A lack of public trust in science is no new phenomena. The anti-vaccination movement has been active since their invention in the 1700s; and schools in countries from Israel to the United States often still don’t teach evolution. In recent years this science denial has reared its ugly head in the fight against global warming where, despite overwhelming evidence to support human made climate change, many still disagree with it. The idea that anyone could ignore such clear evidence is confusing at best. What happens, however, when the person angrily tweeting about the “global warming hoax” is the president of the United States?
Since 2011 Trump has tweeted his climate change denial over 115 times. Most of these times he seems to have confused climate for weather, which could be considered funny if he wasn’t the one sitting in the oval office. It’s not just climate change where his environmental views are controversial. Since his inauguration he has slashed the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) budget, promoted policies to reduce protection of endangered species and scrapped panels reviewing air pollution and water quality. These budget cuts have come at a time when the EPA is more important than ever in the United States. Unsafe industry practices have left the town of Flint, Michigan without safe running water for over 4 years and poor air quality in California has been linked to around 21,000 early deaths every year.
It is important to note that Trump’s policies have global impacts, not just domestic ones. The US produce the world’s second highest CO2 emissions.Compared to smaller countries, their greenhouse gas policies have a much greater global impact.
Our climate is relatively stable as a result of the balance of gases in our atmosphere. Greenhouse gases trap just enough heat for us to grow crops, avoid extreme weather and maintain the water cycle. If greenhouse gases accumulate however, the global temperature gets hotter causing a long list of negative effects from flash floods to the spread of famine and pests.
The effects of this are already visible. Over the past century the average global temperature has increased by 0.74 degrees Celsius (over half of this rise since 1979). One consequence of this is that last winter the lowest arctic sea ice levels were observed in 1500 years. In contrast, the Sahara Desert has increased in size by 10 per cent since 1920, with at least 1/3 of this growth being attributed to climate change. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) stated in a 2016 report that “It is extremely likely that more than half of the observed increase in global average surface temperature from 1951 to 2010 was caused by the anthropogenic (human made) increase in greenhouse gas emissions”. This figure does not include other ways we impact the planet such as mass deforestation which leaves less trees to absorb the harmful CO2 we produce.
Since coming into office, Trump’s administration have not been shy about their lack of interest in fighting climate change. Just a few months into his presidency, he announced that the US would withdraw from the Paris Agreement, which for the first time in history saw 200 countries lay down proper plans to tackle climate change. The United States’ withdrawal completely undermines the years of work that led up to this. There was finally a global acknowledgement that climate change is real, a product of human actions, and will have massively detrimental effects both environmentally and economically if something isn’t done.
As former president Barack Obama said, “It was steady, principled American leadership on the world
stage that made [the Paris agreement] possible”. If the United States doesn’t take tackling climate change seriously, other countries won’t follow. Although the long term benefits are clear, in the short term switching energy sources and creating new environmentally friendly industries is expensive. The US are among the top greenhouse gas emitters so their commitment to change has a much greater positive impact than that of smaller countries.
Trump’s actions are also likely to affect the long term economic future of the country. Current policies are deeply unsustainable due to the investment in dying industries. Last month Trump said in an interview that he no longer believes climate change to be a hoax but that he doesn’t want to “lose million and millions of jobs” fighting it. Instead he has been heavily investing in finite energy resources including coal mines and fracking projects.
However according to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, the number of jobs for solar panel installers and wind turbine technicians will grow twice as fast as any other profession in the next ten years. This growth is the best option for American energy and job security. People in power ignoring climate change fundamentally undermines the public’s’ trust in facts. In an ideal world everyone would do their own research, but if you turn on the TV and the president is saying everything’s fine, it’s far too easy to accept this rose tinted version of reality. Scientists just can’t compete when they’re trying to sell a darker future for humanity.
Of course, America is a democratic society and at the end of the day it is the voters that have the final say.With the midterms over and the race for 2020 beginning next year, it has never been more important for people to stand up and tell their politicians what they want, including better environmental policies.
Image: Gage Skidmore via Flickr