With the Rise of Trump, Is It Game Over for the Climate Fight?

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Yale Environment 360

With the Rise of Trump, Is It Game Over for the Climate Fight?

Donald Trump’s ascension to the presidency is a stunning blow to hopes for avoiding the worst impacts of global warming. But a broad-based, grassroots movement committed to cutting emissions and promoting clean energy must continue and intensify – the stakes are simply too high to give up.

American students protest outside the UN climate talks on Wednesday during the COP22 international climate conference in Marrakesh, in reaction to Donald Trump's victory in the US presidential election.  (Photo: Fadel Senna / AFP Photo/Getty Images

One possibility is, we’ve lost. It’s a real possibility, and we should consider it carefully instead of ignoring it because it’s emotionally unpalatable.

I think the argument would go like this: The idea that humans would move quickly enough off coal and oil and gas to salvage the planet’s climate was always a long shot. When I wrote the first book on all of this back in 1989, I interviewed a political scientist who said “it’s the problem from hell,” with so many interests at odds, and so much money invested in the status quo, that it was hard to see a real path forward.

And that was back when we thought global warming would roll out somewhat slowly — when we feared the consequences that would unfold in the second half of this century. The scientists, it turns out, had been much too conservative, and so “ahead of schedule” became the watchword for everything from polar melt to ocean acidification. Already, only 17 years into the millennium, the planet is profoundly changed: half the ice missing from the polar north, for instance, which in turn is shifting weather patterns around the globe.

That galloping momentum of warming (building on itself, as white ice gives way to blue ocean and as fires in drought-stricken forests send clouds of carbon aloft) scares me. It should scare everyone; for a decade now it has threatened to take this crisis beyond the reach of politics.  To catch up with the physics of climate change we’d need a truly stunning commitment to change, an all-out, planet-wide decision to push as hard as we’ve ever pushed to spread clean energy and shut down the dirty stuff. 

"Even if he doesn’t scrap the Paris accord, Trump and his team will do all they can to slow the momentum for action."

The closest we’ve gotten to that — and in truth, it wasn’t all that close — was the Paris Agreement that went into effect last November 4. It committed all the nations of the world to holding the planet’s temperature increase to as close to 1.5 degrees Celsius as possible, and by all means below 2 degrees. It lacked enforcement mechanisms and strict timetables, but it did at least signal the planet’s willingness to go to work. And it helped conjure up the counter-momentum that was beginning to take hold: renewable energy was suddenly outpacing fossil fuel in many places. Carbon emissions were starting to stabilize.

Four days later, Donald J. Trump was elected.

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He has promised, of course, to scrap the Paris accords, but even if he doesn’t do that, he and his team will do all they can to slow that building momentum. And since pace is everything here, that might well be enough. Our not-very-good-in-any-event chance just got much much harder.

Read the full article at Yale Environment 360.

Bill McKibben

Bill McKibben

Bill McKibben is the Schumann Distinguished Scholar at Middlebury College and co-founder of 350.org. His most recent book is Eaarth: Making a Life on a Tough New Planet.

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