During his campaign, President-elect Donald Trump said that climate change is a hoax perpetuated by the Chinese, he intends to remove barriers to drilling and fracking, and pull the United States out of the Paris Climate Agreement. In addition, Republicans have majorities in the House and Senate, which will make passing progressive environmental legislation very difficult. While this situation makes the urgent work of protecting our future much more challenge than before, all is not lost. Progress is still being made and much can be done without the support of the administration. Here are ten reasons to feel hopeful about climate change despite the election:
All power does not reside with the President. Our founders came from nations ruled by monarchies, and they designed a government so that no one person would have all the power. Congress passes legislation, and the President can sign or veto them. Laws that have already been passed have to be ruled unconstitutional by the Supreme Court in order to be abolished. While it would be difficult to pass progressive legislation with a conservative Congress and President, a complete rollback of existing laws and regulations is not likely or easy. The Clean Power Plan, for example, took effect before this Spring, and will be extremely difficult to undo because it has passed the time period for Congress to review it and strike it down in a provision called the Congressional Review Act. Legislation that passes between now and January may get the ax after Trump takes office, but legislation from the last eight years, including Obamacare, cannot be easily abolished.
Don’t take campaign rhetoric at face value. Political campaigns are about rousing people’s emotions. When Barack Obama campaigned on hope and change, he promised to end the war on terrorism, heal race relations, and stop the seas from rising. Those didn’t happen. Bernie Sanders inspired enthusiasm with his ambitious goals to provide free higher education, institute a living wage, and ban fracking and other harmful extractive practices. While we admire politicians for promoting lofty goals, we shouldn’t expect that their election means all their promises will be fulfilled. Already, I heard Trump say on 60 Minutes a week after the election that he doesn’t intend to call a private investigation on Clinton, one of the things he said he would do during his campaign. If we could take Bernie’s campaign promises with a grain of salt, Trump’s promises to build a wall, ban Muslims, get rid of the EPA and other outrageous ideas should not be taken at face value either.
Climate change skepticism has declined in Congress as well as among Americans general. According to the latest research by the Yale Program on Climate Communication, the percentage of Americans who say they are alarmed or concerned about climate change increased from 39 percent in 2010 to 45 percent in 2016. The percentage of Americans who say they are dismissive or doubtful about climate change declined from 29 percent in 2010 to 21 percent in 2016. There are now twice as many people who are concerned or alarmed about climate change as there are who are doubtful or dismissive about it. The rest, about 34 percent, are cautious or disengaged.
When it comes to Congress, research conducted by Citizens’ Climate Lobby shows that interest in carbon fee and dividend as a policy solution to climate change is rising. In June 2016, volunteers visited 275 offices of Republican members of Congress; 162 offices showed clear and genuine interest in carbon fee and dividend, and only 16 were combative or totally uninterested. To put it another way, ten times as many offices were interested as offices that were hostile. This is a huge improvement from two years ago, when only three times as many Republican members of Congress were interested versus disinterested.
We have a bipartisan caucus in Congress committed to addressing climate change. Concern for climate change is rising among Democrats and Republicans. In February of 2016 two Florida representatives Rep. Carlos Curbelo (R-FL) and Rep. Ted Deutch (D-FL) founded the Bipartisan Climate Solutions Caucus in the US House of Representatives to explore policy options that address the impacts, causes and challenges of our changing climate. Membership is kept even between Democrats and Republicans so that any proposed legislation has the best hope of being supported by both parties in Congress. The reelection of Republicans who support climate action such as Carlos Curbelo and Ryan Costello shows that Republicans do not need to fear that speaking out on climate change will cause them to lose re-election.
Support for renewable energy is strong. There is broad consensus among Republicans, Democrats, and even climate skeptics that renewable energy is good for the economy, the environment, and national security. The cost of solar energy has fallen from $76 per watt in 1977 to $0.36 per watt in 2014 and advances in technology will make all renewables cheaper and more viable in the long run. There is little the federal government can do to prohibit the development and implementation of state level renewable energy policies, and federal incentives for solar extend to 2019 for wind and 2023 for solar. EPA Chief Gina McCarthy said in an interview for the Associated Press recently, “The train to a global clean energy future has already left the station. We can choose to get on board – to lead – or we can choose to be left behind, to stand stubbornly still. If we stubbornly deny the science and change around us, we will fall victim to our own paralysis.”
