The election of Donald Trump to the presidency raises all sorts of questions about future US policy on greenhouse gases and climate change. An opinion piece by Robert Stavins (“Goodbye to the Climate,” NY Times, 9 Nov 2016) lists the promises that Trump made on the campaign trail: rescinding all actions by the Obama administration, stopping all US funding for all UN climate-related activities (this would include funding for the IPCC?), stopping all work on reducing greenhouse gases (including reversing EPA regulations to date), and restoring the US coal industry.
If this list sounds like a horrific prospect, consider this: the Obama administration’s regulations to date have not brought us anywhere near meeting our obligations under the Paris agreement. A recent analysis published in Nature Climate Change, and reported in Science magazine (26 Sept 2016), states, “Even if the United States implements all current and proposed [Obama administration] policies, it would miss its 2025 target by as much as 1.5 billion metric tons of carbon dioxide per year—roughly 20% of the nation’s total emissions.” 20% is a pretty big ‘miss,’ especially when we remember that it is 20% of the gases emitted by the world’s second largest producer of greenhouse gases. It is certainly not the kind of outcome that anyone who is concerned about climate change can tolerate.
Which raises this question: if a Trump administration fails to act on climate, or rolls back/looks the other way on existing regulations, what responsibility do institutions like Reed College have? Do we just close our eyes (as the Reed trustees have done in the past) and pursue whatever activities and investments the law allows because climate change is a ‘political’ issue? I sincerely hope not. Whether Reed’s trustees like it or not, we may be entering a period when conviction must finally translate into action.
Nov 22, 2016 update – Science magazine (14 Oct 2016, p. 154) reports “401 – Lowest concentration of carbon dioxide, in ppm, measured for 2016 at Mauna Loa in Hawaii in late September, before values climb again. The site may now have passed the 400-ppm marked permanently.”