Tuesday night was a huge disappointment for so many of us. I personally never gave Trump a chance, and as the bad news kept coming in, I realized that I had no Plan B. My future plans as an environmentalist and a social scientist were based on the assumption that the next government would rely on academic researchers to offer advice on good policies and strategies.
I was wrong. It’s pretty clear that we all will be playing defense instead.
Over the past 48 hours, many people have shared their thoughts and ideas on the challenges that lie ahead. I am not going to comment here on what to expect under President Trump, as that issue has been covered more than thoroughly (NYT; Vox; Vox-2; Revkin; Stavins; Hale) and now we just have to wait and see.
Instead, I am going to talk about what we all can do. These thoughts are preliminary but at least I can say that this has been my obsessive focus for the past 48 hours.
There is little reason to expect President Trump to support the Paris Agreement, but international action on climate mitigation and sustainable energy remain critical. Renewable energy, fuel subsidy reform, and preventing deforestation are just some examples of approaches that can reduce greenhouse gas emissions. These approaches also promise many tangible benefits, such as reduced air pollution and improving energy access, to major emitters from China to India and Brazil. They are not critically threatened by President Trump, so those of us working on them should move ahead, full steam.
At the same time, President Trump resurrects an old question: what should global climate cooperation look like without American leadership? This question was hot in the days of the Bush administration, but the world has changed and the United States is not as pivotal as it was in, say, 2005. The Kyoto Protocol has disappeared and we now have the Paris Agreement. Practical, policy-relevant analysis of strategies is very important, and I intend to start new work on this topic pretty much immediately.
In the United States, the federal government will probably not do much in the coming four years and Obama’s signature contributions, such as the Clean Power Plan, are in grave danger. However, total paralysis across all levels is not in the cards. Exploiting opportunities for climate policy at the state level is more important than in a long time, so it’s time to ramp up research, advocacy, and policy work in the states. Many of us worked on this topic in the Bush era, and it’s time to revisit these lessons and adjust them to new realities.
The third issue that cannot be avoided under President Trump is opposition to fossil fuel projects. Recently, these projects had lost their momentum because of low energy prices and new environmental regulations. Under President Trump, mobilization against coal-fired power plants and tar sands may again become very important. Supporting organizations that engage in this kind of work, such as the Sierra Club, whether financially or by volunteering or with research, is a priority for me.
Finally, there is the question of electoral politics. Climate and energy issues played virtually no role in the campaign, so it seems that focusing on educating voters or trying to encourage climate voting is a lost cause. The reality is that one of the two political parties is committed to sustainable energy and climate mitigation – and the other is not. The implication is pretty clear: without a Democratic Congress and President, the federal government is not going to be in the high-ambition coalition.