CJ Mayer: We can come together on climate

Tuesday, October 4, 2016 - 4:16pm

Last Monday, in the first presidential debate, Trump and Clinton quickly sparred on climate change:

Clinton: “Donald thinks that climate change is a hoax perpetrated by the Chinese. I think it’s real.”

Trump: “I did not. I did not. I do not say that. I do not say that.”

In case anyone’s confused, that was a blatant lie. He has called climate change a “total hoax,” “bullshit” and tweeted that “the concept of global warming was created by and for the Chinese in order to make U.S. manufacturing non-competitive.” Yeah, wow. In case it needs to be said, NASA and 97 percent of actively publishing scientists are all in consensus that Earth is undergoing global warming and other climate change consequences, and that the driving factor for much of the increase is human activity.

While a commander in chief who denies science and fact is worrisome, it’s what he will do with this kind of closed mindset that will be scariest. First and foremost, Donald Trump says he will “cancel” the Paris climate change agreement, a deal between 195 countries that has been negotiated for the past five years, aiming to decrease global emissions. The single most important worldwide step ever taken to mitigate the effects of climate change, it is “unlikely” India and China would adhere if the United States were to back out. Those three countries combine for roughly 45 percent of the world’s emissions.

Trump, if successful in pulling the country out of the agreement, would endanger decades of work at a time when scientists fear we could be approaching a “red line” for climate change unless we take significant action. Here, the United States must set an example and lead the world. If the leader of our country rips up an international trade agreement, we may never have a chance to enact such worldwide change again. As a negotiator of the Paris Agreement wrote in a Washington Post op-ed, climate change has the ability to disrupt national security and economic security more than any issue other than nuclear conflict. A global effort is our only chance — the Paris Agreement is our only chance — and Trump would rip it up.

In contrast, Hillary Clinton has concrete goals she wants to hit. By the end of her first term she wants half a billion solar panels installed and to continue President Obama’s CAFE standards for vehicles, which has dramatically increased fuel efficiency and helped promote cleaner and even electric cars, as part of her plan to adhere to the Paris Agreement and to reduce carbon emissions by 30 percent in 2025.

But in reality, it’s not the smart political move for Trump to deny climate change. The polling is overwhelming — 64 percent of Americans care a great deal or fair amount about climate change, 90 percent of Americans say the effects of climate change have started or will start soon, 41 percent view it as a serious threat and 65 percent blame human activities for the accelerated rate of climate change. Even 40 percent of Republicans care a great deal or fair amount. Big states like California and critical states like Florida are already beginning to feel the effects of climate change.

Liberals and conservatives can find common ground. The major argument against taking action is that it will cost jobs and hurt our economy. But the jobs don’t have to disappear as long as we make the investment in clean energy. And not only can we maintain our jobs by investing in clean energy, it might be crucial to save jobs. As the bipartisan “Risky Business” project led by Henry Paulson (George W. Bush’s secretary of the treasury), Michael Bloomberg and Tom Steyer argues, the economic risk of not dealing with climate change will be even more catastrophic. Damage from rising sea levels and worsening storms could cost up to $35 billion in the next 15 years, while heat waves could cost Americans $12 billion more per year and could cost farmers 10 percent of their yearly crop yield. These are the top projections, but this is all to say simply: Not dealing with climate change, in the long run, is more damaging to our economy and our country than taking action ever could.

Not taking action is dangerous to our country, and investing heavily into the clean energy industry will help save jobs in the near term and will save our economy in the long run. This is something I believe, like the Risky Business project, can bring together both sides of the aisle in common sense action.

Unfortunately, in our current situation with Trump at the helm of the Republican party, we will never get there. He uses climate change to help his international golf course, yet when it comes to the American people will refuse to do anything.

We can take smart, economically sound actions and we as a world can come together and enforce the Paris Agreement, our greatest chance ever to mitigate climate change. With Clinton, we will adhere to the Paris Agreement, continue Obama’s efficiency goals and increase expenditure on clean energy. With Trump, oil will reign supreme and the world’s last united effort to fight climate change could dissipate. If you care about climate change, this election is a no-brainer.

CJ Mayer can be reached at mayercj@umich.edu