If Trump steps back on climate action, will the rest of us step up?

Shockwaves reverberated throughout the globe on Wednesday 9 November as people woke up to the news that Donald Trump had been elected the 45th US President. Many negative reperussions are feared from this outcome. Jennifer Mc Aree of Transition Monaghan elaborates below. As we hear that 2016 will be the hottest year on record she focuses on the Trump’s threat of inaction on climate change and what we can do to counteract it.

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Like most people I was astounded at the US Presidential election results. The belief many held that Hillary Clinton would shave past Donald Trump to become the first female US president unfortunately did not transpire. It was like Brexit, but bigger!

Donald Trump has continuously objectified and insulted women, incited hatred for non-white people and ridiculed homosexuals. For this he received rapturous applause from devoted fans who are basically fearful and disenfranchised citizens. A sinister movement of white supremacy, sovereignty and obsession with infinite economic growth has arisen in the US once again. Thus the fanfare for Trump’s slogan: “Let’s make America great again!” The Brexit campaign also revealed some of this ethos and such tensions continue to grow across Europe.

In environmental terms, Trump could be catastrophic to the fragile progress made on climate action in the US. He has declared that climate change is a “hoax” created by the Chinese in order to damage the US economy. He has vowed to scrap promises made by Barack Obama after last year’s historic COP21 Paris Agreement and his Clean Power Plan, which aims to gradually replace dirty, climate damaging coal plants with renewable energies such as wind and solar power. Hillary Clinton adopted certain polices espoused by Senator Bernie Sanders such as support for clean energy, declaring that the US could become a green energy leader and create millions of new jobs in the process.


Instead Trump has won out, in part by pandering to the big oil and coal companies. Blue collar workers who fear further job losses through the shutting down of coal-powered plants have supported him. Trump wants to reduce the powers of the American Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and place fossil fuel sympathisers in influential positions. The Republican Party already dominates the Senate. It is no secret that several of its members get support from the oil industry and are staunch climate deniers (in other words they reject the overwhelming scientific evidence that this period of climate change is manmade). It is ironic that here in Ireland this week is ‘Science Week’ – and some events in Cavan-Monaghan are actually on the climate change topic!


Trump is now likely to plough ahead with two massive oil pipelines (Keystone XL and the Dakota Access Pipeline). These have been stalled to date due to protests at ‘Standing Rock’ by environmentalists and local communities including Native Americans. They claim that it will threaten water supplies and sacred Native American sites and ultimately contribute to climate change. Some environmentalists in Ireland have highlighted the fact that the Choctaw tribe in the US raised money to send to Ireland at the height of the Famine and that now it is our turn to support such native communities.


So how does this election result affect us here in Ireland? Well, the USA is the second biggest carbon emitter in the world after China. Where America leads, many follow. Both superpowers have been making promising strides towards the green agenda under Obama’s encouragement. If Trump backtracks on this fragile progress, many nations such as India and China may ask why they should take further climate action when the US continues to burn fossil fuels as always. India currently depends on inward investment to develop renewable energies, but if Trump refuses (as threatened) to donate the billions Obama promised to struggling nations affected by climate change, what is the alternative?

Before we can gloat however, Laura Burke of the Irish EPA (Environmental Protection Agency) has just reported that Ireland will breach its binding greenhouse gas limits for 2016 and 2017 after a surge in greenhouse gas emissions across the transport, energy and agriculture sectors last year. We are likely to breach the EU 2020 targets, which will cost the Irish state €300 million in EU fines per year onwards.

lbLaura Burke, Director General, EPA

Is there any hope in all of this? Surprisingly, yes. A strong anti-fossil fuel movement is present and growing across the globe. Wind and solar energy are becoming more widespread and affordable. More countries are now aware of the effects of climate change on their own doorstep and want to act. Donald Trump may even be the catalyst we all need to fight further for a safer climate, a fairer society and a more sustainable economy. We can lobby our Government to do more in Ireland. We can further develop renewable energies, support local food producers, reduce meat consumption and focus on minimising energy use and needless materialism and waste. Time will tell how Trump will affect America and those of us further afield. I leave the last word to American climate scientist Dr Philip B. Duffy: “If the United States Government steps back then others will have to step up.”

Click here for a list of events in December

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