29 March 2017

Experts respond to Trump’s climate blitzkrieg

Dawn Stover

President Donald Trump’s March 28 Executive Order on Promoting Energy Independence and Economic Growth is but the latest in a series of rollbacks intended to dismantle the Obama administration's climate change policies. Although Trump never uttered the words “climate change” during the signing ceremony, his order will have profound effects on programs and environmental protections intended to rein in global warming—primarily by reducing carbon dioxide emissions.

Among other things, Trump's order lifts a moratorium on coal leasing on federal lands, removes restrictions on fracking on federal and tribal lands, directs the Environmental Protection Agency to rewrite the Clean Power Plan regulations designed to limit emissions from power plants, and eliminates the requirement that climate change be considered in federal environmental reviews and decision making. The White House claims that these moves will bring back jobs in coal mining and foster energy independence.

The order does not entirely obliterate Obama’s climate legacy. The Clean Power Plan is not yet in effect, and will have to go through a lengthy rule-making process that will likely include legal challenges. Vehicle fuel-efficiency standards are still standing, although the White House says a rollback is coming soon. State mandates for renewable energy, along with other efforts aimed at reducing emissions, will continue. And the White House is thus far silent on whether the president intends to withdraw from the Paris Agreement.

Some critics say the Trump administration’s environmental rollbacks are even worse than they expected, and that it will be impossible for the United States to achieve its Paris pledges without the programs and protections that are being cut. Others see a silver lining for the Paris Agreement: Maybe the failure of US leadership will clear the way for other nations to work toward a more ambitious shift away from fossil fuels.

We asked leading experts on climate change to weigh in on what the Trump rollbacks mean for climate change, and for the Paris Agreement in particular. Here are their thoughts.

Invited Expert Commentary

Alice Hill
Research Fellow at the Hoover Institution
Stanford University
4 April 2017

By now everyone has heard that President Donald Trump’s Executive Order on Promoting Energy Independence and Economic Growth seeks to scrap the prior administration’s signature effort to curb carbon emissions: the Clean Power Plan. Less well known, but also enormously consequential, are the elements of the executive order that seek to dismantle federal efforts to help states and local communities deal with the damaging impacts of climate change.

Trump’s climate order takes aim at executive actions designed to increase preparedness for climate risks. Specifically, the new executive order revokes President Barack Obama’s Executive Order on Preparing the Nation for the Impacts of Climate Change, as well as his Presidential Memorandum on Climate Change and National Security. It also orders the Council on Environmental Quality to rescind its guidelines requiring federal agencies to consider the impacts of climate change during the environmental assessments that agencies conduct when they, for example, issue permits for major infrastructure projects.

Trump went one step beyond revocation and rescission: He also ordered the heads of all agencies to ferret out “any existing agency actions related to or arising from” Obama’s orders and guidelines—and to “suspend, revise, or rescind” any such actions. Why does this matter? It matters because these actions began the arduous work of constructing a lifeline for state and local governments to deal with the impacts of climate change—impacts like sea-level rise, increased frequency of heavy downpours, prolonged periods of excessively high temperatures, an increase in wildfires, and more severe droughts.

Take, for example, Obama’s executive order on preparing for the impacts of climate change: It ordered federal agencies to remove barriers that discourage investments in the nation’s resilience; to reform policies that increase the vulnerability of communities to climate-related risks; to identify opportunities to support more climate-resilient investments by state and local governments; and to develop and provide authoritative, accessible, and usable data, information, and decision-making tools for climate preparedness. Trump just ordered those federal efforts to halt. But without them, communities are largely left to their own devices to figure out their risks and come up with adaptation solutions. Meanwhile, federal actions that increase vulnerability continue unabated.

