Politics & Policy

The Trump-Climate Freakout

Protesting Trump outisde the U.S. Embassy in London, November 18, 2016. (Reuters photo: Hanna McKay)
He will reverse a policy that isn’t working anyway.

Given the emotional reactions that Donald Trump and climate change each trigger separately, they offer an especially combustible combination.

Paul Krugman worries that Trump’s election “may have killed the planet.” Activist Bill McKibben calls Trump’s plan to reverse the Obama climate agenda by approving the Keystone XL pipeline and other fossil-fuel projects, repealing the Clean Power Plan, and withdrawing from the Paris agreement “the biggest, most against-the-odds, and most irrevocable bet any president has ever made about anything.” And let’s not forget “Zach,” the DNC staffer who reportedly stormed out of a post-election meeting upset that “I am going to die from climate change.”

A Trump presidency offers many reasonable reasons to worry. But the fear that he will kill the planet, or even poor Zach, is at least one anxiety we can dispel.

Just listen to President Obama. His administration developed a “Social Cost of Carbon” that attempts to quantify in economic terms the projected effects of climate change on everything from agriculture to public health to sea level, looking all the way out to the year 2100. So suppose President Trump not only reverses U.S. climate policy but ensures that the world permanently abandons efforts to mitigate greenhouse-gas emissions. How much less prosperous than today does the Obama administration estimate we will be by century’s end?

The world will be at least five times wealthier. Zach may even live to see it.

The Dynamic Integrated Climate-Economy (DICE) model, developed by William Nordhaus at Yale University, which has the highest climate costs of the Obama administration’s three models, estimates that global GDP in 2100 without climate change would be $510 trillion. That’s 575 percent higher than in 2015. The cost of climate change, the model estimates, will amount to almost 4 percent of GDP in that year. But the remaining GDP of $490 trillion is still 550 percent larger than today.

Without climate change, DICE assumes average annual growth of 2.27 percent. With climate change, that rate falls to 2.22 percent; at no point does climate change shave even one-tenth of one point off growth. Indeed, by 2103, the climate-change-afflicted world surpasses the prosperity of the not-warming 2100.

Zach might take issue with DICE’s underlying scientific and economic assumptions, yet the model produces cost estimates much higher than those of the PAGE and FUND models, which are also considered by the Social Cost of Carbon analysis. And while not every potential effect of climate change lends itself to quantification in economic terms, remember: This is the approach chosen by the Obama administration — not a group often known for trying to minimize the climate threat.

The Paris agreement’s impact is at best a few tenths of a degree Celsius.

Further, Trump is not significantly altering the likelihood of incurring these costs, because the climate agenda he intends to unravel is a failure already. Domestically, even the EPA acknowledged that its Clean Power Plan will have no meaningful influence on future temperatures. The State Department said the same about blocking the Keystone XL pipeline. The purported value of these policies was to display international “leadership.”

But the global picture is no better. Even with U.S. “leadership,” the commitments made by other countries under the Paris agreement look almost identical to the paths those countries were on already. Thus the agreement’s impact is at best a few tenths of a degree Celsius. MIT’s Joint Program on the Science and Policy of Global Change, for instance, projected 3.9°C of warming by 2100 without the Paris agreement and 3.7°C with it.

Proponents of the agreement argue it will nonetheless spur clean-energy investment. “It is going to move the marketplace,” said Secretary of State John Kerry. It is “a break-away agreement which actually changes the paradigm.” It is “going to spur massive investment.”

Instead, investment has plummeted. Over the first three quarters of 2016, global clean-energy investment is down 29 percent relative to 2015. Q3 investment saw a 43 percent drop from Q3 2015 — falling to its lowest level since the George W. Bush administration.

Bizarrely, some analysts have reversed course and now argue that if the United States abandons Paris, we will be left behind while the world continues with climate action. Alden Meyer, director of policy and strategy at the Union of Concerned Scientists, told The Atlantic: “China, Europe, Brazil, India and other countries will continue to move ahead with the climate commitments they made under Paris no matter what the next president does, because these commitments are in their own national interest.”

That only confirms the weakness of the Paris agreement and the futility of President Obama’s climate agenda. If everyone is still just pursuing their national interest, what has American “leadership” accomplished? And what is really lost in the transition to a Trump agenda?

The preferred narrative is obvious: The world was so close to solving this climate-change thing until Donald Trump came along. But in fact the world was still on square one. If anything, activists should be relieved that Trump’s election will prevent them from ever being held accountable for the costly and ineffective policies they pursued. They might also be relieved to learn that — even with no climate policy at all — the world will continue to grow healthier and wealthier.

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