By Josh Kazdan
Environmental policy could face setbacks under a climate-skeptic Trump administration, but it may be too early to call doom and gloom, according to a Stanford Law School panel.
The panel included four political experts on climate change who spoke on the potential ramifications of Trump’s presidency on environmental policies. The bipartisan panel contained members whose specialties spanned political and environmental science as well as law.
Jeremy Carl of the Hoover Institution began by stating that much of the hysteria surrounding Trump’s proposed cuts to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is unfounded. However, according to Carl, most of them do not follow through on the policy changes that they promise in their campaigns. Carl also believes much of what will happen to the EPA and American climate policy is contingent upon Trump’s appointees, who hold a diversity of opinions regarding global warming.
Michael Wara, a Clinton supporter and an expert on energy and environmental law, further explained that environmental policy change is typically a slow process that contains many checks.
“I try not to assume the best, and I try not to assume the worst,” said Wara. “How the country operates is not what [Trump] says on Twitter.”
He continued to explain that the bureaucratic nature of American government stymies the rate of change. The majority of congressional committees are bipartisan and slow-moving, and the EPA produces at most two major environmental policy changes per year. Wara noted that it has taken President Obama eight years to enact environmental policy changes, and Trump can’t reverse these initiatives by “waving a magic wand.”
Furthermore, Wara believes that the potential abolition of free trade poses the largest threat to progress in environmental policy, as it can occur much more quickly than environmental policy change. Since most of the supply chains for efficient batteries, solar panels and wind turbines originate in China, abolition of free trade would pose a serious threat to attainment of these commodities. While Trump cannot unilaterally defund the EPA, he has significant power over American trade policy and its involvement in the United Nations. If he truly decides to abolish free trade, as he promised in his campaign, then the cost of energy-efficient technology could skyrocket. Furthermore, the United States could sidestep any U.N. agreements on the climate, reducing their impact.
Katherine Mach of the Stanford Woods Institute ended on her worry over climbing carbon dioxide levels and temperatures, what is generally regarded as the danger zone of an increase of 2 degree2 Celsius. Climate scientists predict that when humans have released 3 trillion tons of carbon dioxide, positive feedback loops will come into effect, and warming will be much more difficult to reverse. Currently, humans have produced approximately 2 trillion tons of carbon dioxide. Already, Mach notes, Arctic villages are falling into the sea and Florida is experiencing intense flooding due to climate change.
Despite potential setbacks to environmental policy, all of the speakers expressed varying degrees of optimism about the future. Mach noted the “substantial momentum” to stop climate change has garnered, while Wara added that Trump could add job opportunities in the development of free energy. Carl said that the environment is not at the top of most Americans’ concerns, and he predicts that Trump will be unwilling to use his limited political capital simply to anger environmental activists.
“He’s a deal man,” Carl said.
Contact Josh Kazdan at jkazdan ‘at’ stanford.edu.