By revoking Obama’s memorandum on national security and climate change, Trump has summarily rejected the widely accepted analysis that climate impacts threaten our national security. In doing so, he ignores every major strategic document issued by the Departments of Defense, Homeland Security, and State; the collective assessment of all US intelligence agencies; and the public statements of every Secretary of Defense in the last decade, including his own. His action puts the nation ever more squarely in harm’s way. It increases the nation’s exposure to wide-ranging security challenges including threats to the stability of countries, heightened social and political tension, mass displacement of people, adverse effects on food prices and availability, increased risk to human health, negative impacts on investments and economic competitiveness, and potential sudden climatic shifts.

At the end of the day, Trump’s executive action has simultaneously undermined the United States’ ability to cut harmful emissions, and to prepare for the impacts that those harmful emissions cause. A decade ago, the title of a United Nations Foundation report succinctly identified what we should do when confronting the challenge of climate change: avoid the unmanageable, and manage the unavoidable. With the stroke of a pen, Trump has directed the federal government to do neither.

Sharon Burke
Senior Advisor, International Security Program and Resource Security Program
New America
4 April 2017

As the lights went down in the theater, the host of the film screening, a US Senator, beckoned to me to follow him.

“Thanks for doing this,” he whispered. “Listen, I wanted to ask you something. I traveled to a bunch of military bases last week, up and down the Eastern Seaboard...”

I winced, because I knew what was coming.

“They don’t know about climate change at all! They don’t even know about this,” he gestured toward the screen, where a movie about renewable energy use by US armed forces was unspooling on the screen.

He was not, of course, wrong. Today, there are around two million men and women serving in the active duty force, National Guard, and Reserves, and another 19 million or so veterans—and many of them don’t know much about climate change or renewable energy. Some probably do not even believe climate change is real (others are looking at overhead imagery of the melting Arctic and know it’s real, of course). So, if you approach a random soldier, sailor, airman, or Marine expecting to find a climate activist, you’re likely to be disappointed.

Which is one more reason President Donald Trump’s decision to roll back the Barack Obama executive order about climate change and national security is so troubling. Because climate change truly is a security issue—and it does affect military roles, missions, and capabilities—but figuring out how to deal with it is a leadership issue.

That does not mean militaries all over the world should be training to defeat climate change; this is not an adversary we can defeat with guns and bombs. But militaries do need to consider how changing conditions—such as floods, heat, severe storms, and drought—will affect everything from the availability of coastal bases to the number of training days to the frequency of military-scale disasters (including within the United States) to the stability of vulnerable nations and US interests and allies worldwide.

The Obama executive order was an attempt to improve the US government’s understanding of all those impacts of changing conditions. Specifically, this was an effort to close a gap between the information scientists produce and the information military planners need (“actionable information” in Pentagon parlance). Obama’s order had no particular budgetary impact—indeed, figuring out where not to build new military buildings if we want them to last, or which countries are most at risk for conflict, is arguably an important “cost avoidance” (also Pentagonese) strategy.

I like to think that all is not lost. The US military is assiduously apolitical, and we can all be grateful for that, but that doesn’t mean they’ve stopped working on security concerns that have sharp partisan differences—such as China, Russia, and Iran. In fact, the new Secretary of Defense told Congress that he considers climate change a valid national security concern, one the Department of Defense will take into account. So, it’s my hope that Pentagon leaders will make sure the work on climate security goes on, with or without an executive order.

John P. Holdren
Teresa and John Heinz Professor of Environmental Policy
John F. Kennedy School of Government, Harvard University
31 March 2017

President Donald Trump’s executive actions of earlier this week, which attempt to undermine progress made under President Barack Obama to combat the menace of human-caused climate change, are yet another example of the new administration’s propensity to let blind ideology “trump” clear-eyed science and good sense.

It has been established beyond reasonable scientific doubt that: (1) climate change is occurring globally at a pace and in a pattern not explained by natural influences; (2) the pace and pattern are explained by human emissions from fossil fuel burning and changes in land use; (3) the ongoing changes in climate are already causing serious harm to human health, property, and livelihoods—from increases in heatwaves, wildfires, pest outbreaks, torrential downpours, and the most powerful storms, as well as sea-level rise and shifts in the abundance and distribution of species (those we need, those we love, and those we hate); and (4) future harm in these categories will be far less if the world continues to act collectively to reduce the offending emissions than if it does not.

