Illustration: DonkeyHotey / Flickr
Shortly after we, the United States of America, elected Donald Trump president, I opined that it meant war. It’s about time for an update.
Trump ran on a decidedly anti-environment platform, pledging to bring back coal, rescind President Obama’s Clean Energy Plan and nix the Paris Agreement. He also famously called climate change a hoax, claiming that China invented the concept to gain an edge on U.S. manufacturing. Beijing has since responded with a stiff repudiation, pointing out that Trump’s fellow Republicans, Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush, started the international conversation on global warming.
But upon becoming President-elect, Trump dispensed with most of the incendiary vitriol that fueled his campaign and even seemed to moderate some of his more extreme positions.
In a spectacle of an interview with the New York Times editorial staff, Trump announced that he intends to keep an open mind on climate change. He even walked back his effusive proclamations to abandon the Paris Agreement, telling journalists at the luncheon that he’s “looking at it very closely.”
Then came a bombshell Politico feature painting Ivanka Trump as a potential climate-change hero eager to become a balancing force in her father’s inner circle, though the lengthy story cited only a single, anonymous source.
And only days ago, the godfather of the modern environmental movement, former Vice President Al Gore, marched into Trump Tower — at the behest of Ivanka — for a conversation on climate change with The Donald himself. Gore optimistically described the meeting as a “sincere search for areas of common ground” and called it “an extremely interesting conversation, and to be continued.”
Even Hollywood hero Leonardo DiCaprio bent the President-elect’s ear. His team took a wise approach in attempting to convince Trump that investing in sustainable infrastructure would reap booming, economic rewards.
But now it looks likes Gore, Leo and the rest of us environmentalists with a dim flame of hope still flickering in our hearts may have been played.
On the same day that he met with DiCaprio, and only a day after his conversation with Gore, Trump announced that Scott Pruitt, a climate denier, was his choice to lead the Environmental Protection Agency.
In addition taking hundreds of thousands of dollars from the fossil-fuel industry, Pruitt has repeatedly sued the EPA and even organized a secret alliance among Republican attorneys general to oppose President Obama’s environmental regulations. It is only fair to assume he will dismantle the agency he has been tapped to lead.
By nominating one of the EPA’s greatest enemies to become its secretary, Trump made a mockery of this week’s meetings with high-profile activists and made his administration’s position on climate change, energy and environmental protection quite clear.
There’s more, of course. In the aftermath of the New York Times interview, Reince Priebus, who will be Trump’s Chief of Staff and is a climate denier himself, made sure to clarify the President-elect’s official stance on climate change: “Most of it is a bunch of bunk.” Indeed, Trump continues to cobble together a cabinet full of climate deniers.
What all this means, then, is that regardless of his public antics in the form of meetings with celebrity environmentalists, the President-elect’s actions speak loud and clear in a voice that would make even The Lorax tremble. Trump is wasting no time doing exactly as we feared: Assembling a government happy to destroy and pollute precious land, water and air in the guise of generating economic growth.
In reality, our President-elect is simply cozying up to oil and gas interests that have deep, financial ties to his party and supporters. He is nothing if not loyal.
Trump says what he thinks people want to hear. Going forward, it’s important that environmentalists judge him by his actions, not his bizarre comments or who he summons to his gilded penthouse. Now is not the time to be distracted.
We could send a parade of the brightest scientists, entrepreneurs and activists to Trump Tower to stump on behalf of climate change. But it doesn’t matter. Unless the President-elect reverses his denial of incontrovertible science and rescinds his decision to nominate Scott Pruitt to lead the EPA, I’m afraid the war I first wrote about has escalated even faster than I imagined.
Any hints that Trump may have an open mind on climate change are actually cheap tricks meant to divert your attention from his plans to gut the EPA and pander to the fossil-fuel industry.
Don’t fall for that black magic.