Climate trumps all for University environmentalists


Nikitha Gajula

Community members attend the SEC Spring 2016 Clothing Swap as an alternative to buying new clothes while simultaneously mitigating anthropogenic waste.

By Michael Semaca, Staff Writer

Donald J. Trump has a well-documented history of denying climate change. Now as the president-elect, many voters are left to wonder what a Trump presidency will mean for the planet’s fight against climate change.

Trump campaigned to “cancel” the Paris Agreement, an international climate agreement signed by 193 countries in April. He has also previously favored repealing EPA regulations, like President Obama’s Clean Power Plan. Trump promised to bring back America’s coal industry on the campaign trail as well.

This has worried many environmental activists around the world and across campus, like Professor Evan DeLucia. DeLucia is the director of the University’s Institute for Sustainability, Energy and Environment or ISEE.

“As an environmentalist and as a director that has a good sense of the feeling of the environmental community on campus, I can say that right now everybody’s in a period of shock,” DeLucia said.

Much of this shock comes from the uniqueness of climate related issues, he said. Unlike other issues facing America, like the economy, the decisions made currently about carbon emissions are decisions humanity will have to live with for centuries.

“This problem is insidious in that it continues to build unless you take steps now and continue to take steps to reverse the trend,” he said.

Joe Edwards, senior in LAS and co-president of Students for Environmental Concerns, or SECS, echoed DeLucia’s worry. Edwards noted how dangerous a Trump administration could be for the environment.

“Trump does represent a very big potential damage that could be caused,” he said. “If his administration does everything it wants to do, it could be irreparable.”

Despite the Trump administration’s environmental plans, Edwards said ordinary people still have the power to protect the environment. He referenced President Reagan’s appointment of James G. Watt as Secretary of the Interior in the 1980s. Watt controversially favored deforestation to increase coal mining and oil drilling.

Yet, Edwards said, one big thing stood in Watt’s way: the voices of the people. Edwards hopes that citizens can once again change the government’s mind on the environment.

“The government can make these big, large-scale decisions, but if people disagree with it vehemently and openly and strongly enough, then we can still stop them,” he said.

Edwards said there are multiple things that pro-environment citizens can do, like letting their representatives know they won’t tolerate anti-environmental legislation. He emphasized how important immediate, sustained action is due to the state of the environment.

“The climate is at a very thin tipping point right now,” he said. “Some people argue that we may be past that already. So it’s important to do the work we can now and not wait.”

DeLucia agreed with Edwards’ call to action, and said the Trump presidency doesn’t mean action can’t occur in the next four years. There are many other areas in government, like state and local governments, that can enact environmental legislation. He also mentioned encouraging the private sector to step up to the plate.

“It’s time for the environmental community to start thinking creatively about how we’re going to mobilize and continue to effectively engage with our administration to tackle this challenge,” he said.

Climate scientists around the world also say it’s not too late to take action, like University Atmospheric Sciences Professor Michael Schlesinger. Schlesinger has researched climate change since 1973, and received the Nobel Peace Prize in 2007 as part of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC).

Schlesinger has written many plans for worldwide emission reduction over the years, such as his  “Fair Plan” papers. The papers detail plans limiting climate change to an increase of two degrees Celsius relative to pre-industrial levels. If the average worldwide temperature increases more than two degrees Celsius, Schlesinger warned that there could be drastic consequences.

“It was deemed that if we went over two degrees Celsius or 3.6 degrees Fahrenheit, we ran the risk of pushing the climate system beyond a tipping point, a bifurcation point, from which it could not return,” Schlesinger said.

Schlesinger’s research has led him to present various solutions to the problem. His 2015 paper, “Fair Plan 7,” presented two scenarios. One, called the “80/50 Plan,” was modeled after the plan approved by the European Union and the United States. It called for an 80 percent reduction in carbon emissions between 2020 and 2050, then keeping emissions constant. The other, his proposed “Fair Plan 7,” completely eliminated emissions by 2100.

While both plans would successfully limit global warming to two degrees Celsius, Schlesinger explained they now have one fatal flaw: they assumed emission reduction would begin in 2020. But with Trump’s presidency, emission reduction is unlikely to occur until later years. Schlesinger plans to explore this in a new paper, titled “Post-Trump Global-Warming Mitigation.”

“Now, I am going to look at delaying the start until 2025 and 2030, separately, and phasing out to zero in 2100, 2095, 2090 … to see what we have to do in order to keep the warming below two degrees,” he said.

This will require his whole plan to be accelerated to keep warming to two degrees, he said.

“If we delay the onset, from 2020 to 2025 or 2030, then we will most certainly have to phase out emissions before 2100 in order to not go over two degrees, because starting in 2020 and ending in 2100 was the optimum,” Schlesinger said.

Schlesinger was unsure whether this new task was realistic, and echoed DeLucia’s thoughts about how climate change was an incredibly unique problem poised to humanity.

“We as a species have no track record with dealing with even decade long problems, let alone century long problems,” he said. “Politicians are elected for four years, five years, six years, and they don’t care about anything on a longer time scale.”

Schlesinger said that four more years of inaction will not be “game over” for the fight against climate change, but said it’ll just require more work. Edwards agreed with Schlesinger, and encouraged fellow environmentalists not to give up.

“Don’t lose hope,” Edwards said. “This fight isn’t over. We didn’t lose; we just had a setback. It just means we have to work harder.”

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