To ignore these realities, as the Trump administration is apparently intent on doing, not only will slow global progress on preventing a truly catastrophic degree of climate change; it also will unilaterally surrender the leadership position the United States has enjoyed, under President Obama, in the global effort to meet this common challenge. And, by crippling the US government’s efforts to support development and implementation of the most cost-effective remedies—as the Trump budget would do if approved by the Congress—this stance would ultimately sacrifice this country’s global economic competitiveness as well.

David Titley
Professor of Practice in Meteorology and Professor of International Affairs
Pennsylvania State University
31 March 2017

As the country gets used to the tempo, temperament, and triangulations of the Donald Trump administration, many are trying to divine or interpret what might be the “strategic intent” behind the president’s tweets, pronouncements, rallies, and executive orders. Readers “of a certain age” might be reminded of when the US security establishment engaged in “Kremlinology” to ascertain who was in, who was out, and what that might foretell about future Soviet policy.

Rather than examining Tuesday’s climate-rollback executive order in isolation, it may be more useful to view it in the larger context of the past few months. The United States appears to have embarked on a foreign and domestic policy path unlike anything we have seen since President Franklin D. Roosevelt and World War II. There is distrust, even antipathy, toward not just regulations but the regulators too. How else can you explain the Trump administration’s proposal to cancel NOAA’s popular Sea Grant program? Or the immediate targeting of the EPA, virtually since the day Trump won last November’s election?

There are other trends as well. The keepers of the post-World War II international order appear to be despised nearly as much as the regulators. It’s difficult to otherwise interpret the nearly 30 percent cut to the Department of State, and the exceptionally low profile to date of Secretary Rex Tillerson.

There is disinterest in the future. Many of the cuts to NOAA’s budget were for future capabilities. Setting aside the satellite program, the Office of Management and Budget’s “passback” document (containing White House instructions to NOAA for drawing up a more detailed budget) cut a future NOAA ship. This ship probably would have been built along the Gulf Coast—and a NOAA ship, like a US Navy or Coast Guard vessel, projects US presence. The ship would not have come online until the mid 2020s, though, after the Trump administration. Perhaps the guidance was, “Don’t fund projects I can’t see and use now.”

Finally, there is the well-documented disinterest in, and likely hostility toward, science. There has been an intentional lack of communication with the science community, despite repeated efforts to reach out to the White House. Research and science are bearing a disproportionate share of the proposed non-defense budget cuts. With respect to climate research, Office of Management and Budget Director Mick Mulvaney’s comment that “we consider that to be a waste of your money” tells you everything you need to know.

Climate has four strikes (at least) going against it: It’s a problem most acute in the future, after the Trump administration has left office; it’s science-based; the ultimate solutions require international cooperation at a level rarely seen; and the previous administration’s approach to climate change was highly regulatory in nature. Given these factors, what’s surprising is not that Trump rolled back the Obama executive orders on climate, but that it took him and his White House staff two months to do so.

Humans are inherently tribal in nature. Tribes of several dozen people, maybe larger, were our foundational social unit. Tribal affiliations, communications, and social skills—coupled with our relatively large brains—allowed humans to overcome our weaknesses as a slow and tasty snack somewhere in the middle of the food chain. Now we are the dominant (and arguably the most lethal) species on the planet, more than 7 billion in number. We have fought two horrific wars in the past century that together killed 50 million to 100 million people. We learned, through blood and treasure, that we must work together with people well outside our tribe, and use our brains to avoid the worst of future threats.

Somehow we have thrown away those lessons. The Trump administration—as evidenced by its policies, its proposed budget, and its executive orders—is taking us back decades or even centuries to a much more tribal and isolated existence, in which the only things that matter are the here and now, and the only power understood is at the end of a rock, a spear ... or a nuclear weapon. We’ve seen this movie before, and it rarely has a happy ending. There is little evidence to show that this time will be different.

