Climate Second Thoughts

If Donald Trump's expressed desire "to be the president for all Americans" is truly sincere, he will hedge his bets by modifying his global warming denial stance.

It's one thing for Trump as a candidate to galvanize his base by dismissing human-generated climate change as a political ploy concocted by democrats. It is quite another as president responsible for overseeing the general public's welfare to refuse to acknowledge, much less address, a widely accepted potential threat to every last soul in the land.

Maybe global warming's most dire projected impacts won't occur even if no precautionary action is taken. But maybe they will. Can a President Trump in good conscience afford to gamble with the fate of the nation that has placed its trust in him? If he guesses wrong and sits it out, he could easily go down in history as the leader who squandered the nation's last best opportunity to avert ecological disaster. Especially with his ego, is Trump willing to risk wrecking his reputation for the ages?

The Precautionary Principle (i.e. better safe than sorry) is a philosophical core of the national environmental movement, and arguably as well for any conscientious occupant of the Oval Office.

In the course of the presidential campaign, Trump often voiced skepticism of human-induced climate change. His words were in direct contravention to the overwhelming scientific consensus. They also didn't gibe with such ominous trends as rapidly rising sea levels, receding mountain glaciers, and record global temperatures.

Undaunted, candidate Trump promised he would reverse all of President Obama's climate change initiatives on the grounds they were unnecessary and impediments to economic growth.

Now that he has been elected and wants to be the president for all Americans, how can he snub the majorities in the nation who voted against him and believe climate change is a legitimate concern?

There is a way he could moderate his climate change position without alienating his ideologically hard core climate-denying conservative base. Frame his change of heart in economic terms. There are "no regrets" emission reduction strategies that make fiscal (and environmental) sense even if climate change's threat turns out to be overblown. We are talking about a shift away from "dirty" fossil fuels to clean, renewable energy, which is becoming more cost-competitive with each passing day. Then there are energy efficiency reforms and reforestation programs that can produce a sizable dent in greenhouse gas emissions while making sense in their own right.

As for Obama's Clean Power Plan to curb emissions at coal-fired power plants, Trump can justify its continuation by citing the net cost savings resulting from its health benefits. And while the regulation will impose added compliance costs, only coal-fired power plants that are obsolete or unable to compete with cheaper natural gas face imminent closure.

Trump can redefine the debate by recasting climate change as a non-partisan, quality of life, save-the-planet issue rather than a partisan divisive political one.

He could point out that extensive documentation over four decades has shown that despite industry's protestations, environmental regulation is rarely detrimental to the bottom line. On the contrary, it often has the opposite effect by forcing businesses to be more efficient and keep their facilities up to date.

Ultimately, Trump will hopefully recognize that by not destroying Obama's environmental legacy, he can help assure a positive one of his own.