Donald Trump is about to become the first head of state in the world to doubt the existence of climate change. While leaders around the globe from China to the European Union have joined together to mitigate global warming's damaging effects, the United States will soon no longer be at the forefront of this universal problem.
Though even Vladimir Putin and Kim Jong Un have accepted the realities of climate change, Trump has maintained his skepticism over an issue 97% of climate scientists agree to be true. After claiming in 2012 global warming was "created by and for the Chinese" — and saying in 2015 we "need" global warming because New York City was unseasonably cold — Trump said in a recent interview with the New York Times he has an "open mind" regarding climate change. He noted, however, that there are "a lot of smart people" who disagree that it's true, and "you can make lots of cases for different views."
When asked about the connection between human activity and climate change, Trump responded: "I think right now ... well, I think there is some connectivity. There is some, something. It depends on how much."
In a video message on Nov. 21, Trump renewed his calls on the campaign trail to enact changes that would be detrimental to climate change, such as lifting regulations on American energy production — including shale and "clean coal" energy — in order to create jobs. Trump currently stands to hinder, halt or completely reverse much of the progress on climate change that President Barack Obama has made while in office, including the Clean Power Plan and the Paris Agreement negotiated last year.
So what does this mean for the future of our global climate? Here are four reasons why we should all be worried about the future of climate change with Trump in the Oval Office.
He's surrounding himself with climate change foes
Trump doesn't seem to know very much about the realities of climate change, but he's not going to fix that in office by surrounding himself with those who do.
So far, Trump's major appointments have included some of the most high-profile climate change doubters, including Myron Ebell, who Trump has tapped to lead the Environmental Protection Agency. Ebell, who currently directs environmental and energy policy for libertarian advocacy group Competitive Enterprise Institute, is described by the New York Times as "one of the nation's most visible climate contrarians," and has said he believes any global warming caused by greenhouse gases is minimal and potentially beneficial. Ebell also leads the Cooler Heads Coalition, whose stated purpose is "dispelling the myths of global warming by exposing flawed economic, scientific, and risk analysis."
Trump's transition team also includes a number of fossil fuel lobbyists and climate change skeptics, and his potential picks for Secretary of the Interior — who controls the country's public lands — include oil and gas drilling proponent Sarah Palin and Lucas Oil co-founder Forrest Lucas.
He'll cut integral NASA climate funding
Trump reportedly has plans to cut funding from NASA's Earth Science division, whose widespread satellites and research are world-renowned. The division, as stated on its website, "plans, organizes, evaluates, and implements a broad program of research on our planet's natural systems and processes." Though the division studies climate change and its effects, other areas of study include the atmosphere, severe weather, oceans and the land surface.
The potential funding cut comes as a way for the Trump administration to crack down on "politicized science," Trump's advisor on space agency issues, Bob Walker, told the Guardian. "We see NASA in an exploration role, in deep space research. Earth-centric science is better placed at other agencies where it is their prime mission."
"My guess is that it would be difficult to stop all ongoing NASA programs but future programs should definitely be placed with other agencies," Walker continued. "I believe that climate research is necessary but it has been heavily politicized, which has undermined a lot of the work that researchers have been doing. Mr Trump's decisions will be based upon solid science, not politicized science."
The Paris Agreement's success is in jeopardy
In an energy policy speech he gave in May, Trump announced he would "cancel" the Paris Agreement on climate change, signaling his unwillingness to cooperate with the treaty that was agreed upon by 195 countries in 2015. As part of the agreement, the United States pledged to reduce its 2005 greenhouse gas emission levels by 26 to 28% by 2025 — an ambitious goal.
Trump's decision to "cancel" the deal, however, won't be as easy as he's avowed: The deal could be finalized if the remaining countries who have yet to ratify it do so before Trump takes office in January, leaving him little authority to have any effect on the treaty.
However, Climate Central explains, there are a few ways that Trump could renege on the deal by taking advantage of certain provisions. As BBC noted, the Paris Agreement's implementation comes from the "bottom up," meaning that it's completely up to the individual countries to make sure they do their part.
The fact that this is a global treaty, of course, means that there are other countries who will continue to do their part even if the United States pulls out. The Economist noted that the falling costs of clean energy are likely to incentivize countries to keep up with emission-curbing efforts — and many countries, such as smog-infested China, have a vested interest in reducing the effects of climate change.
But having the Paris Agreement without the U.S. at the helm is sure to have lasting effects. America is the second-largest emitter of greenhouse gases, after China, and the Washington Post notes the U.S.'s pledge to avoid 22 gigatons of carbon dioxide emissions through 2030 amounts to about 20% of the total emissions agreed to by all the countries involved in the agreement. Without the U.S. taking its promised actions, the goal of stopping the atmospheric temperature from going up by 3.6 degrees Fahrenheit — the point where scientists agree the Earth will have to face an irreversible future of extreme and dangerous warming — could be at risk.
The U.S. withdrawing from the treaty could also have a snowball effect, with other countries — such as India, the third-largest producer of greenhouse gas emissions — deciding to follow suit and go back on their pledges.
"Moving forward, if Trump doesn't change his view of the Paris Agreement and doesn't honor the commitments [the Obama administration] made," Princeton University professor of geosciences and international affairs Michael Oppenheimer told the Washington Post, "that virtually guarantees that the international process will fall into disarray."
Trump's priority is business
Ultimately, Trump's main concern isn't the future of the Earth: it's the future of the billion-dollar businesses who call it home. In his interview with the New York Times, Trump followed up his comments on the "potential" connection between human activity and climate change by saying "it also depends on how much it's going to cost our companies." His video message, meanwhile, proclaims that his energy policies are part of an effort to "bring back our jobs."
While President Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton's economic plans have been focused on creating jobs that support renewable energy sources, Trump will seek to boost up the coal industry and other fossil fuel companies that ultimately contribute to climate change's devastating effects. And Trump's environmental concerns — or lack thereof — may potentially be tied up in his own business interests as well: Trump holds stock in the companies behind both the controversial Keystone XL and Dakota Access pipelines, both of which are strongly opposed on environmental grounds.
So while President-elect Trump may move into the White House hoping to "Make America Great Again," it might be the world and our global climate that ultimately has to pay the price.