Danny Cullenward
Research Associate
Near Zero and the Carnegie Institution for Science
30 March 2017

President Donald Trump’s executive order kicks off a long process to unwind the Obama administration’s nascent climate policy regime. Litigation will follow federal agencies’ actions to implement the order, with the courts determining how fast and how far the Trump administration’s deregulatory agenda will go.

Although the order doesn’t mention the Paris Agreement explicitly, it should be seen as a de facto withdrawal from the United States’ international commitments. The order formally rescinds President Obama’s Climate Action Plan and instructs federal agencies to review and revoke most of the key mitigation policies listed in the United States’ Paris pledge, most notably the Clean Power Plan. Other key Paris implementation policies, like national vehicle energy efficiency standards, are already under review.

At this point it is clear that the United States will most likely miss its Paris target, but there has never been a credible case that the United States was on track in the first place.

To be fair, the Obama administration deserves enormous credit for its role in driving the Paris Agreement to a successful conclusion. A bilateral climate deal between the United States and China in 2014 caused a sea change in international climate politics, after 20 years during which the world’s two biggest emitters jointly justified one another’s climate inaction. The Paris Agreement simply would not have been possible without President Obama’s far-sighted leadership, and that is no small legacy.

Before the ink was dry, however, the Obama administration’s domestic policy agenda had fallen short of its public pledge. Faced with a hostile Congress, the administration pivoted from a legislative to a regulatory strategy in its second term. Unfortunately, the ambition of many of its biggest rules—in particular, the Clean Power Plan, which largely codified business-as-usual trends in the electricity sector—fell short of what was needed to put the United States on track for Paris compliance. Even as the Obama administration pushed for increased transparency at the international negotiating table, the scientific integrity of the United States’ domestic policy assessments suffered as the gap between pledge and implementation widened.

Was failure preordained? Not at all: Even if stronger regulations weren’t politically feasible under Obama, a Hillary Clinton administration might have revitalized the Paris target. Insiders and outsiders alike were preparing for such a push, but the taboo of acknowledging the gap between Obama’s climate policies and the Paris target makes the prospects of such an effort difficult to gauge. Success would have required executive actions comparable in magnitude, if not direction, to those now coming from the Trump White House.

Climate policy proponents have every reason to mourn the passing of an era, but this loss also offers a chance to reflect. After a rocky start, the Obama administration made real and significant progress on climate, launching a legal framework its successors might have tended with care. The setbacks begun by the new executive order are real, but should be measured against actual progress, not hope.

Once the dust has settled on this next unfortunate chapter, it will be critical to return to the federal policy debate with greater ambition: not only to make up for lost time, but to recognize that past efforts—however valiant—fell short of even the United States’ modest Paris pledge, to say nothing of the brutal reality of global carbon budgets. Climate stabilization will not be possible without a bolder vision and firmer commitment to policy transparency.

Richard Somerville
Distinguished Professor Emeritus and Research Professor
Scripps Institution of Oceanography, University of California, San Diego
30 March 2017

The biggest unknown about future climate is human behavior. Everything depends on what humanity does. Those of us who are alive today have our hands on the thermostat that controls the climate of our children and grandchildren. Carbon dioxide is the most serious of the heat-trapping gases that human activities emit into the atmosphere. A considerable portion of the carbon dioxide we emit can remain in the atmosphere for many centuries. It accumulates.

Deciding how much global warming is tolerable is a political decision. It depends on priorities, values, risk tolerance, economics, and so forth. That’s how we got the 2-degree Celsius target of the 2015 Paris Agreement. This target is an international commitment to take actions that will limit global warming to 2 degrees Celsius (3.6 degrees Fahrenheit) above the average pre-industrial temperature of the Earth. We’ve already experienced about half that much warming.

