On Monday 7th November, leaders from 195 countries around the world began a series of UN meetings in Morocco to discuss how to put the Paris Climate Agreement into action. The US, second largest emitter of greenhouse gases after China, had a plan to cut emissions across the economy by 26-28% of 2005 levels by 2025.
Cut to Wednesday 9th November and Donald J Trump, a misogynistic businessman, television personality and climate sceptic with a history of sexual assault and zero political experience, has won the US presidential election. Vowing to pull the USA out of the Paris Climate Agreement within his first 100 days in office, Trump has been hailed by climate scientists across the globe as a “threat to the planet”. In his plans to stop all payments of US tax dollars to UN climate change programmes, he aims to “put America first” by concentrating on ‘rational’ environmental concerns such as clean water and clean air. This attitude completely disregards the global nature of many environmental challenges today and the therefore urgent need for global cooperation on greenhouse gas emission reductions and climate change research. It can also be seen as economically self-sabotaging due to the falling costs of forms of renewable energy such as wind and solar, the progress of which is not going to be held up by one man. With Trump looking to scrap Obama’s Clean Power Plan and repeal all federal spending on clean energy, including on R&D, the US risks losing its position of leadership in energy technologies and climate policy.
Trump has also suggested abolishing the Environmental Protection Agency which would have wide-reaching impacts, not least on the regulation of the chemical industry. Such an abolition would seriously hinder the positive effects of the recent overhaul of the Toxic Substances Control Act, signed into law by Obama in June, which gives the Environmental Protection Agency greater authority to require the testing of new and existing chemicals.
However, hope can be seen with individual states such as California and New York pursuing their own ambitious climate policies with the potential for more states to follow. There is also the possibility that widespread opposition to Trump could galvanise a new generation of activists, with social movements inspiring more local and radically transformative alternatives to the now potentially mainstreamed discourses of climate scepticism.
In terms of the effect of Trump’s election on women, the outlook appears equally grim with challenges being mounted against women’s reproductive rights due to Trump’s strong ‘pro-life’ position and his proposals to make birth control more expensive for women; as well as his opposition to equal pay legislation and belief that people should be paid what they’re worth, regardless of gender.
Environmentalists and campaigners for women’s rights, LGBTQ+ rights and rights for ethnic minorities, immigrants, refugees and the disabled are steeling themselves ready to face the battles of the coming four years. Thousands of demonstrators have already taken to the streets of several US cities to protest Trump’s election. This is the time if any to believe in the power of social activism and transnational activist support networks to stand up for the health of our planet and the people on it.