Having hand-picked a cabinet of climate change deniers, Donald Trump seems set to lead an administration marked by the very anti-environmental policies his predecessor fought to stop. With the president-elect having once tweeted that global warming is a conspiracy invented by the Chinese, one has to wonder what a culture of climate denial looks like under a Trump administration.
That answer is rather what one would expect, if Trump’s cabinet choices are any indication. His pick for attorney general, en. Jim Sessions, R-Al., is one such example. One of his ill-informed remarks on environment is as follows: “Carbon pollution is CO2, and that’s really not a pollutant; that’s a plant food, and it doesn’t harm anybody except that it might include temperature increases.”
Then there’s Rep. Mike Pompeo, R-Ks., who is Trump’s pick for CIA director. He remarked that “President Obama has called climate change the biggest national security threat of our lifetime, but he is horribly wrong.” He called Obama’s stance on climate “a perverse fixation on achieving [an] economically harmful environmental agenda.”
And Trump has tapped retired Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn as his choice for National Security Advisor, who does not believe climate change to be a national security threat; he, too, criticized Obama for even discussing it.
What’s especially unnerving is that the president-elect has hobnobbed with such controversial conspiracy theorists as Alex Jones (“Your reputation is amazing,” Trump said of the Infowars host during an interview). Infowars, with its 1.8m YouTube subscribers, is part of the growing conspiracy culture that attacks and tries to discredit the very real threat of global warming. It also sources material from Breitbart, a website fomerly run by Trump’s campaign chairman – now chief strategist and Senior Counselor – Steve Bannon.
Although Trump has rubbed elbows with many a climate denier, and despite that denial being par for the course when it comes to Republicans, the president-elect has walked back his remark on Twitter, calling the tweet “a joke” – though it’s worth noting that during the first presidential debate against Hillary Clinton, he outright denied ever stating that climate change was a hoax in the first place. This coming from the man who said he will get rid of the EPA and pull the U.S. out of the 2015 Paris climate agreement.
He did, however, concede on Nov. 22 that there is “some connectivity” between human activity and climate change. Then, on Dec. 5, he met with Al Gore, one of the most outspoken advocates for combating global warming, to have a discussion on that very subject.
According to Trump spokesman Jason Miller, Gore originally planned to meet with Ivanka Trump, the president-elect’s daughter, to discuss climate issues; Miller said that he was not aware what, specifically, was on the agenda. After meeting with Ivanka, Gore then decided he would also meet with Trump himself.
“I had a lengthy and very productive session with the president-elect,” Gore stated. “It was a sincere search for areas of common ground. I found it an extremely interesting conversation, and to be continued, and I’m just going to leave it at that.”
One view of the talk might be that it was little more than a publicity stunt, though a more hopeful take on the meeting could have one wondering whether the Trump administration’s actual energy and climate policies will now be positively impacted. One has to temper that hope, however, with the realization that Gore’s views will likely not carry more weight than those of Trump’s corporate-backed energy advisers, like Kevin Cramer, R-N.D., who thinks concerns about climate change are “grossly exaggerated.”
There is also the possibility that Trump’s daughter Ivanka has some interest in global warming, but even if that is the case, any possibility that it will have an effect on her father is minimal at best; consider that Ivanka spoke out publically about having to “make child care affordable and accessible for all.” Many thought she would influence Trump on the issue, but the president-elect has simply tailored his child care policy to people like him (it would benefit wealthy families much more than the working class – if at all).
In short, it doesn’t seem like the Trump administration will push for much of anything to combat climate change, and outright denial may become more blatant than ever before. But what’s actually disconcerting about it all is the negative impact it will have on the environment – and people.
A current example: a group of advisors to Trump on Native American issues believe that indigenous reservations, which may contain a fifth of the nation’s oil and gas, think these “resources” are being tied up by “a suffocating federal bureaucracy.” The group wants to privatize those lands. This threatening plan exacerbates the already growing outrage toward treatment of indigenous people and their land.
“The disaster that Donald Trump represents for the climate cannot be understated,” said Jamie Henn, a spokesman for 350.org. “He is the only head of state in the world who is an all-out climate denier and he has the most radical, anti-environmental policies of anyone to ever assume the role of presidency.”
On the other hand, Al Gore remarked, the fresh threats posed by a Trump administration’s climate denial will likely cause “a huge upsurge in climate activism. I’m encouraged that there are groups digging in to work even harder. There is no time to despair. We have to win this struggle. But more damage is baked into the climate system every day, so it’s a race against time.”