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Trump’s Climate Policies Obstruct the Best Hope for Human Survival

Climate change can be seen as a paradigmatic alteration in our place on Earth based on new science and technology, but Trump’s America moves beyond the mainstream and resists the new ideas that promise to define the human future.

In its effort to undercut a generation of initiatives on climate change, Donald J. Trump’s administration has applied both the chainsaw and the scalpel. Last week’s mundane announcement that physics professor and vocal climate change skeptic William Happer will join Trump’s administration as a top advisor, serves as a prime example of small alterations that will likely play into a very large change that I will need to explain to my students in years to come.

Teaching Environmental History provides me the opportunity to take a species-level view of our past. In this chronology, moments of consequence derive from noticeable changes in humans’ relationship to the natural environment in which it resides. Such moments might derive from climatological events that force humans and other occupants of Earth to react and adjust.

In the case of humans, the chronology of environmental history might also derive from innovations in technology or knowledge; sometimes in both, such as in the Age of Sail starting in the 1500s resulting in new global exchanges.

The development of this economic engine of the modern world, for instance, derives from ideas, ranging from navigation and geography to theories such as capitalism. Such a broad revolution in thinking began with a basic reconfiguring of our ideas of the human’s place in nature based on new discoveries and understandings. Instead of pulling back from such dynamic moments, successful nations seized the revolution and synched their futures to it.

Climate Change as Alteration

Similarly, climate change can be seen as a paradigmatic alteration in our place on Earth based on new science and technology. In short, computer modeling and data collection from carbon dating and satellite views reconfigured our knowledge of Earth’s climate.

After the 1980s, these innovations allowed us to better know the weather tomorrow as well as in the next decade. In addition, we could now chart past climate patterns. New information informed a clearer view of the impact human development had on Earth, particularly in the era of massive burning of fossil fuels for energy.

At the end of the 20th-century, our new understanding of Earth’s past and future was, frankly, even more revolutionary than the realization that our planet was round. This new paradigm contained opportunities for entirely new economic development while also helping to ensure human survival on Earth.

In addition to significant political accomplishments such as the 2015 Paris Climate Agreement, the new paradigm of climate change ushered in a remarkable, behind-the-scenes system of trans-border scientific cooperation for data collection and modeling. The United States Agency for International Development, for instance, operated the Climate Change Adaptation Program, which was premised on climate change as a destabilizing force in threatened parts of the world. Similar to the Cold War idea of “the domino theory,” such strategic efforts were based in the inclusion of climate change as a consideration of national security and military planning, which was established by the George W. Bush administration.

Today, though, amidst Trump’s efforts to leave the Paris Accord and to rollback Efficiency Standards for American vehicles, funding for climate-related research will end in 2019.

As the Senior Director for Emerging Technologies, Happer, mentioned above, will bring his dubiousness about climate science to all matters facing Trump’s National Security Council. As former Princeton professor, Happer has often publicly suggested the unsettled findings of climate change. He will appease Trump’s perspective that climate change is simply too problematic – too inconvenient – to confront.

Recently, when former Vice President Al Gore was asked by the Huffington Post for a message to Trump on climate change, he had one word: “Resign.” “I don’t mean to be flippant about it,” he added. “I don’t think he’s prepared to listen to advice about the importance of clean air and clean water.” In this stark assessment, we see the U.S. under Trump moving outside the mainstream to resist the new ideas that promise to define the human future.

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