Donald Trump has done something big for the war on climate change. He has given us an enemy. And that’s important.
In the 10 years I’ve been agitating for action on climate change, I’ve had many discussions about how we can galvanise people to make the step-change we need to cut our carbon emissions by at least 80% by 2050.
I’ve heard people lament many times that we don’t have a sense of urgency or togetherness as people typically do in war time and that’s because there is no obvious external enemy.
Well now that’s changed.
We have an enemy not even Disney could have dreamed up. By tea-time on Friday he had taken Barack Obama’s climate change policy off the White House website and replaced it with his grotesque America First Energy Policy, with its commitment to “eliminate harmful and unnecessary policies such as the Climate Action Plan” and “embrace the shale oil and gas route to bring jobs and prosperity to millions of Americans”.
On that, as on most things, he has been as good as his word. This week he signed an order to revive the plan to build the Keystone pipeline which will shift more than 800,000 barrels of oil a day from the Canadian tar sands through Nebraska to refineries on the Gulf Coast. Pretty boy Canadian premier Justin Trudeau says he’ll be along for the ride.
Obama’s decision to cancel the pipeline was campaigned for by thousands of concerned citizens and was hailed as a victory against the fossil fuel industry. If North and South American reserves of shale oil and gas are burned human life has no place on this planet.
As one-time presidential contender Bernie Sanders said, referring to Keystone and the Dakota crude oil pipeline, which was also resurrected: “President Trump ignored the voices of millions and put the short-term profits of the fossil fuel industry ahead of the future of our planet.”
The speed and scale of the destruction wrought by Trump in his first week has shocked me but it shouldn’t have.
If I had been paying more attention I would have been aware of the terrifying witch-hunt of people with a proper respect for the science of climate change from the White House staff — I refuse to use the term “believer in climate change” because this is not a question of faith it is a question of fact.
His administration issued a list of 74 questions for the Energy Department, asking officials to identify which employees had worked on efforts to tackle climate change at home and abroad, including last year’s signing by the US of the UN’s Paris Agreement.
The department refused to name the names, saying that it was going to respect “the integrity and independence of our employees at our labs”.
But Trump’s people can easily smoke them out. US scientists have become so scared that his administration will move to destroy the massive body of evidence which supports climate science that many are desperately copying their data and storing it in independent servers around the world.
“It’s not unreasonable to think they would want to take down the very data that they dispute,” said scientist Michael Halpern of the Union of Concerned Scientists. “Scientists are right to preserve data and archive websites before those who want to dismantle federal climate change research programmes storm the castle.”
Andrew Dessler, a professor of atmospheric sciences in Texas, told the Washington Post that he feared the Trump administration would stop scientists collecting data which supports the science of climate change.
“Think about how much better off the people who don’t want to do anything about climate change would be if all the long-term temperature trends didn’t exist.”
Meanwhile, a new hymn-sheet has been prepared for the cast members of the horror show which is Trump’s administration. Climate change is no longer simply “bullshit” or “a Chinese hoax”, as he had announced.
At their senate confirmation hearings, his appointees definitely thought there was something in this climate change business but they were sure as hell not going to do anything about it.
Rex Tillerson, former chief of Exxon Mobil and now US Secretary of State, said greenhouse gases were having “an effect” on the climate but our ability to predict their effect was “very limited”.
Scott Pruitt, ex-attorney general in Oklahoma, who has sued the Environmental Protection Agency 13 times and will now be its chief, has agreed that we couldn’t measure “with precision” the impact of humans on the climate.
I don’t believe Trump or his senior appointees disbelieve the science of climate change. But they do not want to take action which they think would impair the US economy in the short term.
Their strategy is to sow seeds of doubt and let some other administration take remedial action.
This contrasts with the sentiments expressed by Barack Obama when he signed his Climate Action Plan three years ago: “Our founders believed that those of us in positions of power are not just custodians of the present but also caretakers of the future. They charged us to make decisions with an eye on a longer horizon than the arc of our own political careers.”
I was as disgusted as most by Donald Trump’s decade-old boasts of having sexually assaulted women, but he didn’t make being a chauvinist pig mandatory. I’m more motivated to protest against Americans for voting for him, notwithstanding those comments, than against Trump for uttering them.
Even if I believed Trump was genuinely against abortion, it wouldn’t be the defining issue for me, because it’s not a black and white issue. As Panti said recently, you can be a gay communist and be against abortion. It’s different in the US, where thousands of Trump voters support capital punishment but would ban abortion.
In Ireland, many are ‘pro-life’ within a system of values which includes an abhorrence of war and social inequality and the destruction of the planet by climate change.
But surely nearly all of us can agree that a senior politician who attempts to destroy the scientific evidence supporting humanity’s efforts to have a future on this planet is The Enemy. And the very speed and precision with which he has moved to eradicate the science from his administration shows how big a threat it is to the interests he represents.
As author Mark Stevenson said on RTÉ radio during the week, Trump and Vladimir Putin represent the last gasp of the “petro-state”. No wonder they’re friends.
So thank you, Mr Trump. There is no ambiguity. You are my enemy because you threaten the beautiful planet on which we depend for life itself and your actions will rob my children of their future. I was up half the night making my placard and I will march against you until we defeat you.
See 350.org for information on the People’s Climate March on the White House organised for April 29.
Administration issued a list of 74 questions for the Energy Department, asking officials to identify which employees had worked on efforts to tackle climate change