Four years of Trump could really sink the planet

By Juan Cole | (Informed Comment) | – –

I argued that President Obama’s carbon-reduction plan wasn’t anything to write home about. He wanted to reduce our annual emissions from 5.4 billion metric tons of CO2 annually from the US to 4.7 billion metric tons by 2030. It isn’t an insignificant reduction, but it doesn’t at all fit with the urgent need for vast cuts in emissions.

I maintained that it was some of the indirect effects of this policy that were actually the most important. Obama directed the Environmental Protection Agency to go after the remaining coal plants on the grounds that CO2 is highly toxic, and causes climate change. Coal is much dirtier than gas, so closing coal plants ia a huge savings with regard to our carbon budget.

I also pointed to Obama’s plans to fund massive research and development on better solar panels is probably more consequential than the relatively modest forced reduction in cO2 emissions. Panels are relatively expensive and using silicon is one of the reasons. Other materials are possible, and offer a steep discount. Billions of dollars in research and development could well drive the emergence of new kinds of panels– just as it led to the Corning’s Gorilla glass in smartphones.

Trump, however, could cut that R & D budget down to zero. And he will renege even on Obama’s modest CO2 reduction goals. Even he can’t save coal, which is dirty and relatively expensive. But he can prolong its life, thus massively using up our remaining carbon budget.

These actions are important because the US is one of the biggest emitters of CO2 in the world. If Trump isn’t going to pare them down significantly, then the US alone could cook the planet, even if China and others act more responsibly.

Acting in this way will have ripple effects. Why should other countries make sacrifices if the US won’t?

The other important information here is that the planet is more fragile than we earlier believed, the CO2 is building up much faster than expected, and climate scientists are afraid they underestimated the danger of radical weather produced by climate change. Things could get unbearably hot in many parts of the world by as early as the 2020s.

It is downright weird that we haven’t been able to find any evidence of intelligent life elsewhere in the universe, given how old and big it is. It occurs to me that carbon-based life may have a tendency to evolve toward an intelligent species that discovers how to manipulate fire. But in each case, it isn’t quite intelligent enough to avoid burning so many hydrocarbons that it cooks its planet and causes its own extinction. Hence, no radio waves from these serial hyper-tropical worlds.

Four years of Trump could really sink the planet.


Related video:

Wochit News: “Temperature Rise In Next Five Years”

29 Responses

  1. It’s amazing how people aren’t panicking over the most obvious, ominous signs right in front of their faces.

    I have vivid memories of toilet-papering trees on Halloween in my youth — not that many decades ago — and I vividly remember those trees being bare by the end of October. After many years in the south, where fall naturally comes later, I’m now not too far from my old digs, and the trees on Halloween haven’t even reached peak color. By the time our last city leaf pick-up comes, half the leaves will still not have fallen, no doubt because they haven’t updated the schedule in years.

    But when I point these things out to people — even fairly climate-aware people — they look at me like, “No kidding? Hadn’t really noticed.”

    • Thank you Gregg – this needs emphasis. Here in western Oregon I thread a needle – you need leaf drop to be able to spray your fruit trees to prevent fungal infection of the fruit and the trees themselves, otherwise production is depressed when trees become vulnerable to infection.

      In the past that leaf drop would come with cold temps starting in late August. The rains usually come around October – there was time for one or two fall sprayings (particularly important for stone fruit – plum, peach, apricot, cherry). The past few years I have not been able to do this – the temps are too warm and by the time the rains come still to warm for leaf drop. With some trees I get lucky, but increasingly this is a serious problem – the timing of leaf drop and the advent of the rains.

      People will not understand this until the price of fruit goes through the roof. And even then, only if it impacts the price of wine, hard cider, and ultimately beer if the weather becomes too unstable to manage hop production, a distinct possibility.

    • My closet no longer contains a winter coat and has not for the last 10 years. I could go on and on about the changes that have occurred where I live in Texas during the past four decades yet they seem to go virtually unnoticed. The signs of global warming are everywhere if you have a memory extending more 30 years into the past. It’s truly alarming.

