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Trump's climate policies are so 'wrongheaded' even his voters don't agree

Supporters take selfies and hold placards as President Donald Trump arrives to address a 'Make America Great Again' rally at the Kentucky Exposition Center in Louisville, Kentucky, March 20, 2017.
Jim Watson | AFP | Getty Images
Supporters take selfies and hold placards as President Donald Trump arrives to address a 'Make America Great Again' rally at the Kentucky Exposition Center in Louisville, Kentucky, March 20, 2017.

The Trump administration's recent attack on U.S. climate strategy was no surprise. It's still wrongheaded.

The sweeping Executive Order the president signed on Tuesday aims to roll back the Clean Power Plan, which limits emissions from existing power plants. It will also enable more coal leasing on public lands and overturn restrictions on methane emissions, among other measures that protect people and the environment.

The move won't make America stronger, more secure or more prosperous. Just the opposite: it will set our country back, letting other countries take the lead in cleaner energy that creates jobs and improves people's lives.

Climate change is real and happening now, and it's impacting people across the United States. Consider:

  • 2016 was the third consecutive year of record-warm global average temperatures.
  • 16 of the 17 warmest years on record have occurred this century.
  • 15 extreme weather events each costing $1 billion or more occurred in the United States in 2016—the second highest on record—causing roughly $46 billion in damage.
  • 123 million Americans live in coastal communities, which contribute nearly half of U.S. gross domestic product. Rising seas are putting more people, their homes and communities at risk.
  • U.S. wildfires burned more than 10 million acres in 2016, a record. States like Oklahoma are experiencing even more fires this year, with nearly 900,000 acres burned, also a record. Dry, hot conditions contribute to these destructive fires.

Climate impacts aren't just happening here. They are taking place around the globe, where vulnerable, poor communities are hit hardest. The global impacts of climate change, including massive droughts, food shortages and other disasters, are contributing to a historic tide of human migration. These are the kinds of impacts that are likely to worsen as our world becomes hotter and less stable.

That's why the Pentagon has called climate change a "threat multiplier." Defense Secretary James Mattis recently stated in written testimony to Congress that climate change is a "driver of instability and the Department of Defense must pay attention to potential adverse impacts generated by this phenomenon."

So who else wants climate action? Hundreds of leading businesses are calling for U.S. leadership on climate change. Nearly 900 businesses and investors have called on the president and Congress to act. More than 220 major companies have declared their intention to meet science-based targets to reduce emissions. These companies are not acting because it is good for the planet; they're doing so because it is in their economic interest.

The reality is that regardless of the new orders, the transition to cleaner energy and lower emissions will continue. And it's not just in blue states. Texas, Iowa and Oklahoma are leading the way on wind energy. North Carolina and Arizona are embracing solar power.

"The reality is that regardless of the new orders, the transition to cleaner energy and lower emissions will continue. And it's not just in blue states. Texas, Iowa and Oklahoma are leading the way on wind energy. North Carolina and Arizona are embracing solar power."

Utilities across the country, including in Arkansas and Kentucky, are working to integrate more clean energy into their power supply. The movement toward clean energy cuts across party lines, as governors, mayors and local officials are pushing for policies that help their constituents gain economic opportunities and make them safer and more resilient.

Some argue against climate action on the grounds that it costs too much. But this is simply not true. The global economy grew by 3 percent last year while lowering emissions, the third year in a row where GDP rose without a rise in emissions. In fact, at least 21 countries – including the United States - are growing their economies as their emissions fall.

Many countries, including China, are trying to make the shift to a low-carbon economy. By decreasing its reliance on coal, increasing investments in clean energy and moving away from heavy industry, China is making progress to meet its climate commitments and recently announced it would invest $360 billion in clean energy this decade.

The U.S. administration's disregard for climate action is more than unfortunate. It follows a pattern around other critical issues, including the failed health care bill, where the administration is out of touch with what people want. A 2016 Gallup poll found that 65 percent of Americans understand that humans are responsible for global warming, and Public Opinion Strategies, a Republican polling firm, found 75 percent of Trump voters want action to accelerate deployment of clean energy.

The bottom line is that today's announcement is a setback for U.S. leadership that will make it harder and more expensive to reduce U.S. emissions in the future. Nevertheless, we fully expect the transition to clean energy will continue. The biggest question is whether this administration will come to understand that smart climate policies will help the country achieve the vision of becoming healthier, stronger and more prosperous.

Commentary by Sam Adams, U.S. director of the World Resources Institute and former mayor of Portland.

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