By Clara Chaisson
From his flagrant dismissal of the scientific consensus on manmade climate change to his eagerness to see treasured landscapes degraded by extractive industries, Trump's disregard for clean air, drinkable water and natural heritage has been relentless during the first year of his presidency. Not only are his anti-environmental actions wrong, but many are illegal. And businesses, politicians, nonprofit groups and ordinary citizens alike have stepped up to fight his toxic agenda.
In the name of making spirits bright, here are five times Trump's environmental actions didn't succeed at trashing planet Earth in the past year.
1. The Failure: Abandoning the Social Cost of Carbon
The social cost of carbon, or SCC, is a calculation that estimates the long-term economic impact of carbon dioxide emissions. It's a highly significant number—lawmakers use the SCC to figure out whether rules that tackle pollution are worth the investment. In 2009, the Obama administration established a group called the Interagency Working Group on the Social Cost of Greenhouse Gases that eventually set the cost of one ton of CO2 emissions at $41, which is why the former president estimated the Clean Power Plan would ultimately yield up to $54 billion a year in health and environmental benefits.
Just a couple of months after taking Obama's spot in the White House, Trump disbanded the Interagency Working Group with his Promoting Energy Independence and Economic Growth Executive Order. He said its findings were "no longer representative of governmental policy." Trump decided the SCC should be calculated differently, with each government agency determining its own dollar figure. This could mean interagency inconsistencies as well as an increased emphasis on the domestic, rather than global, impact of CO2—pivots that would make the emissions seem far less costly than they actually are. The Trump U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) proposal to repeal the Clean Power Plan, for example, calculated that the SCC would be just $1 to $6 by 2020.
But some courts find fault with this plan. In cases across the country, judges are ruling that the SCC is necessary, and fossil fuel projects like coal mines and pipelines are now tied up as a direct result of the administration's failure to consider the climate costs.
Meanwhile, numerous states, including Colorado, Illinois, Minnesota and New York, are ignoring Trump's moves and still using an SCC above $40 to guide policy decisions.
2. The Failure: Scrubbing Climate Change Data
Even before Inauguration Day, scientists began worrying that important information on climate change could soon disappear from government websites. Multiple groups staged hackathons to preserve data and webpages from the EPA as well as the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration in accessible places like the Internet Archive and DataRefuge.
So when information on—and even references to—climate change did indeed begin disappearing from government websites shortly after Trump's inauguration, scientists and engaged citizens were ready. Groups like the Environmental Data & Governance Initiative have been watching the administration like hawks, monitoring changes to government agencies and keeping public environmental data, well, public, even as the current administration is determined not to.
3. The Failure: Delaying State Reports on Smog Standards
In 2015, the Obama administration tightened the national standard for ground-level ozone, a pollutant that causes serious health problems, bringing it down to 70 parts per billion from 75 ppb. States had until Oct. 1 of this year to submit their air-quality data, but EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt attempted to delay that deadline. Maybe he thought that no one would notice? Fat chance. After 16 attorneys general sued, Pruitt reversed course, stating, "We take deadlines seriously."
But Oct. 1 has come and gone, and (surprise!) the EPA has yet to declare which parts of the country are not in compliance with the new rule. So in December, the lawsuits came again to force the agency into action, this time from 10 health and environmental groups including NRDC.
4. The Failure: Touting Coal at the U.N. Climate Conference
When 17,000 people representing 195 countries met in Bonn, Germany, in November to discuss concrete steps for fighting climate change, the tone-deaf Trump administration decided it was the perfect time to sing coal's praises. But its presentation, given by industry heads and titled "The Role of Cleaner and More Efficient Fossil Fuels and Nuclear Power in Climate Mitigation," was disrupted by a song, as hundreds of protestors belted out an anti-coal version of "God Bless the U.S.A." that went viral.
Protestors just shut down U.S.-sponsored event on "clean fossil fuels" at #COP23 – hundreds of people streaming out… https://t.co/QHPCUOF8eY— Collin Rees (@Collin Rees)1510597862.0
5. The Failure: Using U.S. Cities and Businesses to Defend the U.S. Withdrawal from the Paris Agreement
Trump proudly announced in June that he would turn his back on the entire world and withdraw from the Paris climate agreement. His reason? He said it was for the good of the country's businesses, cities and citizens. "I was elected to represent the citizens of Pittsburgh, not Paris," he said.
Pittsburgh's mayor, Bill Peduto, was quick to issue a rebuttal in Trump's preferred language (Tweet), saying he would follow the Paris agreement's guidelines. He and Parisian Mayor Anne Hidalgo then doubled down on their joint commitment to climate action in a New York Times op-ed titled "We Have Our Own Climate Deal."
As the Mayor of Pittsburgh, I can assure you that we will follow the guidelines of the Paris Agreement for our peop… https://t.co/kOIEW44Odh— bill peduto (@bill peduto)1496347422.0
Perhaps Trump forgot that all the groups he mentioned in his withdrawal announcement can speak for themselves, and plenty of them loudly and plainly rebuked his stance by saying, "We Are Still In." A coalition of businesses, cities, states, universities, indigenous peoples and faith groups that are committed to upholding the agreement is 2,500 leaders strong and growing.
