The election of Donald Trump to the presidency of the United States has left many environmentalists fearing for the future of the planet.
Trump’s administration is likely to reverse gains that the US has made in lowering its greenhouse gas emissions, cut funding for climate science research, and boost the fortunes of the fossil fuel industry.
This is in spite the fact that, according to a Gallup poll taken earlier this year, 64 percent of Americans are worried either a great deal or a fair amount about global warming.
So what can people who take the threat of climate change serious do in the face of a Trump presidency? While organizations can ramp up activism and awareness campaigns, it now falls to Massachusetts and other states to enact policies that take the lead in lowering emissions and in promoting cleaner energy technologies.
At the national level, the Obama administration has pledged to reduce total US emissions by at least 26 percent below 2005 levels by 2025. If this pledge is repealed or no longer enforced by president-elect Trump, state targets will become all the more important, and it’s crucial that states with existing goals do their best to meet them, as other states consider making their own pledges.
Twenty states currently have greenhouse gas emission reduction targets, many of these states like Massachusetts include coastal cities and regions that will be the most effected by rising sea levels.
For example, Massachusetts’ 2008 Global Warming Solutions Act called for a 25 percent reduction in greenhouse gases by 2020 and 80 percent by 2050. Also by that year, Maine aims to lower greenhouse gas emissions 10 percent below 1990 levels. Florida has a target for emissions to equal to those in 2000 by 2017, and 1990 levels by 2025.
States boost renewables
One way states will be able to cut emissions is by transitioning away from coal and natural gas power to clean energy sources like solar, wind, and hydropower. This summer, the Democrat-controlled Massachusetts legislature and Republican Governor Charlie Baker passed a renewable energy mandate requiring the state by 2027 to procure 1,600 megawatts of wind energy and 1,200 megawatts of energy from other renewables, such as solar and hydropower.
Last year, California’s Democratic governor Jerry Brown signed a similar, more ambitious, bill into law, requiring utility companies to source 50 percent of their electricity from renewable sources by 2030.
Laws such as these will encourage clean energy research, development and installation. In turn these technologies and best practices can be applied to the nation as a whole or expanded to other states.
Apart from cuts in Federal funding for renewable energy development, Trump advisors have indicated that his administration will defund NASA’s earth science division – the sector responsible for climate change research – in favor of funding space exploration.
In 2013, the White House reported to Congress that federal funding of climate change research totaled over $22.5 billion. This included money going to climate science research, clean energy technology, international assistance, energy tax provisions and climate change preparation and resilience efforts.
In contrast, in 2002, the climate change budget under the Bush administration was $4.5 billion. A Trump administration could significantly reduce expenditures on programs such as university research grants, tax credits for developing renewable power like Maine’s floating offshore wind farms, and incentives for clean energy developers.
Filling the gap in science funding
With cuts in federal funding likely, states will have to invest more in climate science research. For example, California currently spends over $7.7 billion a year on climate science-related efforts, including water efficiency, clean energy, clean transportation and preserving natural resources.
Despite this large amount, California and other states will have to do more if Federal cuts occur.
As solar and wind ramp up, these same states will also have to focus on strategies to keep their aging fleets of nuclear power plants up and running. Otherwise the emissions-free electricity generated by nuclear will be replaced by dirtier natural gas plants.
State leaders are already moving in the right direction. On Dec. 13, the governors of Oregon, California and Washington vowed to combat climate change and announced that they had joined an alliance to reduce ocean acidification.
The next day, California Governor Jerry Brown attended a meeting of the American Geophysical Union, and swore that if Trump turns off or redirects the satellites devoted to tracking climate change, “California will launch its own damn satellite.”
Of course, increased attention to climate science isn’t going to happen in all states, especially the 27 whose attorney generals sued the Environmental Protection Agency over proposed rules to limit emissions from coal power plants.
However, as clean energy gets cheaper and if Massachusetts, California, and other states invest in a clean energy future, it may start making economic sense for even the most red-leaning states to start investing in renewables.
A stronger commitment to clean energy could slowly grow from just a handful of states to a national movement, even under a Trump administration, if the political pressure is there from voters and if the policies can be framed in terms of their economic benefits.