US Climate Change Policy Is Now Based On Conspiracy Theory
In 2012, Donald Trump tweeted that global warming is a Chinese hoax invented to damage US manufacturing. At the time, this was just the crackpot conspiracy theory of an attention-seeking celebrity. It was stupid and laughable. Now, the attention-seeking celebrity is the most powerful man in the world and this stupid, once-laughable tweet looks increasingly like the United States government’s official position on climate change.
The concept of global warming was created by and for the Chinese in order to make U.S. manufacturing non-competitive.
After capturing the presidency, Trump made comments about having an “open mind” on climate change. These comments were less blatantly ridiculous than his Chinese hoax theory but came with new conspiratorial ramblings about “horrible emails that were sent between the scientists.” Nevertheless, the media was quick to declare that Trump was “moderating” or “softening” his climate denial. Unfortunately, this narrative seems based on wishful thinking rather than an honest assessment of the situation. Just days later, Trump’s chief of staff Reince Priebus essentially confirmed that the president still believes climate change is a conspiracy. According to Priebus, Trump has an “open mind” but “his default position” on climate science is that “most of it is a bunch of bunk.”
Trump’s words (and tweets) are notoriously unreliable but since coming to power, the president has shown that, when it comes to climate change, he means what he says. Within minutes of Trump’s inauguration, references to climate change disappeared from the White House’s website. The administration’s next logical step was to announce the end of “harmful and unnecessary policies such as the Climate Action Plan.” Three days later, Trump resurrected the Keystone XL and Dakota Access oil pipelines.
One of Trump’s most telling actions so far was his decision to pick Scott Pruitt to lead the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). An infamous climate change denier, Pruitt is best known for using his former position as Oklahoma attorney general to fight environmental regulations including the EPA’s climate change-combating Clean Power Plan. He has sued the agency he now leads 14 times. Recently-released emails reveal that, as attorney general, Pruitt literally worked as an agent of the fossil fuels industry.
Unsurprisingly, his confirmation as EPA administrator hasn’t weakened Pruitt’s loyalty to fossil fuel interests. On Thursday, Pruitt refuted basic climate science and lied about the scientific community's view on climate change. Pruitt told CNBC that he “would not agree that [carbon dioxide] a primary contributor to the global warming that we see.” He also falsely claimed that “there’s tremendous disagreement about the degree of impact” that human activity has on climate change. In reality, carbon dioxide is, as the EPA’s own website puts it, “the primary greenhouse gas that is contributing to recent climate change.” And there is not “tremendous disagreement” about human activity’s impact on climate change. At least 97% of actively publishing climate scientists agree that climate-warming trends “over the past century are extremely likely due to human activities.”
Let’s be clear: The Trump-Pence administration is governing as if climate change is just a hoax “created by and for the Chinese.” This is insane but it is not a surprise. Climate denial is one of the few beliefs that unifies the administration's right-wing coalition of conservatives, evangelicals, neoliberals, and nationalists.
Donald Trump is a reality TV star/business tycoon turned nationalist demagogue from New York. Mike Pence is a staunch evangelical Christian and long-time politician from Indiana. The two men have numerous ideological and policy differences, but they share anti-scientific, conspiratorial views on climate change.
Global warming is a myth. The global warming treaty is a disaster. There, I said it.
— Mike Pence
When Mike Pence ran for Congress in 2000, he called global warming a “myth” that the environmental movement invented in an attempt to “raise taxes and grow centralized governmental power.” He also attacked the Kyoto climate agreement’s “stupidity and blatant unfairness” because it advantaged developing nations like — you guessed it — China.
Pence now refrains from peddling obviously crazy conspiracy theories but his recent comments on climate change remain detached from reality. During the presidential election, Pence told CNN that he and Donald Trump want to “follow the science” on climate change. Yet, in the same interview, Pence talked about ending the “war on coal” and claimed that “we can develop all the resources in this country.” The science that Pence claims he wants to follow shows that coal is the single biggest contributor of human-caused global warming and that developing all the Earth’s fossil fuel resources would melt most of Antarctica and cause massive sea level rise.
On energy, we will cancel the restrictions on the production of American energy, including shale, oil, natural gas and clean beautiful coal.
