The Impact of a Trump Presidency, in Tons of CO2

A Trump presidency would add 2.4 billion tons of CO2 to the atmosphere. At a minimum.

One of Trump’s pledges is to eliminate Obama’s Clean Power Plan.  That wouldn’t be quite as easy as he thinks, but there’s little doubt that he could do so.  So, how much difference would that make?  The answer turns out to be 2,470,000 tons of additional carbon emissions. That’s a bare minimum; the actual added carbon due to Trump could be much, much higher. Carbon lasts a long time in the atmosphere: about 20% of this extra Trump carbon will still be there in a thousand years.  How about that for a lasting legacy?

In case you’re curious, I based this number on the CO2 reductions given in the Regulatory Impact Analysis in comparison with the “base case” of no Clean Power Plan.   (Table 3-5)  (I assumed that emissions cuts increased linearly from 2020 to 2030, which fits with the 2020, 2025, and 2030 figures.) The additional harm from climate change equates to a cost to society of $75 billion, using the government’s default estimate for the social cost of carbon.  I have deliberately made these estimates cautious, using conservative assumptions to decrease the estimate of how much carbon Trump would cause.  Here are the assumptions I made to avoid any risk of inflating the estimate:

  1.  US abandonment of the Clean Power Plan (and/or the Paris Agreement) does not affect the carbon cuts other countries make.
  2. After 2030, the U.S. is back on track with the same level of emissions that would have existed if the Clean Power Plan had succeeded, plus whatever new cuts would otherwise be down the road.  That assumes a major change in policy taking effect at the end of the decade and cutting emissions immediately by 415 millions tons. In reality, if he gets to place a lot of conservative judges on the bench, he could probably block EPA from addressing climate change for a much longer time.
  3. Clinton would merely keep the Clean Power Plan in place, without any additional initiatives to cut carbon emissions. (The impact of picking Trump over Clinton is probably higher than my estimate, however, because Clinton would likely add to Obama’s efforts rather than merely continuing them.)
  4. All states would have used the rate-based method of compliance, which involves fewer cuts than the mass-based method. (If you don’t know what this means, you probably don’t want to get into this very technical distinction).
  5. None of Trump’s other policies aimed at increasing production and use of oil, gas, and coal are implemented, so his carbon contribution is limited to eliminating the Clean Power Plan.

These conservative assumptions should at least counter any hypothetical scenarios you can come up with where President Trump doesn’t manage to knock out the Clean Power Plan permanently.

I said earlier that eliminating the Clean Power Plan wouldn’t be as easy as Trump probably believes.  He can’t just wave a wand and make it go away.  Even if the government stops defending it in the courts, there are intervening parties who would continue to do so.  But there are several ways to get rid of it, and it seems like a sure thing that one or another would work:

  1. Appoint a conservative replacement for Scalia, which probably leads to a 5-4 Supreme Court decision to strike it down.
  2. Begin a rule making  to repeal it. This would take time but would almost certainly succeed.
  3. With the help of a Republican Congress, pass a statute permanently ending EPA’s ability to address carbon emissions.  This would face a Democratic filibuster in the Senate, but that could be avoided in several ways: (1) by using the reconciliation process, (2) by tying it to some urgent appropriation that Democrats wouldn’t dare block, or (3) by using the “nuclear option” to eliminate the filibuster completely. (Maybe I shouldn’t use the term “nuclear option” when discussing Trump, however.)

The big threat isn’t really losing the Clean Power Plan as such.  It’s that the entire global effort to reduce carbon emissions would be set back a decade or more.  That would mean either higher climate change down the road or the need for much faster, much more expensive emissions cuts later in a rush to make up for lost time.  Either way, the cost would be extremely high.  Basically, we’d be digging ourselves much deeper into a hole, which would make it much harder to get out afterwards.  Assuming that, unlike Trump, you think climate change is real.


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Reader Comments

5 Replies to “The Impact of a Trump Presidency, in Tons of CO2”

  1. After reading this post, it is obvious that if Trump is elected president he shall most certainly have even more deranged temper tantrums using his new superpowers to turn planet earth into a version of Frank Herbert’s “Dune” if not Mars.

    We used to cheer for “350 or Bust” which the Keeling Curve has passed exponentially because our politicians and intellectuals have once again failed to meet the challenges of change, as Will and Ariel Durant, and Eisenhower gravely warned.

    Today, our best, and most likely final, option is Equal Rights and Power For Women or Bust now that men continue to fail to control global warming, violence and inequalities with no end in sight.

  2. Dan said;
    “…..the entire global effort to reduce carbon emissions would be set back a decade or more. That would mean either higher climate change down the road or the need for much faster, much more expensive emissions cuts later in a rush to make up for lost time…..”

    Dear Dan,
    There is no conclusive scientific proof that carbon dioxide is the driving force in climate change, so it is quite possible that reducing carbon emissions would never effect the climate.

    There is no evidence that the substantial emission reduction efforts over the last 30 years have caused any measurable effect on global climate, so it is probable that future reductions would have “No Effect.”

    Human beings cannot control nor mitigate the global climate. “Climate mitigation” is the big hoax that our next President will attempt to remedy. Cheers

    1. BQRQ: Your reply above was one of your lowest-quality troll-posts I have ever seen. You are getting lazy and sloppy with your climate disruption denialism. I expect better from you in the future, as does the Koch Brothers…

      1. Todd, another way of looking at this is that we need to listen to people like BQRQ because they are winning as long as environmentalists continue to fail to find ways to educate the public to act before climate changes create another Pearl Harbor or 9/11 to force us to fight back for survival the hard way.

        Chancellor Dirks pointed out one of the failure modes that environmentalists fail to overcome at our increasing peril:
        “— so many intellectuals don’t want to take on the sort of complications and impurities that come with being public.”

        We keep proving that we never learn from the lessons of history that forced Socrates to drink hemlock because he dared to champion Truth and Morality which we still fail to achieve today, and Linus Pauling lost his academic position at UC because Powers That Be marginalized him for daring to champion Peace which we also fail to achieve to this day in spite of the fact that Eisenhower warned us “The prospect of domination of the nation’s scholars by Federal employment, project allocations, and the power of money is ever present – and is gravely to be regarded.”

        Considering increasingly negative consequences of global warming along with out of control exponential growth of the Keeling Curve we are experiencing today, we still fail to communicate and educate even though current presidential campaigns are proving we had better find a better way in 2016 or Bust one last time.

  3. Hillary’s most important decision during her presidential campaign is to join with Al Gore to protect the human race from Global Warming.

    The urgency of this goal was maximized when we permanently exceeded 400 ppm atmospheric CO2, which Is a definition of “running out of time.”

    Once again, I urge Legal Planet contributors and all UC professors to join with Hillary and Al Gore to achieve the paramount goal of protecting the human race from Global Warming in 2016.

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About Dan

Dan Farber has written and taught on environmental and constitutional law as well as about contracts, jurisprudence and legislation. Currently at Berkeley Law, he has al…

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