Former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg and California Gov. Jerry Brown went a step further and launched the America's Pledge initiative, which unites private and public sector leaders devoted to reducing carbon emissions so that the U.S. can still deliver on the goals of the Paris agreement. The coalition recently presented a report to United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change's executive secretary, Patricia Espinosa, showing that if these U.S. institutions still committed to the Paris agreement were a country, its economy would be the third-largest in the world.
They can't make up for the absence of federal leadership, but they won't stand on the sidelines while our Denier in Chief attempts to trump decades of hard-won climate progress. Make America Great Again? Challenge accepted.
Reposted with permission from our media associate onEarth.
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A Game of Jenga<p>Think of it as a game of Jenga and the planet's climate system as the tower. For generations, we have been slowly removing blocks. But at some point, we will remove a pivotal block, such as the collapse of one of the major global ocean circulation systems, for example the Atlantic Meridional Overturning Circulation (AMOC), that will cause all or part of the global climate system to fall into a planetary emergency.</p><p>But worse still, it could cause runaway damage: Where the tipping points form a domino-like cascade, where breaching one triggers breaches of others, creating an unstoppable shift to a radically and swiftly changing climate.</p><p>One of the most concerning tipping points is mass methane release. Methane can be found in deep freeze storage within permafrost and at the bottom of the deepest oceans in the form of methane hydrates. But rising sea and air temperatures are beginning to thaw these stores of methane.</p><p>This would release a powerful greenhouse gas into the atmosphere, 30-times more potent than carbon dioxide as a global warming agent. This would drastically increase temperatures and rush us towards the breach of other tipping points.</p><p>This could include the acceleration of ice thaw on all three of the globe's large, land-based ice sheets – Greenland, West Antarctica and the Wilkes Basin in East Antarctica. The potential collapse of the West Antarctic ice sheet is seen as a key tipping point, as its loss could eventually <a href="https://science.sciencemag.org/content/324/5929/901" target="_blank">raise global sea levels by 3.3 meters</a> with important regional variations.</p><p>More than that, we would be on the irreversible path to full land-ice melt, causing sea levels to rise by up to 30 meters, roughly at the rate of two meters per century, or maybe faster. Just look at the raised beaches around the world, at the last high stand of global sea level, at the end of the Pleistocene period around 120,0000 years ago, to see the evidence of such a warm world, which was just 2°C warmer than the present day.</p>
Cutting Off Circulation<p>As well as devastating low-lying and coastal areas around the world, melting polar ice could set off another tipping point: a disablement to the AMOC.</p><p>This circulation system drives a northward flow of warm, salty water on the upper layers of the ocean from the tropics to the northeast Atlantic region, and a southward flow of cold water deep in the ocean.</p><p>The ocean conveyor belt has a major effect on the climate, seasonal cycles and temperature in western and northern Europe. It means the region is warmer than other areas of similar latitude.</p><p>But melting ice from the Greenland ice sheet could threaten the AMOC system. It would dilute the salty sea water in the north Atlantic, making the water lighter and less able or unable to sink. This would slow the engine that drives this ocean circulation.</p><p><a href="https://www.carbonbrief.org/atlantic-conveyor-belt-has-slowed-15-per-cent-since-mid-twentieth-century" target="_blank">Recent research</a> suggests the AMOC has already weakened by around 15% since the middle of the 20th century. If this continues, it could have a major impact on the climate of the northern hemisphere, but particularly Europe. It may even lead to the <a href="https://ore.exeter.ac.uk/repository/handle/10871/39731?show=full" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">cessation of arable farming</a> in the UK, for instance.</p><p>It may also reduce rainfall over the Amazon basin, impact the monsoon systems in Asia and, by bringing warm waters into the Southern Ocean, further destabilize ice in Antarctica and accelerate global sea level rise.</p>
The Atlantic Meridional Overturning Circulation has a major effect on the climate. Praetorius (2018)
Is it Time to Declare a Climate Emergency?<p>At what stage, and at what rise in global temperatures, will these tipping points be reached? No one is entirely sure. It may take centuries, millennia or it could be imminent.</p><p>But as COVID-19 taught us, we need to prepare for the expected. We were aware of the risk of a pandemic. We also knew that we were not sufficiently prepared. But we didn't act in a meaningful manner. Thankfully, we have been able to fast-track the production of vaccines to combat COVID-19. But there is no vaccine for climate change once we have passed these tipping points.</p><p><a href="https://www.weforum.org/reports/the-global-risks-report-2021" target="_blank">We need to act now on our climate</a>. Act like these tipping points are imminent. And stop thinking of climate change as a slow-moving, long-term threat that enables us to kick the problem down the road and let future generations deal with it. We must take immediate action to reduce global warming and fulfill our commitments to the <a href="https://www.ipcc.ch/sr15/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Paris Agreement</a>, and build resilience with these tipping points in mind.</p><p>We need to plan now to mitigate greenhouse gas emissions, but we also need to plan for the impacts, such as the ability to feed everyone on the planet, develop plans to manage flood risk, as well as manage the social and geopolitical impacts of human migrations that will be a consequence of fight or flight decisions.</p><p>Breaching these tipping points would be cataclysmic and potentially far more devastating than COVID-19. Some may not enjoy hearing these messages, or consider them to be in the realm of science fiction. But if it injects a sense of urgency to make us respond to climate change like we have done to the pandemic, then we must talk more about what has happened before and will happen again.</p><p>Otherwise we will continue playing Jenga with our planet. And ultimately, there will only be one loser – us.</p>
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