The Potential Impact of President-Elect Trump on Climate Science

By Jeremiah, Pariag, Sustainability Analyst

With the recent election of Donald Trump, the progress made in the field of climate change looks as though it will soon hit a snag. Despite most climate scientists and non-American governments agreeing that the climate change is caused by humans, Donald Trump and the Republican Party refuse to acknowledge the science. This is not just an American issue and the decisions made by President-elect Trump when he takes office in 2017 have the potential for a significant impact in both the United States and the rest of the world.

Over the last eight years, the Obama administration has advanced climate science and prioritized climate change mitigation within the country and globally. Under the Trump administration, many are uncertain of the direction that the United States will take. Last week, Bill Gates noted that it would be wise for Trump to realize that allocating public funds to climate science would benefit jobs, businesses, and infrastructure development, all of which would prove to be beneficial to Trump’s electorate. Having said that, the Cabinet appointments made by Trump thus far do not provide much reason to be optimistic.

Two weeks ago, Trump named Scott Pruitt to be the new head of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). This decision has only increased environmental cynicism. Pruitt is longtime climate change denier and coal-enthusiast, who has also referred to global warming as a “hoax”. This appointment, as well as Trump’s promises during the campaign to limit the EPA, likely mean that the focus of climate change believers should be directed more towards contingency planning rather than cautious optimism. This contingency planning can be done and has already started in both the private sector and institutions.

In the private sector, one of the more talked-about initiatives is the Breakthrough Energy Ventures fund that Bill Gates and several other prominent business people have recently announced. This 20-year fund is planned to be $1 billion and will focus on clean energy. Considering that the Trump administration does not have any official position on climate change as of yet and his Cabinet selections are not encouraging to environmentalists, this fund is somewhat reassuring because it shows that some of the world’s most powerful individuals are taking matters into their own hands. On the bright side, government funding for green energy may not be a necessity in the future as fossil fuels become more expensive, but at such a critical time, governmental leadership must still be a focus.

Aside from the private sector, one of the more interesting approaches is currently being taken by the University of Toronto. At the University, professors at the Technoscience Research Unit, as well as academics from the United States, have joined forces to “save” environmental data. This initiative has stemmed from the belief that essential environmental research may be removed from government sources once Trump and Pruitt are in power. Understanding that this data contains vital information about cross-jurisdictional and international environmental issues, the University is considering this data-saving process a “race against time”. This approach acts almost as a fail-safe for the worst case scenario. At this point, there is no way to know if environmental issues that are simultaneously political issues will affect the research that is available through agencies; however, it is important to have this backup system in place to at least preserve the work that has been done to this point.

Going forward, it is important to stay focused on the expected impacts climate change may pose on our way of living. Regardless of who is President of the United States, scientists around the world, private leaders, and institutions will remain focused. The emphasis on preserving data is essential. Since the early 2000s, significant progress has been made in the field of climate change science and environmentalism. Due to this, it is imperative that we do not lose sight of the progress that has been made so far and that we continue to seek out and prioritize environmental solutions for human-caused issues.

Jeremiah is a graduate of the Master’s in Environment and Sustainability program at Western University and is currently working as an Environmental Management Consultant at Hardy Stevenson and Associates Limited in Toronto. Prior to this, he earned a Bachelor of Arts in Political Science — also from Western University — as well a Professional Certificate in Energy Innovation and Emerging Technologies at Stanford University.