Government Action on Climate Change

What's happening?

As temperatures topped 90 degrees, thousands of people converged on the National Mall in Washington D.C. to call attention to environmental issues and protest government inaction on climate change.

 

A popular chant aimed at President Trump: “Resistance is here to stay, welcome to your 100th day.”

 

The Trump administration's recent actions concerning the environment include: 

  1. A major executive order issued March 28th that begins to dismantle President Obama's climate change legacy and roll back policies that address global warming
  2. An executive order issued this Wednesday that will begin the process of reviewing national monuments with the aim to open protected land to industries like drilling, mining and logging.
  3. A decision by the Environmental Protection Agency to take down government web pages that used to contain climate data and scientific information related to the environment. By showing that climate change was likely due in part to human activity, the data on these pages contradicted the new Trump-appointed administrator of the EPA, Scott Pruitt. 
  4. A debate currently raging in the Cabinet on whether the U.S. should remain in the Paris climate accord. The accord—the first universal climate deal—aims to curb global warming by keeping the global average temperature under 2 degrees C above pre-industrial levels. 

Why is it important?

The planet is warming. Studies of peer-reviewed articles on global warming show that 99.99% indicate that global warming is caused primarily by human activity. (Scientists refer to this as anthropogenic climate change.)

 

The power of the executive branch to act on climate change means that a new president can make drastic changes with far-reaching impacts. President Trump seems to be doing so.

 

Certain market trends, advocacy, and policies in other parts of government continue to combat environmental changes and are largely untouchable by the president. But President Trump's efforts matter immensely. As Vox's Brad Plumer put it, "After all, if we want to halt climate change, it’s not enough for US emissions to continue to drop slowly or flatline. They have to drop dramatically. That would’ve been a huge challenge even if Hillary Clinton had been elected president — she was mainly planning to expand some of Obama’s EPA programs at the margins. But it now looks extremely unlikely under Trump."

Debate it!

Should the United States remain in the Paris Climate Agreement?

No: 

If President Trump agrees to remain in the Paris agreement, he will break one of his biggest and most specific campaign promises—all for an agreement that was never approved by Congress, may not be the best way to combat climate change, and may impede American employment in the short term.

 

During his campaign, Trump repeatedly promised, “we’re going to cancel the Paris Climate Agreement and stop all payments of U.S. tax dollars to U.N. global warming programs.” 

 

This agreement never received the two-thirds Senate vote required for treaties. Instead, the Obama administration used an "executive agreement." First, an agreement of this magnitude should have been approved by the Senate. Second, given the nature of the agreement, President Trump is well within his power to withdraw. Why should he be bound to what he views as a mistake by his predecessor? 

 

The deal is also self-determined: The Trump administration could simply submit a less ambitious target and face no sanctions. But in that case, why lose voters and refuse to do what they expected of President Trump?

Yes: 

The U.S. should remain in the Paris agreement for reasons based on economics, foreign affairs, and simple morality. 

 

The central goal of Paris agreement simple: keep the global average temperature under 2 degrees C above pre-industrial levels. Studies show that transitioning to a low-carbon economy will lead to a net increase in employment. One example: the US solar industry is creating jobs 12 times faster than the overall economy.

 

Withdrawing from the Paris agreement would damage American diplomacy. Even obstructing American commitments to the deal—as President Trump has already done—has a serious impact on both the deal and the U.S. place as a global leader on the environment, energy, world affairs at large, since the deal is uses transparency as its main enforcement mechanism. (In that spirit, here are all the nations' plans.) 

 

Withdrawing from the Paris agreement is a public refusal to live up to both the current United States' international agreements and responsibility to help combat a threat to economies, habitats, and lives around the world.

Learn more...

  1. The first Short Version debate on the Paris Climate Agreement, in 2015
    • The central goal of the new deal is simple: keep the global average temperature under 2 degrees C above pre-industrial levels. 2 degrees has been considered the approximate definition of "dangerous warming" since the 1990's, but remains controversial. The planet has already warmed about 1 degree since pre-industrial times.
  2. Vox's explainer on Trump's recent climate change executive order
    • "The order doesn’t challenge the Environmental Protection Agency’s fundamental authority to regulate greenhouse gases via the so-called “endangerment finding,” a power that Obama used to craft climate policy after early attempts to pass legislation failed. That’s important: If the EPA’s regulatory authority survives the Trump era, then a future president could use it to write new rules to curb US emissions. That’s what happens when climate policy is crafted through the executive branch, as it currently is in the United States — things can change drastically with a new president."
  3. The New York Times' debate on whether citizens can sue over climate change
    • "To protect the world they will inherit, youth advocates have begun suing the government for more aggressive action on climate change. Their arguments are often unconventional, but some suits are making progress. In Oregon, a judge allowed a lawsuit filed on behalf of 21 teenagers and children to proceed against the federal government, and in Massachusetts, youth advocates and nonprofits successfully sued the state for not living up to its 2008 restrictions on greenhouse gases."