Now that the nations of the world have agreed in Paris on how much warming is to be allowed, climate science can tell us approximately how much more carbon dioxide and other heat-trapping gases and particles can be emitted. To have a reasonable chance of meeting the 2-degree Celsius target, the science shows clearly that emissions need to be reduced drastically and quickly. Science is based on facts and evidence. Politics sets the target, but the urgency of reducing emissions arises directly from the physics and chemistry of the climate system. It has nothing to do with politics.

In the United States today, many corporations and states and localities are taking strong actions to mitigate climate change, and they can continue to act, regardless of what the Trump administration does. Many other countries are acting vigorously too, and they will continue to act. Analysis shows that the cost of mitigating climate change is small compared with the costs of dealing with the damage that unmitigated climate change will cause. For example, doing nothing about climate change can lead to sea level rise so large that coastal cities must eventually be abandoned. Their populations will be forced to move to higher ground.

Yet President Donald Trump has nominated many people to his cabinet, and to other high positions in his administration, who simply do not accept the scientific consensus on climate change, namely that it is real, it is serious, it is happening here and now, and it is overwhelmingly human-caused. This consensus is exceptionally robust, supported by some 97 percent of climate scientists who are most active in publishing research. Trump may well be the only head of state of a major nation who denies the reality and seriousness of human-caused climate change. Will he choose to be an international laughingstock, mocked and scorned by other heads of state?

Polls show that most Americans would prefer to see strong federal government actions on climate change. Despite a Trump administration led by people who ignore facts and reject science, the forces driving clean energy will continue, regardless of any efforts by Trump to reverse them. The market is turning against fossil fuels. Coal companies are now going bankrupt. In many places, solar and wind energy without subsidies are already cheaper than fossil fuels. The energy source for wind and solar is free. Fossil fuel plants have commodity costs for the fuel they burn. Vehicle electrification is happening fast. Clean energy is destined to be a leading source of jobs and economic growth.

Prosperity does not require emitting heat-trapping gases. Everyone who takes climate change seriously should stay hopeful, remain active, and work hard to build on the progress already made. And be optimistic!

Roger Pielke, Jr.
Professor, Environmental Studies Program
University of Colorado
29 March 2017

Instead of looking at President Trump’s executive order on climate as a policy, we might look at it instead as political propaganda. Trump signed the order in front of a group of coal miners. He praised them effusively and solicited a long ovation for them. When is the last time that coal miners have been applauded or even praised by the White House? Many have pointed out correctly that coal jobs are decreasing because of national and global market forces, so it is unlikely that these jobs are coming back. But the point here might not be jobs, but as Aretha Franklin said, R-E-S-P-E-C-T.

Many of those pressing for climate action have embraced the partisanship of the issue, and acted to enhance it. I saw this at play while testifying before the House Science Committee today. Those labeled by the term “climate deniers” might be the original “deplorables.” Yale law professor Dan Kahan has concluded that the incessant demand that everyone must believe the same thing on climate science—or they are stupid rubes—actually backfires: “It’s a bumper sticker, and it says ‘f**k you’ on it.”

So long as the climate issue is celebrated as a partisan wedge issue, there will be a huge opening for those who think like Trump to use it as populist propaganda. While partisan food fights are exciting to some, those of us interested in climate action might think about how we got here (hint: it’s not all “their” fault)—where “here” is a situation in which climate policies are being rolled back, and few seem to care.

Can those interested in climate action remake the subject into a bipartisan issue respectful of all Americans and their values—regardless of their political party, home state, or education? We’d better, because without broad public support climate policies are going nowhere. We should pay attention to Trump’s propaganda, there are lessons for us all there.

Raymond T. Pierrehumbert
Halley Professor of Physics
University of Oxford
29 March 2017

President Barack Obama left a surprisingly deep legacy of policies designed to reduce US emissions of the greenhouse gases that are causing global climate disruption. However, because of obstructive Republican attitudes to such efforts, none of the policies are enshrined in legislation. They all came about as a result of one or another form of executive action. Thus there was always a risk that a less-climate-friendly president would seek to undo them, and that is precisely what is happening now, in spades.

