Climate Change: Traction trumps Truncation

Dec 15, 2016

President-elect Donald Trump labeled climate change a hoax; threatened to pull out of the Paris Accords, dismantle the EPA, and torpedo its “Clean Power Plan.”
     Hardly grounds for optimism for those concerned with climate change, but are we dead in the water? Decidedly not. In fact, it could even spark a movement in ways never imagined.
     While recent cabinet picks seem to confirm his intent, no one knows for sure how far or hard Mr. Trump will push on his previously avowed positions. Election campaign rhetoric is a far cry from the reality of governance; a truism for candidate-elects in all major parties.
     In truth, climate change initiatives have gained traction at virtually all levels of society – domestic and internationally. The train has left the station; a reversal of its tectonic movement is neither possible nor desirable.  
     The chance of truncating – abruptly curtailing, in this context – this momentum is not in the cards; the traction is simply too strong to overcome. Can it be slowed down? Absolutely, but not stopped. In fact, there are probably few, if any, that want to totally stop it – and that includes our president-elect.
     While we can expect leadership at the federal level to diminish, there are compensating balances that will offset the equation. The traction in at least five powerful areas makes an abrupt truncation of the climate change movement unlikely:

   1) Galvanizing forces: The response from dedicated organizations concerned with climate change and collateral issues has been powerful and swift. In a ‘flight or fight’ scenario, they have chosen the latter; their passion, resiliency and commitment will make them a formidable force at all levels. By doubling down on their efforts to offset lagging federal leadership, they will help foster an even stronger grass roots movement.

  2) Market forces: Major corporations, utilities, and households are finding that the transition to a less carbon-intensive environment makes good sense. With improving price points for renewable energy and a good ROI on demand reduction efforts, their long-term investments are paying off. Why roll back progress? Still more traction.

   3) Legal and political constraints: New presidents often find their campaign promises to be “easier said than done.” This is particularly true when it comes to shutting down existing programs and cabinet departments or backing out of international treaties. It is a time-intensive effort that consumes an enormous amount of political capital. The regulatory and legal hurdles are high as enabling legislative actions, court rulings, appeals, jurisdictional protocols, and “jawboning” at all levels are often prerequisites. An abrupt, truncated effort to dismantle current climate change efforts would be problematic.

  4) World opinion: With over 192 nations – including every major power – signing off on the Paris Accords, a unilateral withdrawal from the Accord would brand the United States a world pariah. The spillover consequences would impact future treaties and trade deals, damage trust with allies and other world powers, and compromise our position as a world leader. The world is watching, and we ignore this at our own peril.

  5) The intangibles: The rubber hits the road on January 20, 2017 when the crushing job of governance replaces campaign rhetoric; tough choices must now be made. In this zero-sum game arena, a presidential push in one area will mean a diminished effort in others. We can only speculate on where our new president will place his chips, but the number of competing priorities will be high. Climate change is only one of many.

In summary:  One thing is sure; stakeholder interest in climate change is intense. Efforts to dismantle the positive initiatives now underway will be fiercely contested. Once that reality sinks in, there may even be an opportunity for wider bipartisan support to address what many believe is the challenge of our time. In the meantime, there are at least three things we as individuals can do:

  • Stay educated and updated on the pressing climate change and clean energy issues under discussion,
  • Engage with, support, and seek leverage through non-profit groups devoted to these issues, and
  • Connect with local political leaders; express your concerns and hold them accountable. 

Mike Conley
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