Change Trump can believe in?
Photo: David McNew/Getty Images
Last month, the Trump administration released a report that predicted global temperatures will be four degrees higher by the end of this century, assuming current trends persist. World leaders have pledged to keep global temperatures from rising even two degrees (Celsius) above pre-industrial levels, with the understanding that warming beyond that could prove catastrophic. The last time the Earth was as warm as the White House expects it to be in 2100, its oceans were hundreds of feet higher. Which is to say: The Trump administration ostensibly, officially expects that, absent radical action to reduce carbon emissions, within the next 80 years, much of Manhattan and Miami will sink into the sea; many of world’s coral reefs will be irreversibly destroyed by acidifying oceans; vast regions of the Earth will lose their primary sources of water; and a variety of extreme weather events will dramatically increase in frequency.
And the White House believes that this fact is an argument for loosening restrictions on carbon emissions.
The report that disclosed the administration’s forecast for global warming was not a memo detailing president Trump’s intention to reenter the Paris Climate Accord, or to appoint Naomi Klein as his new EPA director. It was an environmental-impact statement justifying his decision to repeal previously scheduled, federal fuel-efficiency standards for vehicles built after 2020 — a deregulatory measure that will add 8 billion additional tons of carbon dioxide to the atmosphere by the end of this century, according to the government’s own estimates.
As the Washington Post revealed Friday, the administration uses its four-degree warming estimate to argue that eliminating 8 billion tons worth of emissions won’t be enough to change the climate outlook, by itself, so the federal government shouldn’t bother.
After all, the entire world would need to make enormous cuts in emissions to avert catastrophic warming — and that “would require substantial increases in technology innovation and adoption compared to today’s levels and would require the economy and the vehicle fleet to move away from the use of fossil fuels, which is not currently technologically feasible or economically feasible.”
This argument is deplorable in its nihilism. But its core assumption is also patently absurd. The administration’s analysis is premised on the notion that there is no relationship between what the United States does with regard to climate regulation, and what the rest of the world’s countries do. Which is totally bogus: Not only can the U.S. lead by example, it also has the power to coerce other countries into emulating the carbon standards we set for ourselves. As Trump is fond of pointing out in other contexts, America is the greatest economic and military power in the world, and has enormous leverage over foreign governments. Earlier this year, the White House forced European companies to suddenly suspend their business with Iran — for no coherent reason — simply by threatening to deny such firms access to the U.S. banking system. If the Trump administration decided to make reducing carbon emissions the No. 1 objective of its foreign policy — which is just about the only rational priority, if it genuinely believes that failure to reduce emissions will drown America’s coastal cities — then it could ensure that our nation’s carbon regulations would be adopted by others (and thus, would have multiplier effects).
Of course, it’s far from clear what “the Trump administration” genuinely believes. By all appearances, Donald Trump thinks climate change is quite possibly a “Chinese hoax,” while some of the administration’s evangelicals appear to welcome it as a sign of the eschaton’s hastening. The “climate change is real — but inevitable — so let’s just live for the moment” line was the work of some poor National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) bureaucrats tasked with inventing a rational argument for a policy rooted in avarice and spite.
That said, if one assumes that the entire leadership of the Republican Party has concluded that human civilization will not survive Barron Trump, then their governing agenda starts to make a lot more sense. Exacerbating inequality and subordinating the commons to short-term profit maximization isn’t in the enlightened medium-term interests of the GOP donor class — but in the medium-term, we’ll all (apparently) be dead!