How Has Trump Changed on Climate?

Throughout his rise from dark horse to presumptive U.S. Republican presidential nominee, many have criticized Donald Trump for repeatedly changing his stances on gun reform, income taxes, the national debt, and abortion, just to name a few. In fact, one news outlet, hypothesizing that Trump had only a vague idea as to his major policy platforms, found that the now-nominee had changed his opinions 20 times from just June to August 2015.

What is much clearer about Trump are his positions on climate change. Though the candidate’s website holds no platform on climate change or the environment, Trump has held deeply skeptical opinions of the phenomenon since as early as 2012. As the nominee stated on Twitter in 2012 and 2014, “The concept of global warming was created by and for the Chinese in order to make U.S. manufacturing non-competitive” and that “any and all weather events are used by the GLOBAL WARMING HOAXSTERS to justify higher taxes to save our planet.” Just a few months ago, Trump half-heartedly fought back on his previous comments about China, stating that action on climate change is “done for the benefit of China – obviously I joke – but this is done for the benefit of China.”

Joke or not, it is abundantly clear that Trump rejects the scientific consensus on human-caused climate change and does not acknowledge it as a threat to humanity and the environment. Rather, he treats climate change as a vague economic hindrance to the United States, and a problem crafted by the political and scientific elite. Trump has stated that the most pressing climate problem is the threat of a nuclear winter, a viewpoint that runs contrary to the scientific consensus. As many political figures (including former Republican candidate Ted Cruz) have concluded, anti-establishmentarianism courses through Trump’s campaign as if it were its lifeblood; the same goes for his comments on climate change.

But, although we can write off Donald Trump as a strong supporter for action to cut emissions and address climate change, the candidate does appear to have plans on the issue of energy in a broader sense. Trump recently unveiled a four-page energy policy briefing, prepared by Representative Kevin Cramer of North Dakota. A self-defined climate skeptic, Cramer detailed that, as president, Trump would adopt an “all-of-the-above, America-first” energy strategy, wherein all types of fuel sources—including coal and all other fossil fuels—are included to make the nation more energy independent. Cramer’s briefing also stated that as president, Trump may do away with the Clean Power Plan, currently pending in the courts, as well as the controversial federal rule to prevent waterway and wetland pollution.

Cramer’s briefing, to craft an energy-independent America inclusive of all fossil fuels, might be what climate action under President Trump would look like, for better or for worse. At any rate, the energy briefing is consistent with Trump’s previous statements on climate change. Again, Trump reveals his belief that a change to our nation’s energy model must, before the needs of the global environment, take into account the nation’s present economic needs to prevent economic weakness relative to other countries, such as China.

Trump’s most recent comments on the historic Paris Agreement corroborate this nationalist approach to energy policy. During a speech in North Dakota, the nominee announced plans to “cancel” the Paris Agreement as well as eliminate U.S. contributions to the climate adaptation fund championed by the United Nations. These comments might concern advocates of international climate action even more than Cramer’s briefing. At a time when collaboration between the U.S. and China—the two greatest carbon emitters in the world—seems crucial for global and sustained action on climate change, a U.S. withdrawal would be devastating for both the country’s diplomatic credibility and the survival of the plan at large. Now the largest agreed-upon set of international climate plans ever, the Paris Agreement requires long-standing enthusiasm and commitment from all of its major players to avoid catastrophic warming. For American voters, perhaps it is reassuring that the presumptive nominee has remained steadfast on at least one major policy issue. For the world, however, it is unfortunate that he has approached the issue with such denial and nationalistic focus.


Image courtesy of Flickr. Originally published by S&S on June 22, 2016.


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