Two years of behind-closed-doors appeasement of the fossil-fuel industry are coming to a close.
Donald Trump’s failure to bury an alarming federal-government assessment of the effects of climate change has only further incited incoming House leaders to blow the lid off government and corporate attempts to block the transformative change needed to save the planet.
Trump’s political enforcers – who have been second to none in their denigration of scientific expertise – were apparently stretched too thin to line-edit the truth out of the 1,656-page assessment, which scientists from 13 different federal agencies had been working on since 2014 under a congressional mandate.
So the White House decided to drop the report – which warns of grave danger to the U.S. economy if significant steps are not taken to rein in global warming — on Black Friday, hoping it would quickly fade from public view.
But the timing wasn’t ideal for climate denialists. News organizations still had singularly appropriate visuals handy from the cataclysmic forest fires in California. The New York Times in particular seemed to make a point of leaving climate news atop its home page for the whole weekend.
A major United Nations report early last month projected a terrifying series of consequences including food shortages, wildfires and mass coral reef death within the next few decades. Another UN report just today found that carbon dioxide emission targets set in the Paris Climate Agreement in 2015 aren’t anywhere close to being met.
And domestically, even as Trump and his press office blithely wave off the government’s own findings as the work of radicals, a push for a “Green New Deal” by newly elected members of Congress has sparked great enthusiasm and is being further stoked by Naomi Klein, author of the influential anti-capitalist climate-change manifesto This Changes Everything, who says it “might just change everything.”
While getting legislation passed in the next two years remains the longest of shots, House Democrats are eagerly preparing for a whole new world of oversight.
Presumptive House Majority Leader Nancy Pelosi is talking about recommissioning the Select Committee on Energy Independence and Global Warming to focus efforts.
Other committee leaders are vowing to examine Trump’s efforts to undo Obama-era regulations to curb planet-warming emissions from tailpipes and power-plant smokestacks. House Energy and Commerce Committee ranking Democrat Frank Pallone sent the EPA a letter last week requesting information about “how these decisions were made.” In a few weeks, he’ll have subpoena power.
And one of the most promising avenues for oversight may be to follow leads uncovered by journalists and now being pursued through a wave of legal challenges demanding accountability from fossil fuel companies for the damage caused by climate change.
In the three years since Inside Climate News and the Los Angeles Times issued blockbuster reports that Exxon had conducted extensive scientific research confirming the dangers of climate change — even as it publicly spread disinformation and denialism – New York State has sued Exxon for fraud and several cities, counties, and groups of young people have begun litigation against the oil companies and state and federal government.
The grassroots environmental group 350.org is collecting signatures for its request to House Democrats to, among other things, “investigate Exxon and other big polluters for misleading the public and wrecking the climate.”
(See also my Nov. 13 post, Changing the climate on climate change.)
The election of Donald Trump was undeniably a disastrous setback for efforts to combat climate change, from his slap-in-the-face withdrawal from the Paris Climate accords to his selection of political appointees devoted to opposing the work of the agencies they led.
But how far would Hillary Clinton have gotten, realistically, especially with a hostile Congress?
Trump’s overt attacks on norms and facts and global agreements may have in some ways changed the rules and clarified the stakes. Perhaps the passionate, idealistic backlash will lead to bigger and more effective solutions than seemed poltically possible before Trump. And perhaps it won’t be too late to change everything.