A presidential term lasts only four years, but in the climate, it lasts for thousands. Carbon dioxide is a stubborn molecule: Once emitted into the air, it hangs around, cycling between the oceans and the atmosphere, some of it for as long as hundreds of thousands of years. It means that today’s energy policies will impact the temperature of our planet far beyond any foreseeable future. It means the election of Donald Trump could be the political equivalent of the asteroid that ended the Cretaceous period.
On Wednesday, stocks in the bankrupt coal giant Peabody Energy shot up by nearly 50 percent. Oil shares rose, though more modestly, while solar plunged. The markets’ moves reflect Trump’s campaign promises on energy and environmental policy, which would unleash a torrent of fossil-fuel production: to repeal the Obama administration’s regulations on carbon-dioxide emissions from power plants, as well as other environmental protections; eliminate the Environmental Protection Agency altogether; cut all federal spending on climate change, including funds to the United Nations and R&D for renewable energy and electric vehicles; and to “cancel” the international climate accord reached in Paris last year. According to an analysis by Lux Research, these policies would lead to an added 3.4 billion tons of carbon-dioxide pollution every year, compared to what Hillary Clinton proposed.
“A Trump presidency might be game over for the climate…. It might make it impossible to stabilize planetary warming below dangerous (i.e. greater than 2C) levels,” Dr. Michael Mann, a climatologist and geophysicist at Pennsylvania State University, said in an e-mail. “Hopefully the world will find a way to move forward in combating climate change even if the US refuses to play an active role.”
Trump will be the only head of state in the world who rejects the scientific consensus that human activity is causing climate change—a “hoax,” he’s called it. He’s tapped prominent climate skeptic Myron Ebell, who directs the Center for Energy and Environment at the conservative Competitive Enterprise Institute, to lead his transition team at the EPA, and Mike McKenna, an energy lobbyist who has worked for Koch Companies and Dow Chemical, to head the team at the Energy Department. The fossil-fuel industry is already salivating over the opportunities the new administration presents. TransCanada, the company behind the Keystone XL pipeline, has made plans to meet with Trump’s team to pitch restarting the project. Republican Senator Lisa Murkowski, who chairs the Senate Energy Committee, declared shortly after the election was called for Trump that she will be pushing to open the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge in Alaska to drilling.