should Trump secure a second term in November 2020, that means he would be in office until January 2025 – as good as halfway through this critical decade. That could mean another near five years of unfettered environmental protection roll-backs and deregulation. Another general consensus is that if you thought Trump’s first-term behavior was wild enough, should he get a second, then that would pale into insignificance as he would have no re-election restraint to have to factor in.
Even if Trump loses in November 2020 and a more progressive, environmentally-friendly President takes up occupancy in the White House, it could take years of legal challenges and actions to try and urgently undo the damage that Trump has already done. And let’s not forget, as well as further endangering the environment, Trump has also prioritized filling the courts with as many conservative, often eco-unfriendly judges as he can – judges that are not bound by any such two-term limits such as Trump.
The US remains the world’s largest economy, so the prospect of four more years of Trump is enough to run the very real risk of not only setting back the climate change fight by half a decade but ultimately sending it to its doom. The US also remains a role model for others to do good, or bad. So, with the US leading by bad example under Trump, what then for the likes of India, China and other emerging economies when it comes to the sorts of proactive environmental protections that are needed to push back against climate change?
The harsh reality is that Trump’s victory in 2016 was a body-blow in the fight against climate change. However, there is still a chance for the US to take drastic post-Trump action on climate change after 2020. While that is not ideal compared to a non-Trump victory in 2016, it is way more preferable than what Trump may offer if he secures a win in November 2020.
In summary, right now, it is not really possible to put a precise figure on how many years, decades or centuries that Trump’s policies will set the world back in its fight against the effects of global change. However, what we do know is that beyond 2020, four more years of Trump’s environmental roll-backs and de-regulation will only exponentially make matters worse.
The phrase “tipping-point” is often used when talking about how to stop climate change – once that point is reached, there is no going back in terms of irreversible damage to the climate.
What damage Trump could potentially sow during a second term in office would have real repercussions long after he and his MAGA baseball caps have been confined to the history books. We owe future generations to try and stop that right now and make 2020 the year when the US finally comes back to its climate change senses on the basis of better late than never.