Elizabeth Kolbert on Trump and Climate Change

Elizabeth (The Sixth Extinction) Kolbert, in The New Yorker: Earth Day in the Age of Trump.

She wonders how “A White House characterized by flaming incompetence has nevertheless managed to do one thing effectively: it has trashed years’ worth of work to protect the planet.” She lists examples of actions the current administration has taken.

My initial reaction is that this is a case study of how this current administration, and conservatives in general, prioritize near-term benefits (e.g. jobs for coal miners) at the expense of long-term benefits. They cannot imagine sacrifices to anyone living right now, even if those sacrifices might prevent catastrophe to the entire planet, including the lives of all the grandchildren of everyone living right now, in 50 or 100 years. This is a tendency, or flaw, of human nature, but it’s most prevalent in conservatives — in fact, there is an essay about this today at Slate: Our Puny Human Brains Are Terrible at Thinking About the Future.

Kolbert’s take is twofold.

The simplest answer is that money focusses the mind. Lots of corporations stand to profit from Trump’s regulatory rollback, even as American consumers suffer. Auto manufacturers, for example, had argued that the 2022 fuel-efficiency standards were too expensive to meet. (This is the case even though, when they accepted a federal bailout, during the Obama Administration, the car companies said that the standards were achievable.) Similarly, utilities have argued that the power-plant rules are too costly to comply with. Coal companies will probably benefit from the rollbacks. So, too, will oil companies, and perhaps also ceiling-fan manufacturers, though, in the case of the appliance standards, the affected manufacturers were at the table when the proposed regulations were drafted.

Though there’s arguably more money to be made by investing in alternative energy sources…

Perhaps there’s another explanation.

Combatting a global environmental problem like climate change would seem to require global coöperation. If you don’t believe in global coöperation because “America comes first,” then you’re faced with a dilemma. You can either come up with an alternative approach—tough to do—or simply pretend that the problem doesn’t exist.

Kolbert concludes,

Almost a hundred days into Trump’s Presidency, it’s obvious that he has no agenda or coherent ideology. But two qualities that clearly have no place in his muddled, deconstructive Administration are caution and restraint. As a result, the planet, and everything on it, will suffer.

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