Special To The Washington Post
The election of Donald Trump and Republican majorities in both houses have terrified environmentalists and climate campaigners, who have declared that the next four years will be a “disaster.”
Fear is understandable. We have much to learn about the new administration’s plans. But perhaps surprisingly, what little we know offers some cause for hope.
It should not need to be restated in 2016 that climate change is real and mostly man-made. It is hard to know whether Trump will acknowledge this. He has called global warming a “hoax” perpetrated by the Chinese, but stated that this was a joke; he denied the existence of climate change during the campaign, but supported global warming action as recently as 2009.
What really matters is not rhetoric but policy. So far, we know that President Trump will drop the Paris climate change treaty. This is far from the world-ending event that some suggest and offers an opportunity for a smarter approach.
Even ardent supporters acknowledge that the Paris treaty by itself will do little to rein in global warming. The United Nations estimates that if every country were to make every single promised carbon cut between 2016 and 2030 to the fullest extent and there was no cheating, carbon dioxide emissions would still only be cut by one-hundredth of what is needed to keep temperature rises below 3.6 degrees Fahrenheit (2 degrees Celsius). The Paris treaty’s 2016-2030 pledges would reduce temperature rises around 0.09 degrees Fahrenheit by the end of the century. If maintained throughout the rest of the century, temperature rises would be cut by 0.31 degrees Fahrenheit.
At the same time, these promises will be costly. Trying to cut carbon dioxide, even with an efficient tax, makes cheap energy more expensive — and this slows economic growth.
My calculations using the best peer-reviewed economic models show the cost of the Paris promises — through slower gross domestic product growth from higher energy costs — would reach $1 trillion to $2 trillion every year from 2030. U.S. vows alone — to cut greenhouse-gas emissions 26 percent to 28 percent below 2005 levels by 2025 — would reduce GDP by more than $150 billion annually.
So Trump’s promise to dump Paris will matter very little to temperature rises, and it will stop the pursuit of an expensive dead end.
However, Paris was a well-meaning — if flawed — attempt to address a genuine global issue. With no international climate policies at all, it is probable that we would see a temperature rise of perhaps 7 degrees Fahrenheit by the end of the century. The United States needs to find a smarter solution. Climate economists have found that green energy R&D investment would be a much more efficient approach.
This is very much in line with Trump’s campaign promise of “investment in research and development across the broad landscape of academia” and with its suggestion that we could develop “energy sources and power production that alleviates the need for dependence on fossil fuels.”
This investment in U.S. ingenuity could help innovate the price of green energy down below fossil fuels. Only then will we truly be able to stop climate change.
Statements by Trump’s campaign also indicate that the next administration will create a global development and aid policy that recognizes that climate is one problem among many.
Asked about global warming, the campaign responded, “Perhaps the best use of our limited financial resources should be in dealing with making sure that every person in the world has clean water. Perhaps we should focus on eliminating lingering diseases around the world like malaria. Perhaps we should focus on efforts to increase food production to keep pace with an ever-growing world population.”
This would be a big change. The Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development analyzed almost all aid from the United States and other rich nations and found that about one-third is climate-related aid.
This is immoral when 2 billion people suffer from malnutrition, 700 million live in extreme poverty and 2.4 billion are without clean drinking water and sanitation. These problems can be tackled effectively today, helping many more people more dramatically than “climate aid” could.
Despite its length, and for all of its heat and bluster, the election campaign left many unanswered questions and understandable concerns about the president-elect’s positions on climate change, aid and development.
But, surprisingly, there is now an opportunity. To seize it, the Trump administration needs to go beyond just dumping the ineffective Paris agreement, to an innovation-based green energy approach that will harness U.S. ingenuity. Far from being a disaster, such a policy could mean a real solution to climate change and help the world’s worst-off more effectively.
This appeared in the Lewiston Tribune:
About a dozen years ago, Thomas Frank titled his book “What’s the Matter with Kansas?” to describe a group of people voting against their own economic self-interests.
Why stop with Kansas?
Among Idaho’s deepest pockets of support for Republican Donald Trump were the state’s agricultural counties.
For instance, Trump got better than 60 percent of the vote in Bonneville, Bingham, Canyon, Jerome, Twin Falls — and Nez Perce — counties.
In Jefferson and Gooding counties, Trump’s margin exceeded 70 percent.
Only the wheat farmers of the Palouse showed any reticence. Hillary Clinton carried Latah County with about 44 percent, compared to 40 percent for Trump.
Why would anybody who works within an agricultural economy vote for a candidate who wants to send away their labor — and drive up the price of their goods on the foreign markets?
Do they think he’s putting them on?
Trump has never disavowed his pledge to deport more than 11 million undocumented workers. Even if he sticks with the latest plan to throw out only about 3 million “criminals,” what does that mean? Someone with a drunken driving conviction? Possession of pot? Shoplifting?
Either way, a mass deportation would be ruinous to Idaho agriculture. For whatever reason — the work’s too demanding or it’s inconvenient to relocate — Idahoans won’t take many of those jobs. Undocumented immigrants fill the void.
As the Idaho Statesman’s Bill Dentzer noted last week, one of every four people working in Idaho agriculture is undocumented.
Send them away and labor-intensive operations such as Idaho’s dairy industry face a choice. A few with the resources might invest in robotics. The rest either downscale or relocate where the labor is — across the border — much like fruits, vegetables and organic producers already have.
In other words, either you import your agricultural workers or you import your food. You choose.
No part of southern Idaho will emerge unscathed. About half of the dairy industry is in the Magic Valley; the rest is split between the Treasure Valley and the upper Snake River region. Deportation also means tough times for the state’s fruit and onion producers and its potato packing houses.
Idaho’s agricultural counties also picked a president who has called the North American Free Trade Agreement the “worst trade deal in history” and has vowed to change it or scrap it.
But NAFTA has been good for Idaho. Tearing down trade barriers has produced year after year of record trade between Idaho, Canada and Mexico.
Last year, Idaho’s exports to Mexico totaled $264 million and nearly 72 percent of that was agricultural related. The same year, Idaho’s exports to Canada reached nearly $1 billion — including mining, ag products, fertilizers and semiconductors.
If you have any doubts how Trump’s plans for NAFTA would diminish Idaho’s prosperity, here’s one clue: In the past year, the rising dollar slashed Idaho’s ag exports by almost 23 percent. Ag exports with Canada were down 19 percent. The slippage with Mexico was about 0.5 percent.
In a state where agriculture accounts for 14 percent of its jobs and 16 percent of its gross domestic product, the pain will be felt far and wide.
So why would Idaho farmers, ranchers and the people whose livelihoods depend on them vote for Trump? What’s the matter with them?