The State of Climate Change Under Our New White House
To say the least, climate protectors are worried about the new cabinet and their stance on climate change. Many cabinet members openly deny climate change or make the argument that the human causation of climate change is still debated in the scientific community (it’s not). Trump himself has called climate change a Chinese hoax and a scheme to make a lot of people rich who are invested in renewable energy technology. He has also taken bold action by signing executive orders to renew the development of the Keystone XL Pipeline and the Dakota Access Pipeline which have already been courageously pushed back.
The debate on climate change has been around since the 70’s and there is a very clear consensus that continuing to burn fossil fuels at our current rate would plunge our climate into chaos. If you are still skeptical of that view, I suggest you follow some of these links and do further research. What you find might blow your mind.
I am not going to talk about the science behind it all because there is too much to cover, but what I do want to explore are the ties that these cabinet members have to the issue and what their agendas might be. I also want to examine the influence that the oil industry has had on this debate. As a public, who are we listening most closely to?
The first and most worrisome of Trump’s cabinet members is the Oklahoma attorney general, now head of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), Scott Pruitt. He is defined by his long record of opposing the EPA and is one of their most notable adversaries, as well as being a close friend to the fossil fuels industry.
When the Obama administration introduced an initiative to cut carbon pollution from coal power plants, Scott helped lead a lawsuit from 28 states against the “clean power plan”. His record also shows that over the course of four campaigns for attorney general, lieutenant governor and state senator, he has accepted more than $250,000 in donations from the oil and gas industry. As of just last year, Pruitt wrote that “scientists continue to disagree about the degree and extent of global warming and its connection to the actions of mankind.” But as mentioned earlier, this is proven to be a false claim.1
Another member of the Trump administration is former chairman and CEO of ExxonMobil, Rex Tillerson who has been appointed to the Department of State. As an individual, Tillerson has publicly acknowledged the science of human-caused climate change and supported a carbon tax in 2009. When the Paris agreement was signed, ExxonMobil issued a statement of support while under his leadership. However, ExxonMobil has a long history with climate change that dates back to 1977 when it first discovered the human causation of global temperature rises through its oceanic research. Since this discovery, Exxon has spent at least $8 million dollars funding climate change skeptics and has consistently lobbied against climate change proposals. Not only has Exxon been covering up the science of climate change by funding misinformation, but they had been working with other leaders in the oil and gas industry to stay ahead on the science and collectively campaign against global initiatives to cut carbon emissions such as the Kyoto Protocol. Although Tillerson may look much more open to the idea of climate change, the record of the company that he once served shows a much different side.1
Although there are many other fellows on the cabinet that are cause for worry, let us not forget about Trump himself who has $250,000 invested interest in TransCanada, the company responsible for the Keystone XL project. This information came to light through his mandatory personal financial disclosure when he was running as a Republican nominee in 2015.
The common claim is that the Keystone XL Pipeline, along with DAPL, will create jobs and help grow our economy, but in reality it will only make a large amount of temporary construction jobs and put lots of money into the pockets of the corporations and their investors. Who will really be the winners if these pipeline projects are followed through?
If we as a society move towards increased renewable energy use, who would be the winners and losers? Winners would include: the renewable energies sector of our economy in tech, construction, engineering and research, which are all still underdeveloped and have lots of room for growth; our planet; our children with the possibility for a more sustainable future; and intergovernmental relations through a joint effort to reduce emissions and share renewable energy technology. Losers would include: the oil and gas industry, transportation companies while they transition into more effective electric vehicles, and the economy while employees from the oil industry move into new industries.
It’s obvious the oil industry, the wealthiest industry in our nation, doesn’t like this possible trajectory because they would lose much of their financial capital. No doubt this makes for a strong motive to fund climate change denial and science to the contrary. In this effort, with millions of dollars spent, the oil industry was able to buy a massive bus and throw the credibility of climate scientists under it. The public's perception of the scientific profession has been hijacked and distorted by the oil industry in order to stall political action. It has proven effective in countries around the world by preventing climate protection policies that scientists and citizens have been advocating for nearly five decades.
Citizen organizations like Indigenous Environmental Network, 350.org, and the Natural Resources Defense Council, to name a few, have been around for decades advocating for climate justice. Scientists across the globe have banded together to refute 193 of the most common climate change myths here. There is an intergovernmental panel of scientists (IPCC) that dedicate their lives and research to the study of our climate for the purpose of giving that information to our world leaders so that they make the best decisions with it. Even our nation’s own scientists at NASA say that the climate has been warming year after year due to human emissions. Yet in spite of all these groups shouting about the disasters of climate change, it seems easy for many to dismiss their advocacy as a hoax or a money scheme.
When a scientist gives us a warning, we wonder what agenda he is pushing to get rich. When a wealthy businessman says we can continue buying the oil he is making money off of and ignore those scheming scientists, we are all ears.
This worries me greatly because I think it is important to take a look at who in this country we regard with respect and authority. As a nation built by capitalism, has the businessman become the most renowned and worshiped leader? Or as a nation defined by innovation and discovery, are the scientists and engineers given the respect and admiration that their wisdom deserves?
Which principles will we follow into the future: the motives of capitalism and profit, or the principles of science? As a nation adherent to the philosophy of democracy, when will we see that the protection of our planet is in the best interest of everyone and start working together towards a solution that will benefit us all?
1. The Guardian, December 2016. "Climate Change Denial in the Trump cabinet: where do his nominees stand?"