— Donald Trump
There is no reason to believe that Trump or Pence will shift away from their climate change-accelerating extremism. No one in their administration seems likely to pressure them to do so. Scott Pruitt is not an outlier. The people Trump has surrounded himself with are a virtual cabal of climate science deniers and fossil fuel industry lackeys. Trump’s chief strategist Steve Bannon used to run a website that published false information on climate change and he has called government support for energy alternatives to fossil fuels “madness.” Secretary of Housing Ben Carson believes climate change is just “an excuse not to develop our God-given resources.” Secretary of Energy Rick Perry has ties to the Dakota Access Pipeline and once claimed that scientists invented climate change to get funding. Attorney General Jeff Sessions similarly called climate science “deliberate misinformation.”
To use climate change as an excuse not to develop our God-given resources makes little sense.
— Ben Carson
Climate denial is so widespread that Secretary of Defense James Mattis and Secretary of State Rex Tillerson are widely seen as the Trump-Pence administration’s climate “moderates.” Yes, a military general nicknamed “Mad Dog” and the former CEO of the oil giant Exxon Mobil are the only glimmer of hope that the administration will have somewhat reasonable climate policies. And the only thing they’ve done to gain their reputation is paying lip service to the fact that climate change is a real problem. Let that sink in.
Rex Tillerson’s stance on climate change is refreshingly sane compared to his administration colleagues but he plays both sides of the issue. In keeping with Exxon Mobil’s official stance — but in contrast to the Trump party line — Tillerson supports the Paris climate agreement. However, at his Senate confirmation hearing, Tillerson downplayed the significance of climate change and the scientific certainty around it. When Republican Senator Bob Corker asked if he believes “human activity, based on science, is contributing” to climate change, Tillerson’s answer was vague. “The increase in greenhouse gas in the atmosphere is having an effect. Our ability to predict that effect is very limited,” he replied.
The increase in greenhouse gas in the atmosphere is having an effect. Our ability to predict that effect is very limited.
— Rex Tillerson
This is in keeping with Tillerson’s PR strategy at Exxon Mobil. Under Tillerson’s leadership, Exxon Mobil acknowledged the science on climate change and moderated their public position on the issue but continued to fund anti-climate science groups.
Exxon has funded a misinformation campaign to confuse the public about climate change for decades. The campaign began after company scientists concluded in the 1970s that greenhouse gas emissions were warming the atmosphere. At his Senate confirmation hearing, Tillerson, who spent 41 years at Exxon, refused to confirm or deny Exxon’s cover-up.
Under Tillerson, Exxon also funneled money to climate denying politicians. Between 2007 and 2016, they gave $1.87 million to Republicans in Congress who deny climate change. This perhaps helps explain why, despite mounting scientific evidence about human-caused global warming, Republicans are less likely to accept the science than they were a decade ago.
With the severely-compromised Republican Party in full control of Congress, the legislative branch will be in lockstep with executive branch’s reckless climate policies. As “moderate” Speaker of the House Paul Ryan is fond of saying, the United States government is now the “United Republican Government.” What Ryan doesn’t mention is that one of the things that unites them the most is subservience to the fossil fuels industry.
The bottom line is this: The United Republican Government is doing nothing to address the biggest challenge of the 21st century. And not only are they doing nothing, they are perusing an economic agenda that accelerates and exacerbates the crisis.
From the most compromised pro-fossil fuels extremist to the most pragmatic “moderate,” every person in a position of power in Washington is apparently committed to pretending humanity is not hurtling towards ecological disaster. This means ordinary American citizens need to force the government to face reality and take action. Citizens must rise-up and demand the creation and implementation of a concrete plan to get civilization off fossil fuels as soon as possible.
If the last thirty years of insufficient action on climate change has taught us anything, it’s that we cannot just wait around for government to do something about the problem. We need to demand it. The Trump-Pence administration makes this brutally apparent but the same would have been true had Hillary Clinton won the election and continued the Obama administration's climate agenda.
Although Obama’s climate policies moved things in the right direction, they didn’t go far enough. Under the Paris agreement, nations pledged to limit warming to “well below 2C” and strive for less than 1.5C. But collectively, the nations’ emission reduction plans were not enough to come close to those goals. To get on track, the UN Environment Programme reported last year that nations must cut a further 25% off their projected emissions by 2030. With the massively powerful fossil fuel industry having a vested interest in the status quo, drastic action like this is close to impossible without massive public pressure.
With the Trump-Pence administration in power, the battle to combat climate change seems more difficult than ever. On the other hand, the administration’s blatantly ridiculous, conspiracy-idled stance on the issue could politicize and mobilize large swaths of citizenry that would have been apathetic under a more moderate administration.