  2. Trump could cut the R&D but on the other hand he might not. Trump could do a lot of things that he talked about in his election campaign, but like Obama and Guantanamo bay, he will soon find his wings being clipped by the establishment. Trump could take of a very tiny slice of the military budget which would fund R&D for lots of things and he could take a bit from here and cut a bit there for really worthwhile projects. However, Trump is not like the bank manager deciding on who will get loans or overdrafts etc, he is entirely in the hands of powerful vested interest who guard their own funding jealously. Trump will spend the first year of his presidency mired in paper work and protocol. As far as foreign policy is concerned he will have to contend with a belligerent military as did Obama, pet projects like building walls will almost certainly fall by the way. It should also be born in mind that Trump has no experience of government at all, so I suspect it will take him a year just to find his way around the maze of bureaucracy. He will be like a newly crowned king with all kinds of courtiers whispering in his ear advising and warning him of pitfalls etc. By the time the ‘state’ has finished with him he will wonder if he is not suffering from schizophrenia! Just as there was great hope when Obama was elected which didn’t amount to much in the end, so the gloom and doom associated with Trump won’t amount to much either. I have posted before, that the people who run the country are the power behind the throne and Trump, Obama, Clinton Bush and the rest are merely talking heads and are as manipulated as a ventriloquists dummy.

    • I have posted before, that the people who run the country are the power behind the throne and Trump, Obama, Clinton Bush and the rest are merely talking heads and are as manipulated as a ventriloquists dummy.

      With Mike Pence and his long history of being an agent for the power behind the throne now in charge of Trump’s transition team the future can be expected to be pregnant with alarming potential.

    • I guess it escaped your notice that a large chunk of the establishment is made up of the fossil fuel industry. The “establishment” does not support the massive effort to fight climate change that is necessary. Haven’t you noticed that the US is the only country where a sizable portion of the populace, due to propaganda from the establishment, doesn’t believe climate change is real? In no other country does the fossil fuel industry have such a hold on public policy and you think the establishment is going to change Trump into an environmentalist? How delusional can one get?

    • Trump’s a big talker, and an egomaniac – but he’s not a policy wonk. Hand him a bill with an applause line title, and he’ll sign it.

  3. Already sunk under a forthcoming 25 meters of sea rise unless there is a massive change to stop adding and start subtracting carbon dioxide.

  4. When there is no institution to deal with the scope of climate change, along comes a climate denier.

    But when the frame of the moderns needs to be reset, maybe this will be the stimulus to find out why it is that humans are on the path to destroy themselves.

    Abstract: There is no single institution able to cover, oversee, dominate,
    manage, handle, or simply trace ecological issues of large shape and
    scope. Many issues are too intractable and too enmeshed in
    contradictory interests. We have problems, but we don’t have the
    publics that go with them. How could we imagine agreements amid so
    many entangled interests? We will review several attempts to tackle
    ecological problems by connecting the tools of scientific representation
    with those of arts and politics and present the program of
    Experimentation on Arts and Politics which has been running at
    Sciences Po since September 2010.

    First paragraph

    What are we supposed to do when faced with an ecological crisis that does
    not resemble any of the crises of war and economies, the scale of which is
    formidable, to be sure, but to which we are in a way habituated since it is of
    human, all too human, origin? What to do when told, day after day, and in
    increasingly strident ways, that our present civilization is doomed; that the Earth
    itself has been so tampered with that there is no way it will ever come back to any
    of the various steady states of the past? What do you do when reading, for
    instance, a book such as Clive Hamilton titled Requiem for a species: Why We Resist the
    Truth about Climate Change—and that the species is not the dodo or the whale but us,
    that is, you and me? Or Harald Welzer’s Climate Wars: What People Will Be Killed
    For in the 21st Century, a book that is nicely divided in three parts: how to kill
    yesterday, how to kill today, and how to kill tomorrow! In every chapter, to tally
    the dead, you have to add several orders of magnitude to your calculator!

    The article

    Waiting for Gaia. Composing the
    common world through arts and

    Here are tweets from his AIME project from yesterday and today

    AIME ‏@AIMEproject Nov 11
    How could Europe survive without England & United States. Either it explodes or finds a way to remake itself. Should we create a new party?

    AIME ‏@AIMEproject 7h7 hours ago
    For years people have claimed the American way of life is unsustainable: instead of changing they choose to self-destruct. Is
    it a surprise?
    0 replies1 retweet5 likes
    AIME ‏@AIMEproject 5h5 hours ago
    To defend against massive migrations is for most people a proxy of how to handle climate mutations: they oppose the former & deny the later

    A very important document is Bruno’s inspired project “Reset Modernity” in book form from MIT press.

    The article above is from 6 years ago and there have been many advances described in the book by multiple authors from many disciplines.

