President-elect Donald Trump has suggested in the past that climate change is a hoax created by the Chinese and during his campaign he continued the climate denial rhetoric, but Michael Mann, distinguished professor of meteorology and director of the Earth System Science Center at Penn State, said Monday there is reason to be cautiously optimistic.
In Mann’s newest book “The Madhouse Effect,” released earlier this year, he crafted the prescient final chapter with a Trump presidency in mind. Mann teamed with Tom Toles, editorial cartoonist for the Washington Post and winner of the Pulitzer Prize for editorial cartooning in 1990, with the goal of taking a satirical approach to the climate-change discussion.
“Some of the hardest-hitting social commentary, these days, comes from comedians,” Mann said. “It’s a way to talk about the topic in a pretty blunt manner, but through the license that’s gained by approaching it from the standpoint of humor and satire.”
But in his first week as president-elect, Trump has tapped climate-skeptic Myron Ebell to head the Environmental Protection Agency transition, which has been a sobering reminder that the United States has elected a “climate-denier” as president, according to Mann.
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Despite the reality, Mann said Trump has displayed internal inconsistencies in what he has said on the campaign trail, which leaves the door open for an optimistic outlook.
“It’s difficult in the absence of any actual policy prescriptions from him at this point, to really know if he’s going to go through with some of the threats that he’s made or if he will take a more enlightened path,” Mann said.
To steer Trump toward that path Mann said that Trump will likely receive national security briefings that could shape his policy going forward.
“If Trump is listening, he will have leaders of our military informing him, in no uncertain terms, that one of our greatest national security threats is climate change,” Mann said.
The information that’s coming from scientists on the ground is telling them that climate change effects are proceeding even faster and with greater ferocity than they predicted about a decade ago. According to Mann, there is a far greater melting of ice in the ice sheets that is contributing to sea levels rising faster than expected.
Higher sea levels can spell disaster for the oceanfront cities around the world. Parts of Miami, Fla., are already experiencing the effects and if the trend continues, Mann said we could be facing mass migrations away from the coast that can lead to conflict.
“There are so many reminders in our daily lives or on our television screens in a 24 hour news cycle,” Mann said. “This isn’t a theoretical problem and the impacts are no longer subtle. We’re seeing them play out.”
As the damage of climate change unfolds around the globe, world leaders are looking to the United States for guidance and leadership. On the campaign trail, Trump indicated that he will pull the United States out of the Paris Climate Agreement, which nearly 200 countries have signed to combat climate change by reducing greenhouse gas emissions.
Mann sees the commitment made in the Paris agreement as an economic opportunity for the United States. He suggested that renewable energy is the great economic revolution of this century and if Trump seizes the opportunity he can deliver on his campaign promise to bring manufacturing jobs to America.
While the climate-change policy of the Trump presidency is uncertain, Mann believes there is common ground that allows for cautious optimism.
“Acting on climate change really is about our children and grandchildren,” Mann said. “When we’re talking about making decisions about preserving the quality of this planet we all care about our children and grandchildren. We want the best possible future for them and I have to believe that is true for Donald Trump.”