Thursday, November 10, 2016

Decreasing Carbon Emissions Is Not Impossible Under Trump

In the wake of the national election, I've seen several articles, blogs and quotes suggesting that the election of Donald Trump is a disaster for efforts to reduce carbon emissions and address global warming.

It is certainly not good news in those areas, but the situation is not necessarily hopeless.

Carbon emissions in the United States come from several sectors including electricity generation, transportation, industry, agriculture, and commercial/residential.  The electric power sector represents one of the brighter areas in which the US has "bent" the carbon emissions curve, with a general decline over the past several years.

Source: US Energy Information Administration
The causes for the decline are multifaceted, but include increased use of renewables (especially solar and wind) and a transition from coal to natural gas, which is less carbon intensive (but still carbon emitting).  
Source: US Energy Information Administration
As a candidate, Mr. Trump called climate change to be a hoax perpetuated by the Chinese and advocated policies to increase fossil fuel and coal combustion.  We can probably expect his administration to work hard to bend the curve again, this time back to upward.

However, declines in carbon emissions can still occur.  Much is happening at the local and state levels, as well as in the marketplace.  For example, California is the 2nd largest carbon-dioxide emitter (by state) in the United States and I would expect them to continue to aggressively pursue decarbonization over the next four years.  Innovation and economics can also affect how and how efficiently we generate power in coming years and could yield advances that help in the effort.  

I've long been skeptical that humans will be able to get their arms around this problem fast enough to avoid a major shift in climate.  Efforts to reduce carbon emissions today have the potential to put the brakes on global warming, allowing us to avoid crashing into a brick wall, but won't prevent us from bouncing off a few barriers along the way.  Mr. Trump will probably not help apply the brakes and he could cause some harm, but it is worth remembering that there are other ways to slow this thing down.


  1. I was wondering if you could comment on the rumor that Trump is going to appoint Myron Ebell as head of the EPA?

    1. I know as much as you do. It was covered a while back in Scientific American:

      My view on all of these things is to wait and see who is actually appointed.