The election of Donald Trump as the next president of the United States sent shockwaves around the world. Many questions remain surrounding his presidency and the policies a Trump administration will seek to enact. Throughout the campaign, Trump avoided setting clear positions on policy and remained vague with the few details he did provide. Because Trump has never served in public office, he lacks a voting record making it very difficult to determine his likely positions. This leaves the question, what does this mean for the environment? Specifically, what does this mean for conservation and efforts to curb climate change?
The outlook for continued or expanded support of conservation in the United States is grim. Those searching for a silver lining will be hard pressed to find one. An overly optimistic person may look at how Trump has taken advantage of conservation easements to reduce his tax burdens. He could potentially be convinced to support the expansion of these types of conservation projects across the country to help other businesses. Unfortunately, that sliver of an idea belies the likely leadership and extreme positions a Trump administration would have on preserving the natural world.
The Trump campaign website provides two telling pieces of information. Trump promises to “Rescind all job-destroying Obama executive actions.” and “Open onshore and offshore leasing on federal lands, eliminate moratorium on coal leasing, and open shale energy deposits.” These positions threaten the protection of more than 265 million acres of land and water designated by executive order under the Obama administration. Opening vast areas of federal land to energy extraction could also pose a threat to the United States system of national parks and the species they protect. The Department of the Interior oversees the United States’ natural and cultural resources including its national parks. The risk of national parks and other federal land to be opened to energy extraction is highlighted by Trump’s fossil fuel friendly shortlist for Interior Secretary. As Trump has provided little detail or insight into many of his positions, one can only guess at this point just how far impacts on conservation will be. One issue area that is more clear however, is that of climate change.
Years before and throughout his campaign, Trump has claimed climate change to be a hoax perpetrated by the Chinese. Despite a majority of people from the United States worrying about climate change and its effects on the planet, the Trump campaign has not presented any information regarding their approach to the issue on their website. They have however provided insights to the priorities of a Trump administration. For those hoping for meaningful action to halt rising CO2 levels, I’m afraid there is nothing to be optimistic about.
The Trump campaign website does not mention the words climate change anywhere. Any mention of the environment occurs under the website’s energy heading. Trump promises to “Unleash America’s $50 trillion in untapped shale, oil, and natural gas reserves, plus hundreds of years in clean coal reserves.” Opening these fossil fuel resources to development will unleash massive amounts of CO2 into the atmosphere. Additionally, ‘clean coal’ technologies remain undeveloped and would require regulation and technological investment, which a Trump administration is unlikely to produce.
Perhaps the most serious consequences of a Trump presidency lie in the uncertain outcome of the Paris climate agreement. During a speech on energy policy, Trump indicated an administration under him would attempt to renegotiate if not pull out from the agreement completely. Additionally, a known climate denier is currently leading the transition team for the US Environmental Protection Agency and is on the fast track to becoming the director of the agency. Scientists agree that in oder to avoid the most damaging effects of climate change, the planet must limit temperature rise to 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels. Achieving this limit in temperature increase would be near impossible if the world’s second most emitting country fails to set or enforce emission targets .
A lot of uncertainty remains surrounding what type of environmental agenda a Trump administration will (or will not) pursue. The world is watching. As for those reading this blog, we must work to positively guide our political leaders’ actions in the environment and conservation space.