I don’t pretend to understand the allure of Donald Trump. I am an unabashed supporter of Hillary Clinton. I appreciate that many people I know and respect are Bernie Sanders supporters. I am hoping that, once Clinton officially becomes the Democratic candidate for President, Sanders supporters will work hard to elect Clinton as President, even if their motive for doing so is to defeat Donald Trump. Staying home on election day or voting for Trump to stir things up a little bit is a position that I can’t even begin to fathom. And yet an article in today’s New York Times includes interviews with a few Sanders supporters who are contemplating voting for Trump. Others have indicated that they’ll simply sit the election out. Many commentators have written about why this is a terrible idea, invoking the 2000 election and the Ralph Nader campaign that threw the election to George W. Bush. I agree with those arguments and want to add just one more: Donald Trump would be a disaster on climate change and therefore a disaster for the planet.
If you haven’t been paying attention (and I understand the impulse to tune out the election noise five months before we vote), Trump gave a speech yesterday in North Dakota on his energy policy. Among the most alarming statements he made are that he would “cancel the Paris Agreement,” that he would “stop all payments of U.S. tax dollars to U.N.-sponsored global warming programs,” and that he would “rescind all job-destroying Obama executive actions including the Climate Action Plan.” It’s important to note, by the way, that the Climate Action Plan is not the Clean Power Plan. It is, instead, the President’s broader climate agenda that includes not only the CPP but also fuel economy regulations, among other programs to reduce greenhouse gases. It is the blueprint for how we will cut our overall domestic greenhouse gas emissions by 30 percent below 2005 levels by 2030.
Trump’s position on all of these programs is hardly surprising coming from a candidate who has called climate change “a hoax” (here’s a collection of his most outrageous tweets on climate change). But they’re alarming nevertheless. Moreover, unlike in some other policy areas where Trump seems to have equivocated or backed down on his most extreme primary rhetoric, he is doubling down on his anti-climate positions. Yesterday’s speech proved that.
In contrast, Hillary Clinton as President would continue the leadership President Obama has shown — especially post-2012 — with the issuance of the Clean Power Plan, the issuance of methane regulations for new and modified sources and promises to regulate existing wells, strong fuel economy standards and so forth. These policies are crucial to meeting the commitments the United States made last December to the global community as part of the Paris Agreement. At a time when we are breaking temperature records on a monthly basis, the Arctic is melting, the west Antarctic ice sheet is at risk of destabilization, concentrations of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere have breached 400 parts per million, India just experienced temperatures of 123.8 degrees Fahrenheit for the first time ever, and droughts plague many regions of the world, Trump’s position is dangerous, wrong-headed and astounding.
But there’s more. Not only is it terrible to back away from policies that will cut U.S. emissions: Our unwillingness to cut our emissions may give cover to other large emitters, especially China, to do the same. But it’s even more troubling for the U.S. to signal to the world that it will not engage with the international community to address the most challenging and critical environmental problem we have ever faced. President Obama has demonstrated that U.S. engagement is not just important to global progress in addressing climate change. It is key. Indeed when the U.S. has led on climate change internationally, we have seen real results, first with the Kyoto Protocol (when Bill Clinton was President) and now with the Paris Agreement. The Paris Agreement simply wouldn’t have happened without the strong leadership of the President and his staff. When the U.S. takes a back seat, the international process grinds to a halt. And Paris is only a beginning step toward controlling spiraling emissions — the promise of Paris is not that it does enough to keep global temperatures at a safe level. Instead the agreement’s promise is that it gets us started on the right path and that we will ratchet up our commitments through the Agreement’s provisions that require the global community to come together every five years and increase emissions targets. With Trump as President, it isn’t just that the U.S. will fail to live up to its Paris commitments. And it isn’t just that our failure to live up to our own commitments could encourage other countries to back away from theirs. It’s that we pretty much guarantee that the promise of Paris disappears.