Trump's climate change denialism portends dark days, climate researchers say

U.S. President-elect Donald Trump © Jonathan Ernst
Although he has moved to protect his golf course from rising sea levels, President-elect Donald Trump has sung a denialist tune about global warming. Opting out of domestic and international climate change mitigation efforts look to be next.

Upon taking office, Trump is expected to declare the US will exit the Paris climate accord. The non-binding international pledge was agreed to in December and commits nations to ensuring the Earth's warming remains under 2 degree Celsius (3.6 degrees Fahrenheit), a level climate scientists believe is necessary to ward off the worst impact of catastrophic climate change. The pact includes efforts to further reduce warming and carbon emissions beyond the 2 degree Celsius mark. The agreement only went into effect last week.

Trump has repeatedly called global warming a "hoax" perpetuated by China. His "America First Energy Plan" includes promises to rescind the "job-destroying"Climate Action Plan, or Clean Power Plan, pledges to "save the coal industry," and an exit from the Paris Climate Agreement, among a host of other plans to nix environmental regulations that restrict drilling or are "contrary to the national interest." Trump's plan does not mention that the Obama administration has overseen a historic boom in domestic oil production thanks in no small part to hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, technologies.

Trump has also promised to stock his administration with a roster of climate change deniers and skeptics connected to fossil fuels who have long expressed contempt for clean energy or carbon reduction plans. Despite his rhetoric, Trump's business interests have at least acknowledged that rising seas connected to global warming threaten his golf course in Scotland.

"A Trump presidency might be game over for the climate," top climate researcher Michael Mann said, according to the Guardian. “It might make it impossible to stabilize planetary warming below dangerous levels."

If the US, which emits the second-most greenhouse gases worldwide, exits the already-tenuous Paris agreement, expect other nations, especially top polluter China, to follow America's lead, experts say.

"If Trump steps back from that, it makes it much less likely that the world will ever meet that target, and essentially ensures we will head into the danger zone," Michael Oppenheimer, professor of geosciences and international affairs at Princeton University and a member of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, told the New York Times.

John Sterman, a professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology Sloan School of Management and a senior adviser for the nonprofit Climate Interactive, told Live Science that, in the Paris accord, the US pledged to cut emissions of around 22 gigatons of carbon dioxide. The entire agreement for all nations targets a total of around 100 gigatons of carbon dioxide.

"Many nations may decide that if the United States won't live up to its agreement, why should they?" Sterman said.

Inside the US, President Barack Obama's Clean Power Plan, instituted by the US Environmental Protection Agency, calls for states to cumulatively "cut carbon pollution from [power] plants by 32% from 2005 levels by 2030," among a host of other initiatives to curb emissions. All of these programs are on the chopping block, according to Trump's stated plans.

"Under my presidency, we will accomplish complete American energy independence," Trump's energy plan states. "Imagine a world in which our foes, and the oil cartels, can no longer use energy as a weapon. But President Obama has done everything he can to keep us dependent on others."

Trump will work in tandem with a Republican-led Congress that has long fumed over any climate change mitigation actions directed by the Obama administration, even statements made by the Pentagon that global warming is a top threat to stability around the world. 

In January 2015, upon the beginning of the current, 114th US Congress, 39 GOP senators, or 72 percent of the Republican majority, were considered climate change deniers, according to Mother Jones. Meanwhile, more than half of the Republican majority in the US House deny that humans have caused global climate change, ThinkProgress reported. In March, Grist.org reported that the 182 climate change deniers in Congress have received more than $73 million from oil, gas, and coal companies during their political careers.

This year is on track to be the world's hottest year on record, besting the previous two years.