Saturday, December 17, 2016

Follow the Money

Originally published in the Westborough News on 11/28/2016)

Like a lot of people, I have been trying to make sense of the election of Donald Trump to the Presidency of the United States and its impact on US policy. Among those polices are the ones on global warming.

His views on global warming have been all over the place, ranging from “The concept of global warming was created by and for the Chinese in order to make U.S. manufacturing non-competitive” (tweet from 11/6/2012) to “I think there is some connectivity [to human activity]. Some, something” and that what he will address it “depends on how much it’s going to cost our companies.” (NY Times, 11/22/2016).

It’s clear that Mr. Trump looks at the world through a financial lens, so regardless of his words, let’s follow the money.

Trump’s pick to head the transition at EPA is economist Myron Ebell, Director of Global Warming and International Environmental Policy at the libertarian think tank, the Competitive Enterprise Institute (CEI), which apparently gets a lot of funding from oil companies like Exxon Mobil. He is totally dismissive of climate research and, according to Politico, thinks “that alarmist environmentalists are using the specter of climate change to push through their Big Government agenda.” 

Interestingly, Ebell was also dismissive of research linking tobacco to lung cancer when he received funding from the tobacco industry in the 1990s.

Follow the money.

Trump’s senior advisor, Robert Walker, wants NASA to eliminate all funding for “politically correct environmental monitoring” which he describes as “politicized science”. Walker thinks other agencies, like NOAA, can better handle such work, although there is no indication at this time that the reduction in NASA’s budget would be shifted to those other agencies.

Follow the money.

What difference will this policy change make?  I think not much.

Atmospheric carbon dioxide concentration is still 40% higher than it was just two centuries ago and is at a level not seen since the Miocene, 3 million years ago, when palm trees could be found as far north as Alaska. The Arctic ice pack volume is still 75% lower than it was a few decades ago. Mountain glaciers are still receding at record rates. The frequency of extreme weather events is still increasing. Long term droughts still plague regions like the American south west and Australia. Western wildfires have increased three fold since the 1970s.  I could go on.
None of those impacts are going to go away, now or any time in the next several centuries.

Trump’s free market energy policies will not make the coal industry return, because it is being replaced by cheaper natural gas. Even if all Federal lands are opened up to oil and gas drilling, it’s cheaper for companies to go after petroleum resources in areas with extensive infrastructure already in place, like West Texas, where the USGS recently estimated that an existing shale formation previously ignored probably contains 20 billion barrels of oil and 16 trillion cubic feet of natural gas.

An interesting trend is occurring though, the increase in CO2 concentrations has slowed over the last couple of years, because China has started to burn less coal. China’s major cities are choking on coal pollution and China also realizes the impact climate change is making on their country. Most of their major cities are right at sea level and the rate at which their agricultural regions are turning to desert is alarming. It is in China’s long term financial self-interest to address climate change. They know it and they are acting accordingly.

Follow the money.

Our incoming government hasn’t figured that out yet. 

However, according to the NY Times, “Hundreds of American companies, including Mars, Nike, Levi Strauss, and Starbucks, have urged . . . Trump not to abandon the Paris climate deal, saying a failure by the United States to build a clean economy endangers American prosperity . . . Failure to build a low-carbon economy puts American prosperity at risk.”

The article quotes an executive at Mars, who states that regardless of government policies, they will continue to reduce emissions. “We’re doing this because we see a real business risk. We see a real business problem.”

Follow the money.

As I wrote earlier this year, our President-elect’s representatives petitioned the Irish government to build a 1.7 mile long sea wall to protect his recently purchased Doonbeg golf resort. Why does he need this wall? According to Politico, the permit application “explicitly cites global warming and its consequences — increased erosion due to rising sea levels and extreme weather this century — as a chief justification for building the structure.”

Oh, the hypocracy. I say again . . . Follow the money.

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