February 27, 2017

Cautious: Cornell Professors Comment on Trump’s Climate Change Policies

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While Punxsutawney Phil predicted six more weeks of winter on Feb. 2, the nation had been experiencing one of the warmest months in decades.

The United States Geological Survey has attributed the early advent of spring to the result of climate change. The Trump Administration, however, has no plans of taking this threat seriously. President Trump has famously tweeted that climate change is a hoax perpetuated by the Chinese and the recent reports of increasing federal budget cuts to the Environmental Protection Agency have been met with concerns.

The Sun reached out to professors of climate science to understand their view on the matter.

“I’m a glass half-full kind of person,” said Prof. Natalie Mahowald, atmospheric sciences, on the effects of the new administration on climate science.

“I think it is too early to know the implications of the new administration on either science funding or climate change progress yet,” she said. “While this administration returns climate change to a lower emphasis than the previous administration, it is more similar to what we saw previously, with the Bush administration, and we still have a Republican controlled Congress, so it’s not clear it is new ground, or just a return to a lower status.”

Prof. David Wolfe, plant and soil ecology, agrees, saying that Trump has changed his mind about climate change and the Chinese and “all of Trump’s Cabinet picks have acknowledged that something is changing with the climate.”

“Nevertheless, all indications are that the new administration is focused on promoting and expanding fossil fuel use as opposed to exploring renewables and providing leadership on addressing the impacts of climate change,” Wolfe said.

Prof. Bruce Monger, earth and atmospheric sciences, is not optimistic about the changes, pointing to the hypocrisy in the nature of the “war on science”.

“The war on science is selective. If it goes against big corporate or religious interests, then they [Republicans] are going to discount the science,” he said. “It’s not like they don’t believe in science, I don’t think, it’s that when the science disagrees with their desired outcomes, they’re gonna discount the science.”

According to professors, there is a silver lining. Mahowald said that the recent republican legislation that proposes a carbon tax is a step in the right direction.

Additionally, White House apathy seems unlikely to stop local, corporate or international initiatives towards climate friendly policies.

“Despite what goes on in Washington, local community and business leaders of all political persuasions have had little choice but to tackle the very real costs of climate change impacts, such as coastal damage associated with sea level rise and heat stress.” Wolfe said. “Many states are taking creative and effective action to not only build resilience to climate change, but also to slow the pace of climate change by promoting energy efficiency and exploring renewable energy solutions.”

Monger emphasized the importance of an international treaty like the G20 Paris Agreement, and said that it was extremely hard to pull out of something of that magnitude.

“Every leader of every nation on this earth signed [an agreement] that said that we’re not going to cross two degrees warming and to do that, we need to take the world to zero carbon emissions. It’s not some eco-crazy group mouthing off, it’s the entire planet’s leadership. How do you argue with that?” Monger said.

Wolfe and Monger both talked about the how economic reasons can also push for more climate friendly policies. Instead of the proposed coal revival to increase jobs, Monger said that the same people can be put to work creating solar panels.

“Many economists have argued that the transition to an energy future with less reliance on fossil fuels will not only reduce the costs of weather-related disasters, but will be a boon to those nations that are at the forefront of new technologies that will take the world there,” Wolfe said. “These market forces may eventually win the day and cause a shift in thinking within the Trump administration.”

There is however, a sense of urgency.

“We don’t have much time now. Cornell is going to zero carbon by 2035 for a reason. So this four-year delay is a big deal,” Monger said. “It really disheartens me that we have to struggle through this even though it is exactly the time that we need to turn it up to 11 on getting ourselves to zero carbon [emissions].”

Monger encourages students to take an active role in fighting for their beliefs through protests, voting and calling their congressmen to keep them accountable.

“Every so often, a generation gets called upon to do something extraordinary. You guys [millennials] didn’t have anything to do with all of the [climate] things that are going wrong but we have 20 to 30 years to get to zero carbon and your generation has to push it because if we cross two [degrees increase] we cross two for 10,000 years.”