Make no mistake, President Trump’s actions have nothing to do with restoring coal mining jobs (which have been lost to automation and good old free-market competition with superior energy sources), American jobs in general, competitiveness, or energy independence. Most of the policy changes undertaken in Trump’s latest executive order on climate, as well as earlier orders, in fact do harm to the American economy and nothing to promote more secure energy supplies. They are not pro-anything, but practically seek to make a virtue of trashing the climate by burning as much fossil fuel as possible, even if it costs the economy more to do so. For example, when health and environmental effects are factored in, burning coal represents a net cost to the economy. Really, it’s just revenge politics—an infantile need to shred Obama’s legacy—with a lot of pandering to a dwindling base thrown in for bad measure. The actual interests of the nation take a distant back seat.

Among the policies announced in the latest executive order, the lifting of the moratorium on coal leasing on federal lands will have the least effect. Coal demand is in free fall worldwide, especially with China moderating its coal use, and heavy competition from wind and natural gas, so there is little appetite for bankrupt coal companies to take on major new commitments.

Two other actions—the directive to revise (read “lower”) the social cost of carbon used in figuring the impact of regulations, and to more broadly eliminate climate as a factor in environmental impact reviews under the National Environmental Policy Act—are potentially more consequential. Both measures will remove barriers to projects that increase carbon dioxide emissions, though both will be vigorously fought in court. The social cost of carbon represents an estimate (in monetary terms) of the damage done by emitting carbon dioxide, and is a key factor in the cost-benefit analyses used in regulatory review.

Setting in motion the long, drawn-out process of eviscerating Obama’s Clean Power Plan has rightfully garnered a lot of attention, and will lead to some interesting court arguments as states that are in favor of the plan defend it against Trump’s attempts to weaken it. If Trump succeeds, he will probably delay the retirement of some creaky old power plants, but a victory is unlikely to lead to the building of many more coal-fired plants—unless Trump takes the radical action of actually subsidizing the burning of coal (not yet proposed, but I wouldn’t put it past him).

The most consequential environmental onslaught is not part of the latest executive order. On March 16, Trump announced his intention to roll back the next round of Obama-era automotive fuel economy standards. This could have a very serious effect on US emissions. Until 2013, US transport-related emissions had been declining, but since then, despite more stringent efficiency standards, the oil price collapse has led to a marked rise in consumption, and emissions are nearly back to their peak 2008 level. Transportation has now surpassed power generation as the biggest contributor to US emissions. Car companies seeking short-term profits from sales of giant SUVs have foolishly and immorally allied themselves with Trump’s agenda, having thoroughly forgotten how recently they had to be bailed out of near-bankruptcy owing to their inability to compete in the arena of energy-efficient vehicles. They’ll be back at the trough the minute oil prices swing around again, as they inevitably will.

Trump’s climate-hatred actions are indeed fulfilling what he campaigned on, but so did Obamacare repeal. Once people realized what they were actually getting, there was open rebellion. Trump is a LOSER. He showed that on health care, and once the American people realize the snake-oil they’ve been sold in the guise of “jobs and energy independence,” he will be a LOSER on climate as well. It’s only a question of how much damage he does before he ultimately loses.

Steven W. Running
Regents Professor of Ecology and director of the Numerical Terradynamic Simulation Group
University of Montana
29 March 2017

With the stroke of his pen, and evident personal glee, Donald Trump became the biggest environmental villain in world history. Following the trajectory he proposes will ultimately lead to global climate catastrophe, but I doubt he has thought that far. For him this is simply personal grandstanding. Is it possible for one self-obsessed, truth-averse man to ruin the whole world? Is it? Really? I certainly hope not. It is only possible if everyone else capitulates.

