Climate change: Here’s why there’s still hope despite Donald Trump – Henry McLeish

US President Donald Trump is responsible for a breathtaking litany of acts of vandalism to the struggle to pervent dangerous climate change, but there is still hope, writes Henry McLeish.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi holds a press conference about the Madrid climate summit (Picture: Brendan Smialowski/AFP/Getty Images)

President Trump’s views on global warming are well known – “climate change is a hoax”, “climate could change back again” and “a phenomenon invented by China”. Speaking in support of the President, a White House spokesman once said: “America’s wealth is based on energy and he will not jeopardise that for dreams and windmills.”

Less evident, to a global population seeking serious solutions to a planet in peril, are the free market fundamentalists and fossil fuel fanatics who drive America’s obsession with protecting the burning of carbon. The US has decided to exit the 2015 Paris Accord on 4 November 2020. In the meantime, the President has embarked on a manic and unprecedented dismantling of environmental regulations and protections in the US.

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However, for the nearly 200 heads of government and more than 25,000 delegates attending the UN Climate Conference (COP 25) in Madrid this week, there is some good news from America. Public opinion is hardening in favour of taking climate change seriously!

In the US, climate change has become a battle between two competing versions of reality. Trump, his base, the Republican Party and powerful, free-market special interest groups are as one in seeking to frustrate and obstruct any positive contribution to tackling global warming.

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America is the second largest polluter in the world with 15 per cent of carbon dioxide emissions or nearly 5,500 million metric tons per year, only surpassed by China with 30 per cent (although the average American is responsible for significantly more emissions than the average person in China).

The President’s understanding of the environment and climate is limited. His interest is personal and political. The denial industry is a huge contributor to his re-election campaign. Its tactics are obvious and help divide a country that is susceptible to conspiracy theories and fake news.

Deniers turned doom-mongers

Deniers are often willing to concede that climate change may be happening, but they still aim to confuse, distort and cast doubt over the science. The role of individuals and lifestyles is used to distract from the real problem – the burning of fossil fuels – and they use doom, fear and despondency to convince people it is too late, too difficult and that nothing can be done. Trump is part of this conspiracy against America and the planet.

Two of the most prominent right-leaning, free-market organisations in the US are crucial to this assault on climate change, The Koch Brothers, Charles and the late David, who died in August, and the “American Legislative Executive Council (ALEC).

The Koch Brothers have provided finance, business power and extensive networks of like-minded fossil fuel enthusiasts. They are often described as part of the “Dark State”, operating largely in secret, avoiding any electoral accountability, putting profits before health and ruthlessly committed to the watering down, removal or repealing of health and environmental rules and regulation – but are not to be confused with the “Deep State” of Trump’s paranoia. Experts in sowing doubts and fears about the facts, the Koch network spends billions of dollars lying to the American public.

ALEC is a non- profit organisation of conservative state legislators and the private sector, which drafts model state-level legislation for distribution to state governors, known in the US as the “Bill Mill”.

Litany of vandalism

The right, as with most issues in the US, has a partisan message, a plausible narrative and message discipline, which the left rarely achieves on climate change. And the voice of denial is massively endorsed by Fox News and thousands of conservative local radio stations.

But no one should under-estimate the unique and remarkable personal contribution President Trump has made to the destruction of US environmental laws and protection. His near-dystopian vision of the future has led to the rolling back of Obama-era reforms on climate change, easing or removing limits on environmental pollution and limiting federal funds for science and the cutting of emissions.

The list is breathtaking, a litany of vandalism, and a sad commentary on the President. It includes: the intention to withdraw from the Paris Accord: the reversal of Obama’s federal rules on coal power; cuts in Nasa climate monitoring; cuts to climate and clean-energy programmes; a government website censored, dropping climate change from list of national security threats; the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to scrap its clean power plan; a climate advisory panel disbanded; cancelling rules to protect whales from fishing nets; fuel efficiency standards reconsidered; plans to cut emissions by 2025 now abandoned; the first offshore oil well approved for the Arctic; EPA inspections at a ten-year low; shrinking national monument coverage and animal protection: and dismantling the EPA and putting loyal friends in charge.

These are only a fraction of a very long list of actions designed to please special interest groups and, in the process, vandalise and destroy decades of environmental progress made under both Republican and Democratic presidents.

Climate change deniers existed long before Trump’s arrival in 2016. But, by his actions, he has not only forfeited world leadership in tackling climate change and global warming but he has also become a major threat to the health of Americans and the well-being of world’s population.

Trump, a climate loner, doing the bidding of others, sees the world through the prism of removing barriers to business and profits. But now much of America appreciates climate change is real. Seventy per cent of the population agrees. Two-thirds say that Trump is doing too little to tackle the problem. And 55 per cent think humans are mostly to blame. People are becoming more critical of the President’s approach.

Young people are enthusiastically engaged and many of the US states are fighting Trump’s agenda. A significant number of US states are supporting the Paris accord. Democratic Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio Cortez has made waves with her Green New Deal. Young people are on the march, unwilling to be beaten back by the old carbon men. Nancy Pelosi, the House of Representatives’ Speaker, is leading a Democratic delegation at the Madrid conference.

Internationally, the global warming message is being accepted, but the problem in Madrid is persuading delegates and countries to turn commitments into remarkable levels of action. Trump won’t be helping, but it is worth noting that America’s exit from the Paris Agreement doesn’t take effect until the day after the 2020 presidential election: what a difference a day could make to a new President and the planet.