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Will Trump Be the “Environmental President”?

Will Donald Trump be remembered as the President who did the most to stop climate change caused by, as this blog has put it, “Too many people consuming too much” worldwide. Trump, I think totally inadvertently, may be on course to slow world output of climate-changing greenhouse gasses, and even its population.

First, his actions may reduce world industrial and agricultural production and the accompanying consumption of natural resources. World leaders responded quickly to Trump’s threats to impose punitive tariffs against imported steel and aluminum with their own threats against American products. Reciprocal punitive tariffs led to the world’s Great Depression in the 1930s; economic output shrank dramatically due to many countries’ protecting their industries from foreign competition. It is naive to believe that the pain Trump’s new tariffs inflict on foreign manufacturers will not stimulate retaliation against imports of American goods and services. Trump has responded to European tariff threats by his own threats against European automobile imports, in addition to higher tariffs he has already imposed against steel and aluminum.

So off we go into an expanding trade war. A trade war would reduce world consumption with the unintended but healthy effect of reducing natural resources stresses. World political leaders habitually focus on increasing their own country’s gross national product, and they discount the burdens which higher GNP places on natural systems. That said, a trade war seems a poor, unplanned way to accomplish the laudable objective of protecting land, air and water quality.

Second is the more ominous threat of nuclear war. The Bulletin of Atomic Scientists recently moved its Doomsday Clock up to two minutes before midnight, reflecting increasing nuclear war probability. Large scale nuclear exchanges would change natural systems far more rapidly than humankind’s normal activities. It would kill millions of us immediately, and more millions as “nuclear winter” reduced sunlight reaching Earth’s surface, and would speed the “Sixth Extinction” of species now occurring. Our military’s Commander in Chief, Donald Trump, has displayed impulsive, bellicose behavior in his first year as President, and his unpredictability and narcissistic character may increase the odds of nuclear disasters.

Trump has exchanged schoolyard taunts with North Korea’s Kim and issued military “fire and fury” threats to destroy Kim’s regime, which has its own nuclear weapons. Conversely, Trump’s newly-imagined personal meeting with Kim may happen, but with unforeseeable consequences. China and Russia have given notice they they would be threatened by any American military attack on Kim’s North Korea, and it’s possible that they would respond with force against us. Russia apparently has a new class of “unstoppable” cruise missiles capable of delivering thermonuclear bombs anywhere in the world, a technical development which further deepens the nuclear shadow most of us have lived under. China also has a powerful, growing military and thermonuclear weapons, and it sided with North Korea against the US in the 1950-53 Korean war.

Sane people agree that no one, including the United States of America, can truly win a nuclear war, but there are thousands of nuclear missiles at the command of erratic world leaders. Trump has bullied opponents in his business career and in his political life, but those tactics may not succeed when used against powerful, egotistical leaders like Putin, Kim or China’s Yi. Trump’s reactions to his bullying tactics failing might be impulsive, like his unexpected willingness to meet with “Rocket man” Kim, and dangerous. None of us want to see existing stresses on natural systems changed by bombs birthing far different stressors.

Our hope is that Trump continues to bungle his way through his presidency without causing large disasters, even disasters which might sharply cut greenhouse gas emissions and climate change. There’s perhaps a small, small possibility that our climate-change-denying President will do something both deliberate and effective to slow climate change. In the meanwhile the status quo is preferable to big accidents.


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