• Emma Li

A (Mostly) Nonpartisan Analysis of Climate Change Attitudes & Policies Under Trump's Administration

By Emma Li, Grade 11

Following the climactic 2020 election season, it seems prudent to look back on the decisions made by the Trump Administration as the Biden Administration begins its four-year reign over the White House. As this is an advocacy blog centered around water conservation and, in a broader context, climate change, we will be focusing on climate change statistics and policies under the Trump Administration.

Climate change is an arena in which former President Trump and his administration were heavily criticized for his blatant disregard of scientific fact and efforts to dismantle pre-existing environmental regulations. In response to a comment from California Secretary of Resources Wade Crowfoot about “really recognizing” climate change, Trump cited cooling temperatures as his evidence against climate change’s legitimacy; “it’ll start getting cooler. You just watch… I don’t think science knows, actually.” (1) However, science does know. The National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) has tracked the progress of climate change for nearly 30 years—since the 1990s—and quotes from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change on their Global Climate Change page that the “scientific evidence for warming of the climate system is unequivocal.” (2) They also reported that “the current warming trend is of particular significance” because unlike previous temperature fluctuations caused by minor variations in the Earth’s orbit, this one is “extremely likely (greater than 95% probability) to be the result of human activity since the mid-20th century.” (2) According to Gina McCarthy, the former head of the Environmental Protection Agency and current president of the NRDC Action Fund, the Trump administration “have done everything they can to deny the science and denigrate scientists… They have really done everything humanly possible to try to convince people that what they see and feel and taste just isn't happening in front of them.” (3)

The Trump Administration was certainly a major disappointment for many scientists and climate activists hoping for stricter environmental regulations. The Sabin Center for Climate Change Law at Columbia University identified at least 176 “steps taken by the Trump administration and Congress to scale back or wholly eliminate federal climate mitigation and adaptation measures.” (4) Among these setbacks are the withdrawal from the Paris Climate Agreement in June 2017; reversal of President Obama’s executive actions on greenhouse emissions; relaxed pollution regulations on coal-run power plants, in part to try and save the failing industry; and grants of more public land for oil and gas drilling. (5) Closer to home, the Trump Administration revoked California’s authority to “set tougher car emission standards than those required by the federal government,” making it more difficult for the state to meet its goals of “reducing greenhouse emissions and improving air quality.” (5)

Despite not believing in climate change, Trump has enthusiastically boasted that his policies have significantly reduced carbon emissions. During the 2020 presidential debates, he stated that the United States had “the best, lowest number in carbon emissions… in thirty five years under [his] administration.” (6) While he is technically not wrong, his statistic is vastly out of context. The United States did have “the largest decline in energy-related carbon dioxide emissions by quantity [in 2019], but not by percentage” (1). In comparison to Germany’s 8% reduction in CO₂ emissions and Japan’s 4.3%, America’s measly 2.9% is not very impressive, especially considering that America is also the greatest CO₂ emitter per capita and largest CO₂ emitter second only to China. “What I want is the cleanest crystal-clear water, cleanest air,” Trump claimed in the same debate, but the environmental policies that rolled out under his administration didn’t reflect that. Biden, now President, hopes to revamp America’s climate change plans by suggesting an ambitious—or even, as some might argue, radical—plan to see the United States become carbon-free by 2035 in the hopes that the country might be a net zero emitter by 2050. (3) A two trillion dollar price tag and thousands of jobs precariously placed in the oil and gas sectors means Biden will face heavy opposition in this particular endeavor, but if his proposal has the chance to take flight, it could mean another step in the right direction.

(1) US election 2020: What is Trump’s record on the environment? (BBC)

(2) Global Climate Change - Evidence (NASA)

(3) US election 2020: What the results will mean for climate change (BBC)

(4) Climate Deregulation Tracker (Sabin Center for Climate Law, Columbia Law School)

(5) Climate crisis or ‘hoax’: Where Biden and Trump stand on environmental policy (Los Angeles Times)

(6) Climate crisis: Full final presidential debate video part 5 (CNN)

Cover photo from Telegraph