Let’s increase greenhouse gas emissions

Amid everything else we mustn’t lose sight of Trump’s dedicated work to make climate change worse faster.

Amid heat waves, wildfires, droughts and Arctic ice melt, President Trump has taken aim at the two central pillars of his predecessor’s ambitious efforts to reduce carbon dioxide emissions. After proposing in early August to freeze a scheduled increase in fuel economy standards for cars and light trucks, the Trump administration on Tuesday said it would seek to significantly weaken the Obama-era Clean Power Plan, aimed at reducing greenhouse gas emissions from coal-fired power plants.

Because climate change is already so pleasant and healthy and salubrious, he’s working to intensify it and speed it up. Thanks, Don.

In taking on the Clean Power Plan, Mr. Trump says he wants to save coal, but the reality is that coal is not coming back. Market forces conspire against it. Even without any policy, the economic imperatives driving the transition to cleaner fuels are expected by 2030 to reduce carbon dioxide emissions in the power sector by 33 percent of their 2005 levels, according to the Environmental Protection Agency. With the Obama plan, the reduction would be 36 percent; with the Trump administration’s new Affordable Clean Energy Rule, it would be 33 to 34 percent.

Not a huge difference, so why does it matter?

First, firm policy direction from the government provides investors and utilities with certainty about the investment outlook and ensures emissions reductions even if the market shifts. Just as few predicted the collapse in natural gas prices a decade ago, there is a wide range of uncertainty about what energy prices will look like in the future.

Second, the right way to assess whether a policy makes sense is not just to look at its emissions impacts but also to compare its costs with its benefits. Even by the current E.P.A.’s own analysis, which makes assumptions that play down the climate benefits and increase the implementation costs, the Clean Power Plan delivered far more net benefits for the American people than the proposed replacement. That is because reducing coal use in the power sector not only delivers carbon emission reductions but also lower levels of local pollutants like particulate matter.

Third, and most important, even though the Clean Power Plan fell far short of the emission reductions needed to avoid severe climate change impacts, it was a starting point to clean up the power sector. It would send investment signals and provide a foundation for deeper reductions in carbon dioxide emissions to meet the globally agreed upon target of limiting temperature rise to well below two degrees Celsius, or 3.6 degrees Fahrenheit.

Whereas now the signals are all “Oh fuck it let’s just do whatever we want and let the future take care of itself.”

Neutering the Clean Power Plan is a major step backward. But what’s most important to remember is that even if a future president puts back in place Mr. Obama’s climate policies, more comprehensive and stringent policies are still needed to deal with the rising threats of climate change that we see all around us. That reality is understood by the American public and increasingly even among oil companies and some Republicanswho have come out in favor of a carbon tax.

The damage done by the Trump administration’s reversal of Mr. Obama’s climate policies is less a sharp rise in carbon emissions than it is the loss of American leadership and missed opportunity to save future generations from climate change’s severe impacts.

But future generations are future generations and we care only about our own selves right now – that’s Trump’s message.

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