Local actions will continue. While actions at the federal level may stall, actions at the local level will likely get a boost. Back in 2008, after Congress failed to pass national cap and trade legislation, we saw a huge surge of action at the local level. Hundreds of towns and cities committed to the Kyoto protocol and created climate action plans. Over six hundred universities signed the American Colleges and University Presidents’ Climate Commitment, and the triple bottom line continues to motivate businesses. Renewable energy policies were implemented at the state level, and entire regions like California and the Northeast instituted carbon trading. Climate action has a host of co-benefits such as revitalizing communities, reducing air pollution, stimulating the economy, and saving money for businesses and households. Sustainability makes sense from a scientific, moral, and business perspective, regardless of what party is in the White House.
International support for climate action is strong. The United Nations Climate Summit met in Marrakech on November 18th, with 111 nations ratifying the historic agreement to limit global warming below 2 degrees C. Since President Obama signed the agreement in April 2016 and it has already taken effect, formally withdrawing from it would take four years to accomplish, according to Robert Stavins, head of the Harvard Project on Climate Agreements. The United States could simply ignore the commitment as it is voluntary anyway. However, nations who are committed to the agreement will likely go forward with their climate action plans. Action continues to be strong in Europe, Canada just passed a national carbon pricing policy, and China, the world’s largest emitter, has pledged to cut carbon emissions per per unit of GDP 60 percent, get 20 percent of its energy from non-fossil sources, and peak its emissions, all by 2030. Since Canada and China are two of the United States’ largest trading partners, this puts pressure on the US to participate. Globally, 39 national and 23 sub-national jurisdictions have implemented or are scheduled to implement carbon pricing instruments, including emissions trading systems and taxes.
Not all of Trump’s ideas are bad. Ok, this one is a stretch, but he could have been worse. We could have had Ted Cruz, or Mike Pence. Trump is not a religious conservative with some right wing agenda. He has said that he wants to increase spending on infrastructure, something the country desperately needs and could provide a stimulus to the economy. Being more protectionist in our trade policies has potential benefits. I believe that the free trade deals of the Clinton era enables a race to the bottom that weakens labor rights and environmental protection around the world, not to mention all the greenhouse gases emitted by shipping products from abroad. I’m not in favor of cutting taxes for the wealthy, which his tax plan proposes, but deductions for childcare would benefit middle class families, and we’d still have a mildly progressive tax plan.
Trump is the leader of an outgoing generation. The majority of Trump’s supporters were white and over fifty. Young people overwhelmingly favored Clinton, and even more, Bernie Sanders. In about twenty years, there will be more people of color than whites in the United States, and young people with more progressive and egalitarian values will replace the those who voted for Trump. As they say in politics, “Demography is destiny.” Trump is the last throttle of an older generation nostalgic for the way America used to be, but the future belongs to the young, and time is on our side.
The next election is only 2 years away. There are only 19 months between Inauguration Day and the next election–midterms. This is a blink of an eye in political history, and the chance to vote in members of Congress with progressive stances. It is plenty of time for those who want to see change run for office, prepare strategies, and vote. Congress is most powerful when it comes to passing legislation, and midterms gives us a chance to further limit Trump’s power and take back the White House in 2020.
What You Can Do
Edward Snowden said in an interview recently, “If we want to have a better world we can’t hope for an Obama, and we should not fear a Donald Trump, rather we should build it ourselves.” Our founders created a government of checks and balances, limited terms, and power in state and local governments. We can still do a lot under a Trump presidency and protect the liberties that are still core in our democracy. Here are a few suggestions:
Call your members of Congress and tell them that you oppose climate denier Myron Ebell from being appointed to the head of the EPA, that you support policies to put a price on carbon, and for the United States to stay in the Paris Climate Agreement.
Join an organization like Citizens’ Climate Lobby and meet with your members of Congress with other volunteers to advocate for climate action.
Support state climate policies by calling/writing/visiting your representatives in your state legislature. Visit SEIA.org/policy to learn more about how to support renewable energy policies at the state level.
Join a sustainability committee and support local actions including those in your city, town, work place, or civic organization.
Share good reporting on climate change and continue to educate others on ways to take action.
Donate to other environmental organizations that resonate with you.