Days after highly-publicized meetings with actor and activist Leonardo DiCaprio and the world’s foremost clean-energy advocate and popular vote winner of a Presidential election Al Gore, Donald J. Trump, President-elect of the Untied States of America, requested a list of the names of people in the Obama administration who over the last five years “took part in international climate talks,” as well as a list of “which programs within [the Department of Energy] are essential to meeting the goals of President Obama’s Climate Action Plan.”
Then he appointed Exxon-Mobil CEO Rex Tillerson to Secretary of State, and climate-change denier slash “secular carbon cult” believer Rick Perry to head the department he forgot the name of in a presidential debate but wanted to abolish (it was Energy).
A couple of important takeaways here.
First, the list of names. Disturbing? Maybe not, maybe so. I lean maybe so: The pending Trump administration is finally making quite clear not just its position on climate change, but that it will go to great lengths to turn existing environmental policy into so much greenhouse gas. The Constitution and several pesky laws make that difficult, and so now, my fellow variables in the great American experiment, we’re giving purges a shot. More on that below.
Second, connecting the dots. We know Donald J. Trump — DJ Trump, mixin’ messages on the record — either doesn’t care about contradictions or finds them useful. He’s appointed people to head the very departments they hate. There are several reasons for this. But for now, onward.
To be perfectly clear to those who hold out faith that Trump might be “open minded” about the climate, he wants to trash environmental policy. DJ Trump has a well-documented record of saying climate change isn’t real, most famously when, in a stupid tweet that he explained away as a joke, he claimed the Chinese invented global warming as a conspiracy to take down U.S. manufacturing. (Climate change feels much more real to the Chinese than it does to us.) But only the China conspiracy would have been the joke. Trump really does believe climate change is a hoax. At least he consistently says that, frequently enough it seems to almost be an involuntary reflex. He has called global warming a “hoax” (using that word) not once, not twice, not thrice, not fourice, not even fiveice; and that’s only on Twitter. He also called it bullshit.
That China hoax “joke” isn’t true, of course, but it’s wrong in several interesting ways: China obviously didn’t invent global warming; green manufacturing actually benefits the U.S. economy (which Trump knows because he also used it to support an argument against climate change policies: “I…it’s a hoax. I mean, it’s a money-making industry, OK? It’s a hoax, a lot of it”); additionally, climate change isn’t what’s taking down U.S. manufacturing; China’s poor climate change policies are actually hurting their manufacturing sector, and one result has been U.S. companies pulling manufacturing out of China — and I can’t resist pointing out that China has over the last 20 years lost more manufacturing jobs than the United States, which itself will by 2020 likely surpass China as the world’s leading manufacturer, largely because of the tremendous gains in efficiency expected from new robotic technologies that are, of course, eco-friendly.
You might also know, though, that DJ Trump is on record as being politically and even financially supportive of climate-friendly government policies. And in a recent interview with the failing New York Times he said he would keep “an open mind.” When pressed more specifically about whether he thought human activity causes climate change, he said, well, it might: “I think there is some connectivity. There is some, something. It depends on how much. It also depends on how much it’s going to cost our companies.”
Again: Trump’s assessment of the degree to which humans are driving changes in the climate depends on how much it will cost companies to address those changes.
If that’s comforting, or if you feel he might be reasonable about this whole thing after all, literally three seconds after he said he’d keep an open mind he said this: “I’m not sure anybody is ever going to really know [what causes climate change]. I know we have, they say they have science on one side but then they also have those horrible emails that were sent between the scientists.”
Oh, well! Guess we’ll never know!
Also, that weird reference at the end is to the purported “ClimateGate” scandal, which eight separate investigations showed truly was a hoax. If you don’t remember ClimateGate, I don’t blame you — it was proved fraudulent seven years ago. (See link above.)
So if you think Donald Trump isn’t going to do everything he can to gut standing environmental guidelines and industrial regulations, you must be smoking some sweet Kentucky coal.
But he met with Leo! He met Al Gore!
Trump did that for Ivanka, who reportedly does care about sane climate policy and who called the meeting with Gore herself. Trump wasn’t supposed to stay in the Gore meeting for very long, but he stayed for the duration. Of course he did: it was Al Gore, dude. It was Leonardo DiCaprio, bruh. They’re celebrities. He wasn’t listening to them; it was PR — for us and for his daughter.
And then, before Al can even get his homebrew geothermal generator back up and cookin’, Trump goes and appoints to the head of the EPA a climate change denier and Oklahoma attorney general currently suing the very agency he’s just been chosen to run. He followed up with the announcements that he’s nominating Tillerson and Perry.
Remember, this is the same Donald Trump who weeks ago cited on the record a sham that was very publicly debunked seven years ago as the reason he still can’t quite get himself fully behind this whole human-caused climate change thing.
So where does DJ Trump stand on climate policy? Come on. Don’t get taken again. But can he do anything about it? That brings us back to the purge…
Trump has notably appointed several people who actively attack the very departments they’ll soon (if confirmed) head.
