April 15, 2024

I, Science

The science magazine of Imperial College

How a group of climate change sceptics running the scenes in Washington could make this fight an uphill battle

Thousands of scientists and organisations have been warning for years that even a small increase of global temperatures will trigger alterations in the global patterns of climate that will transform ecosystems, wipe out hundreds of thousands of species and displace millions of communities. Despite all this, a small number of people continue to deny the overwhelming evidence that something terrible has been triggered. And right now, they control the government of the most powerful country on Earth.

The conspirators

It is not necessary to introduce Donald J. Trump. The 45th President of the USA is known for many things, but behind the wall of inappropriate public statement and 3am Twitter rants lies the leader of a country that is responsible for 14.34% of global CO2 emissions, and that frequently leads many other industrialised countries to adopt decisions with worldwide repercussion. If he had lost the election and had gone back to being a New York real estate mogul, his opinions about global warming would still be completely against the mainstream scientific consensus, but would be relatively innocuous. Instead the buck stops now at a person that has publicly claimed that “The concept of global warming was created by and for the Chinese in order to make U.S. manufacturing non-competitive.”

As stated before, Trump rubber-stamps policies and has the final word on many issues, but the cabinet surrogates that have access to the ears of the president should not be forgotten. Again, climate change denialism is a common opinion held by the main officials of the Trump administration, starting with the Environmental Protection Agency’s very own Administrator, Scott Pruitt, who recently refused to admit the link between increasing CO2 levels and global warming, and considers that claim should be validated via a vote in Congress. Before becoming the EPA chief, Pruitt was the Attorney General of Oklahoma, and was well known for having deep links to the oil industry that dominates the state’s economy and suing the agency he now heads fourteen times. Putting it bluntly, some would say that Trump has wittingly put the fox in charge of the henhouse.

The important departments of Interior and Energy are led by former Montana Representative Ryan Zinke and Texas Governor Rick Perry. Zinke is on record saying that, while admitting that climate change is a real phenomenon, he does not believe it to be caused by human intervention. Perry is the head of a department that is essential in the development of a clean, sustainable energy policy that ensures that CO2 emissions are curbed to a minimum, something that will not be achieved if he still continues holding the opinion that this gas has nothing to do with global warming. Zinke’s deputy David Bernhardt is not much better; he was a paid lobbyist of the oil and shale gas industry before he was appointed to his current position, and has been described as a “walking conflict of interest” by the conservation organisation Centre for Western Priorities. Other prominent climate change deniers in the cabinet include Vice President Mike Pence and soon to be confirmed NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine.

The actions

By far the most important action taken by Donald Trump regarding environmental policy is his decision to withdraw the USA from the 2015 Paris Accords. The accords aim to stop the warming of the planet so it does not reach 2ºC above pre-industrial times. Even though the stated aim will probably not be reached (a 2017 study by Akimoto et al. shows that no developed country is respecting the quotas decided in the agreement), the withdrawal of the USA demonstrates the sheer lack of commitment that the Trump administration has in the fight against climate change. The fact that Trump refuses to comply with an agreement that could arguably be described as little more than cosmetic is deeply concerning because it confirms that Trump’s conspiracy theories and unscientific claims, far from being rebuffed by cooler heads, have been adopted as the new official policy of the White House.

The America First Energy Plan will be the keystone energy policy of the present administration. Surprisingly, it does not bother to mention renewable sources of energy, instead focusing on oil, coal and gas. It also reignites the construction of the controversial Keystone Pipeline, one of the means to achieve Donald Trump’s promise of ensuring that the country is completely energetically independent from OPEC countries.

The victims

The current and future consequences of climate change are already known to many of us. Not only will we say goodbye to polar bears and cod, but also to countries like Bangladesh and Kiribati. Desertification of densely populated areas is already pushing their inhabitants elsewhere, putting more strain on already over-consumed natural resources. So, it can be easily seen that Trump’s policies are dangerous not only for the inhabitants of his own country, as no place in the world is free from climate change and its effects will be felt (or are actually already felt) everywhere on the planet. The American government, by actively denying or downplaying it, is making the global fight against climate change harder.

Juan Gorrochategui is studying for a BSc in Chemistry at Imperial College London

Banner Image: Glacier Iceberg, PublicDomainPictures