The State of the Climate, One Year Into the Trump Era

The State of the Climate, One Year Into the Trump Era

Republished From The New York Times

 

As was widely expected, President Trump didn’t say anything about climate change in his State of the Union address on Tuesday. And why would he? It’s clear by now that the issue simply isn’t a priority for him.

 
But that got us thinking: If one were to give an update on the state of American climate policy after one year of the Trump administration, what would it look like?

 

We’d start with the fact that the administration has pushed to dismantle nearly all federal regulations related to climate change. That includes the Clean Power Plan to reduce emissions from power plants and a federal flood standard that would have required new infrastructure projects to prepare for a changing climate. (See our updated deregulation tracker for the full list.) And it includes a disavowal of the Paris climate agreement.
 
But you’d also want to note that Mr. Trump hasn’t been able to halt many of the most important trends around the country toward lower emissions. Plenty of states, like California and New York, are still pressing ahead with their own local climate policies. The coal industry, responsible for a quarter of the nation’s emissions, continues to shrink, edged out of the energy market by less expensive natural gas despite Mr. Trump’s efforts to save it.
 

On top of that, the cost of wind and solar continues to drop rapidly as technology advances. Even after Mr. Trump’s recent tariffs on solar imports, more utilities are turning to renewable energy as the lowest-cost source of new power. Electric vehicles are making inroads. Other countries are still crafting an international climate treaty without the United States.
 
It’s fair to say that those two broad dynamics — the Trump administration’s regulatory rollbacks and the stubborn march of clean energy — have fought each other to a standstill. America’s carbon-dioxide emissions fell to a 25-year low in 2017, though some forecasters think they could rise slightly this year. When it comes to climate action, the country is in a holding pattern.
 
The catch, as scientists have warned, is that we’ve reached the point on climate change where a holding pattern is no longer sufficient to give us a decent shot at stabilizing global temperatures this century and avoiding irreversible changes to Earth’s weather patterns, polar caps and fragile ecosystems. It won’t be enough for emissions in the United States and other major economies to flatline or decline slowly in the years ahead. They need to fall sharply to nearly zero by midcentury. Even a few years of delay could make that task much harder.

 

That’s what makes climate change unlike other policy issues. There’s an unforgiving timeline dictated by physics, and the rate of change matters as much as the direction. In that context, even a temporary impasse can be hugely consequential.

 

A resident of Rockport, Tex., surveyed the damage to her home a week after Hurricane Harvey.CreditDeborah Acosta/The New York Times
By Deborah Acosta
 
The storms, wildfires and other disasters of 2017 caused a record $306 billion in damage in the United States. Here’s a video explainer looking back at the three major hurricanes of last season, each of which illustrated a different aspect of how climate change can fuel these destructive and costly storms.
 

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