—Scott Pruitt at EPA
—Rick Perry at DoE
—Fierce Obamacare critic Tom Price at Health & Human Services
—Ben “Poverty Is A Choice” Carson at HUD
—I’d throw in Tillerson, too, but with a pretty big asterisk, if you consider as I do that his approach to Russia goes against longstanding core U.S. diplomatic interests — more on that below.
You might see this scorched-earth strategy as good or bad, depending on your feelings about the size and reach of government. If you’re on Team Trump and a Machiavellian, this is pretty smart. He loves firing people, and he’s hiring people who would love to get fired.
At the very least we can agree that Trump, the Great Contradictor, is now clear about the policies he’s going to target. Environmental policy is way up on that list.
With Pruitt and Perry at the heads of the EPA and Energy, respectively, Trump’s proposals on environmental policy will be rubber-stamped and duly executed by highly-incentivized people who are already almost hysterically opposed to current policy. It seems it will be tough for Trump to do much damage to that policy with executive order alone, but the jury is actually still out on that. He’s stacking the deck, though: Pruitt and Perry would have done their jobs admirably if they got the trademark, “You’re fired!”
Now, the State Department doesn’t usually directly involve itself with climate policy, but Tillerson’s appointment is actually notable. Two reasons: He’s the CEO of a major fossil-fuel company; and his relationship with Russia and Putin is all about fossil fuels.
Tillerson is actually on record for supporting a carbon tax. But that statement (given in 2009) was made on behalf of Exxon and seemed intended more for PR than anything else. He said at an Exxon investors’ meeting earlier this year that, “the world is going to have to continue using fossil fuels, whether they like it or not.” At that meeting, 81 percent of Exxon shareholders voted that the company should not support the Paris Climate Agreement. That’s all from the famously conservative Wall Street Journal.
Here’s more from that WSJ article. Putin inaugurated Tillerson into the Russian “Order of Friendship,” which is one of the country’s highest honors. This isn’t because they’re literally friends, obviously, but appreciation for Tillerson’s work to keep Russia’s oil business booming and fight U.S. sanctions that — coincidentally — eventually hit his company’s bottom line. “It was estimated that the well [Exxon had to abandon due to sanctions] could have pumped out a billion barrels, worth about $97 billion at the time.” In October of this year, it was reported that Exxon lost a billion dollars because of the sanctions.
Tillerson’s connections to Russia have implications — and major conflicts of interest — for the administration’s environmental policy. So: What to do.
In order to repeal or significantly revise most of the Obama administration’s environmental policies to combat climate change, the Trump administration would first need to overrule the overwhelming EPA-ratified empirical evidence that girds and legitimizes those policies.
In other words, the EPA under Obama brought forth a West Virginia mountain-top’s worth of scientific evidence to support the case for new climate change policies. If Trump wants to change or stop those policies, the law (or so it seems) would force the EPA and Department of Energy either to disprove or cast undoubtable doubt on the very evidence those departments already approved.
Environmental groups have legal grounds to fight those cuts in court, and, based on all that existing supporting evidence and the existing government approval, they’d likely succeed.
Hence (possibly) the requested list of names — which was one request among 74 the Trump Team made to the DOE last week. First, in defense, I should say in fairness that the Trump camp pointed out that in order to make the best decisions, you should pick the brains of the people who were there to make those decisions. Unrelated: Trump refuses to take daily intelligence briefings.
So that does seem, or at least sound, like bullshit. Two other explanations for the request: One, the administration wants a list of career government employees to watch closely or target for persuading. The other possibility is an employee purge. I am not putting that forward as a conspiracy with no grounds in reality. First, the Washington Post points out DOE employees are truly worried about this. Second, it has a real strategic value for Trump.
If he cleans out the government’s science departments, that might create some daylight for climate change deniers and pseudoscientists to cast doubt on the prudence of existing environmental and energy regulations. In fact, even the threat of the watchful eye might keep some employees from crossing the administration; again I will point you to the Post piece, because government employees have expressed this concern. Keep the hits comin’, Orwell! Oldies but goldies!
Would this be a last resort? No, but it’s another round in the chamber. Trump has powerful tools at his disposal. These things are complicated and nuanced and take a long time to explain, so I’ll point you here instead. But for one, Trump could wither the EPA’s budget, or just order it not to enforce certain regulations. Trump would face tough fights in Congress, but if Pruitt has his way a Trump administration might be able to drum up enough seductive pseudoscience to sway Republicans already on the fence.
Let me be clear: Trump hasn’t actually done anything. I’m guessing here, but it’s based on good information. Trump likes to keep us guessing, too, but he’s tipped his hand, and he’ll have to reveal more about his thinking soon. Bottom line: If you’re worried about the environment now, you have every right to be. If you’re worried about a thuggish and vindictive executive culture emerging, bordering on demagoguery, you’re not crazy. Hope for the best but keep ya head up, because as Trump once said, “There is some, something.”