The Trump Administration Has Resigned Itself to Climate Catastrophe
If the earth’s temperature climbs 1.5 degrees Celsius (2.7 degrees Fahrenheit), sea levels are expected to rise 40 centimeters and the availability of fresh water could decrease as much as 9 percent, according to a 2016 study from the scientific journal Earth System Dynamics. An increase of 2 degrees C (3.6 degrees F) would be catastrophic; whole swaths of Africa, South America and Asia would see dramatic reductions in their crop yields, and 98 percent of the planet’s coral reefs would be at risk.
By the Trump administration’s latest estimations, the planet will warm as much as 4 degrees C (7.2 degrees F) by 2100—this despite the president’s claim that global warming is a hoax perpetrated by the Chinese government. But not only is it unwilling to address this impending cataclysm, it appears eager to accelerate the earth’s demise.
“The administration did not offer this dire forecast as part of an argument to combat climate change,” The Washington Post’s Juliet Eilperin, Brady Dennis and Chris Mooney write of last month’s environmental impact statement. “Just the opposite: The analysis assumes the planet’s fate is already sealed.”
Issued by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) as a rationalization for the president’s proposal to eliminate fuel efficiency standards for cars and select trucks built after 2020, the statement acknowledges that only radical cuts in carbon emissions can alter our present trajectory. Such cuts, it notes, “would require substantial increases in technology innovation and adoption compared to today’s levels … which is not currently technologically feasible or economically feasible.”
The safety agency’s findings are broadly consistent with recent studies indicating a global climate crisis has increased the frequency of extreme weather events, and that accelerated Arctic warming has prolonged summer weather in North America, potentially leading to “very-extreme extremes.” A report from the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences in August raised the possibility of a “Hothouse Earth” in which warming oceans and climbing temperatures create a feedback loop that endangers the very future of humanity. Such models remain theoretical, but U.N. Secretary-General António Guterres recently declared that “climate change is moving faster than we are” and that “we face a direct existential threat.”
What ultimately distinguishes the NHTSA’s statement is its nihilism. “The amazing thing they’re saying is human activities are going to lead to this rise of carbon dioxide that is disastrous for the environment and society,” Michael McCracken, a former scientist at the U.S. Global Change Research Program, tells the Post. “And then they’re saying they’re not going to do anything about it.”
In 2017, President Trump withdrew from the Paris Climate Accords, a largely symbolic agreement that nonetheless aims to curb greenhouse gas emissions and keep the planet’s temperature within 1.5 degrees C of pre-industrial levels. It may have been buried in a 500-page document, but the administration’s message is clear: If we as a species are to survive the Anthropocene, the rest of the world cannot put its faith in the United States.