Trump Loves to Be Loved. Climate Leaders Hope That Could Be the Opportunity They Need
Most Americans want the U.S. to take action on climate, and, at the COP22 meeting in Marrakech, leaders say the best hope for continued American action on climate is to appeal to Trump’s desire for popularity.
By Lucia Graves | Pacific Standard Magazine
As a candidate, Trump has called global warming a hoax, said he wants to dismantle the Paris Agreement, and vowed to halt all funds to United Nations world climate programs. He’s also called for increased extraction of oil, coal, and natural gas reserves at a time when climate leaders are seeking to limit emissions by transitioning to renewable forms of energy.
But at the global climate talks in Marrakech, Morocco, climate leaders are espousing something more optimistic than the headlines suggest.
Of course nobody expects Trump to emerge as a climate leader when he takes over the White House on January 20th; at COP22, his unexpected election last week has cast an undeniable pall over what had been a relatively cheerful post-Paris landscape.
But Trump does like to be popular.
That desire has caused skeptics to call him a chameleon, a charlatan, and a huckster. But diplomats see it as an opportunity: Given decidedly high public support [66%] among Americans for U.S. involvement in a global climate pact, Trump too might read the tea leaves. And, publicly, that’s what the world’s representatives in Marrakech are betting on.
It’s what Al Gore was alluding to when he recently expressed the hope that Trump will work with the “overwhelming majority of us who believe that the climate crisis is the greatest threat we face as a nation.” And it’s what Royal meant when said she would “dare to believe” that Trump’s promises on the campaign trail were, at least in part, a kind of theater. Even China seems to be on board with this particular line of criticism: “I believe a wise political leader should take policy stances that conform with global trends,” Xie Zhenhua, the country’s climate chief, told Reuters at the beginning of the month.
But perhaps it’s Morocco’s Minister of the Environment Hakima El Haité who put it best. “We have for many months listened to the candidate Trump. Today we have to deal with the President Trump,” she told me on Sunday, as she was leaving an event just north of the city in the Palmeraie, a stretch of palm-studded desert. “Those are two personalities.”
She’s right. One of the joys and the terrors — but mostly terrors — of having a president-elect who has reinvented himself as a real estate tycoon, playboy, and reality-television star, is there’s no definitively knowing what he’ll do. By a slim margin, Republican voters remain opposed to U.S. cooperation in the global effort to limit greenhouse gas emissions, but, again, that isn’t the case for the general electorate. And Trump didn’t even win the popular vote to begin with.
Another mildly encouraging fact for reformers: He’s flipped his opinion over the years on practically every area of policy, and climate change is certainly among them. On the latter, he’s gone from insisting global warming is a hoax to complaining that it threatens one of his golf courses. Most recently, he’s conceded climate change is a scientific reality. He just won’t allow that humans are to blame for it.
Perhaps the biggest problem with climate leaders’ stubborn optimism is that the reasons to doubt Trump’s good intentions on climate go well beyond toxic campaign promises. Already he has named Myron Ebell, a noted climate contrarian who has called the Clean Power Plan illegal, to take on the Environmental Protection Agency. Some reports even say that Trump’s transition team has already come up with ways to bypass the supposed four-year process for withdrawing from the Paris climate accord.
But negotiators so far are turning a deaf ear to all that. They won’t be felled by anonymous arrows; there’s simply too much at stake. They’re waiting to hear directly from Trump.
The above contains excerpts. Read the full report at Pacific Standard Magazine