This is the time for international leaders to step to the front and take global leadership of the climate issue, charting implementation of the Paris accord and forging essential future policies. Who needs Trump? This is the time for the US Congress, particularly moderate House and Senate Republicans, to collectively resist this shameless assault on the future of our children, grandchildren, and generations to come. This is the time for courageous governors and state leaders to show they don’t look backward at obsolete energy but have better and more realistic plans of their own. Leadership is emerging right down to America’s hometowns and religious institutions, doing what they know is right. This is the time for our corporate leaders to show they have done much more strategic thinking than Trump has, and that they see a radically different future for the world. Hundreds of US business leaders openly supported the Paris Climate accord. Now is when they need to publicly resist the scientific and moral travesty Trump is pursuing. Ironically, considering his background as the CEO of one of the world’s largest oil companies, Rex Tillerson could become a national hero if he spoke the truth now on climate. The Trump children likewise could become national heroes if they would openly speak the truth on climate.

A strong majority of Americans want the government to regulate carbon dioxide as a pollutant. The discussion rightfully should focus on how society charts a new path, not on whether there is a problem. Every major societal change disrupts industries that no longer produce what society needs, while millions of new jobs are created in the emerging industries. It is morally and economically right to help workers in old industries train for new occupations. In my state of Montana, we don’t need to lay off coal miners; their work can be redirected to restore the unneeded strip mines to viable landscapes over thousands of acres, with funds that already exist from reclamation bonding.

We cannot let one man ruin the planet. At every venue and level of society, we need to openly state the climate truth, and explore with mutual respect the alternatives society must pursue.

Kevin Trenberth
Distinguished Senior Scientist
Climate Analysis Section, National Center for Atmospheric Research
29 March 2017

The Environmental Protection Agency’s Clean Power Plan was in many ways a remarkable achievement. It took a regulatory approach to addressing limits on emissions, whereas other approaches are preferred (such as carbon taxes) but were not viable in the Congress. The EPA approach followed the agency’s 2009 endangerment finding, which concluded that the current and projected concentrations of carbon dioxide and five other greenhouse gases in the atmosphere “threaten the public health and welfare of current and future generations.” The plan was released on August 3, 2014, after receiving 3.8 million public comments. That is an incredible number, and it highlights the open democratic process. All of this process has probably now been destroyed with a cavalier stroke of a pen.

The Clean Power Plan is remarkable in terms of its flexibility and implementation by individual states. It contains building blocks and ways forward to make more efficient coal plants, more effective use of gas plants, increased use of renewables, and better energy efficiency—all of which are exceedingly valuable goals even without reductions in carbon dioxide, because they cut down on unsustainable and wasteful practices and pave the way to lower energy costs. Why wouldn't all Americans want to do that?

It would be one thing if the White House had given due consideration to the elements of the plan and what parts are unacceptable. But no such assessment has taken place. Instead it appears that all the work has been cast aside for no good reason. It is not as if the Clean Power Plan has been replaced with anything else that provides alternative incentives for greater efficiency and more sustainability, although a reformulation might do that. The rollback does not appear to take into account the economic costs of climate and weather extremes, already several tens of billions of dollars per year for the United States alone. Hence the benefits of climate action were evidently not considered when drafting the order.

This step, and others likely to follow, will be devastating for the climate system. The United States is responsible for more carbon dioxide in the atmosphere than any other country, and has a moral and ethical obligation to lead the world out of this quagmire—and to help compensate other countries in various ways, including building resiliency, planning for adaptation to global warming, and transferring technology to vulnerable nations. Air quality will suffer. And the world is now a huge step closer to irreparable damage to the climate system. These kinds of steps make it much more likely that the planet will exceed a 2 degree Celsius rise in global mean surface temperature, which will result in disruptions in farming and ecosystems that will make them no longer viable in current forms.

The executive order is bad news for the United States and the world. The United States loses in terms of leadership and influence; others, including China, take over. US industry falls behind in terms of needed new technology. This action is not just “sad,” it is irresponsible. It could and should mean tariffs on US goods—the penalty for failing to live up to pledges made in Paris. It will likely mean that other nations follow suit, and we race to the bottom: Let’s see how rapidly we can destroy the global commons of the atmosphere, with no regard for the entire planet, our children, and future generations.

My hope is that wiser heads prevail, and the science of climate and climate change is properly taken into account.