  5. The really sad fact is that we in the USA can’t even have a real “debate” on this issue because the Republicans have gotten away with climate change denial. How ironic that the Party of “Free Enterprise” is throwing away a huge economic opportunity to create millions of jobs for those
    “angry, white working class” voters who just voted for them. Of course, they could care less about us working class people, regardless of color or party.,

  6. Craig Angus

    There is also the possibility that he was lying all along, just to get elected, and he will now begin a green energy campaign because he is a “great business man” who want everyone to have a good paying job and as a byproduct save the world, an act which would make his ego very happy because everyone would see him as a kind of super-man. I won’t be holding my breath waiting though.

    • There is also a possibility that little pigs will fly. Most all of his early advisers and transition team is made up of establishment lobbyists and his rumored choice for a key environmental job is a climate change denier.

  7. I don’t think we can expect Trump to become a global warming believer, at least not in public. When he replaced Christie with Pence as his transition boss, he virtually put the transition in the hands of the Koch brothers (mainly Charles) . You can’t get much closer to the brothers than Mike Pence
    link to

    When Trump won he had no power block watching his back. The Republicans in congress don’t like him, and the Democrats don’t like him. But now with Spence, a Koch man thru and thru, heading the the transition he has the smartest, biggest, richest political operation in the country on his side. When Donald sits down with Charles to discuss climate change, he will come away less a denier (hoax) but sadly convinced nothing need be done right now. And I think he will be quite impressed with the man.

    Here is an interesting WP interview with Charles:
    link to

  8. Once released in the atmosphere, CO2 lasts for 100 years. We have passed 400 ppm and it is still going up. Even if Trump does nothing to cut back Obama’s policies, that’s still not enough. If he does, the game is over and we will likely see effects that few people have even foreseen.

  9. This seals the deal: We will need to develop scalable and affordable technologies that can extract CO2 from the atmosphere, if we are to stand a chance.

      • They are doing their part. And reforestation will help. But it is already clear that this won’t suffice.

        What is needed is an industrial process on the Haber-Bosch scale.

        If you think biomass alone will do the trick than you are not paying attention.

        • Since it takes energy to strip carbon from CO2, any industrial process must use energy. But that energy would itself have to release no CO2, and if we have that energy, then why not use it to replace a coal or methane-fired generator instead? Until all of those are eliminated, that is the most efficient use of any unit of clean energy we can create.

    • Who exactly is going to PAY for that research?

      Who exactly is going to PAY for the construction and long term maintenance of your “magic machines?”

      Note that businesses ONLY do things that make the business owners filthy rich, so “big business” is probably not going to do it.

      And why should other countries do it if the USA just gets a free ride?

      Dream on . . .

      BTW – Not every problem can be solved with technology, often because of basic physics, chemistry and thermodynamics.

  10. Trump is very much a politician no matter how much he proclaims himself the opposite. He is very Machiavellian and he will conduct himself appropriately. I would neither despair nor rejoice; what will be. will be. I am guessing the biggest “hit” will come on the social side given the nature of his V.P.; the rest will be, I believe – and hope, more muted. This includes the environmental. Since this is all hugely uncharted territory, I think we will have little choice but to “wait and see”. Hopefully, having achieved the power he sought, he will not be as reactionary or as radical as many of us have feared……..time will tell.

    • He already picked a lead climate sceptic to head the EPA, and announced that he plans to eventually shut down the EPA completely.

  11. I think the global situation is so serious rogue nations on carbon emissions should be targeted with tariffs. Perhaps this should be discussed at the next global summit.
    The idea some nations can pull out and face no consequences must be addressed.

    • Economic trade “trumps” good intentions.

      Please keep in mind that smuggling and tax avoidance is one of the oldest human activities. Tariffs are just the “cost of business” that will be ignored whenever possible.

      One of the reasons the USA siogned on to the Iran nuclear deal was because the “global embargo” was rapidly falling apart because too many nations wanted to trade with Iran.

      BTW – even thought the USA has had strict trade embargoes against Iran, Iran was easily able to purchase USA helicopters and spare parts in 2015.

      Basically all international “punishments” are ineffective if not totally useless.

  12. Dr. Cole – I highly recommend the sci-fi trilogy that starts with the Three Body Problem by Cixin Liu for an exploration of the Fermi Paradox you reference. It may be lower tech intelligent species, if and when, they make contact with another intelligent species, are immediately destroyed.

  13. Nuclear. I am NOT a fan of nuclear (waste, mining, breaches), but it is low carbon, high density, high uptime energy. I’d rather see some deplorable (Koch, Halliburton) build some nukes than dig more coal. Of course, they’d rather do BOTH….

    • By the time reactor designs currently licensed for approval in the US get completed, Trump will be gone, and solar and wind will be cheaper everyplace where they are allowed to compete without punitive charges placed on them.

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