WASHINGTON – President Trump campaigned on withdrawing from the Paris climate agreement and has expressed doubt that global warming is caused by human activity, but Democrats argue the American public still wants government action on climate change despite Trump’s defeat of Hillary Clinton.
“I think there was a survey today in one of the papers that talked about the support he enjoys in the places he was strong in the election, and in those places people rejected his rejection of the Paris climate agreement, even in those pro-Trump areas they said ‘no’ to his rejection of the climate issue,” House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) said during an interview with PJM at the An Inconvenient Sequel: Truth to Power premiere Wednesday evening at the Newseum with former Vice President Al Gore. “Maybe he’ll learn the truth, listen to the public and understand the responsibility the president of the United States has.”
Given Trump’s position on climate change as a candidate, Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.), who delivers regular Senate floor speeches warning about global warming, was asked if Trump’s election victory shows that the public is not as concerned about climate change as environmental activists.
“I think in order to understand climate change you’ve got to understand a fair amount of science and you’ve also got to look forward to problems that are probably going to be more direly experienced by your own children,” Whitehouse replied. “So people who have an immediate struggle in their lives, I can appreciate that that is not going to go to the top of their list. But it’s the responsibility of leaders to do better than that – to look ahead and to see what’s coming and to plan for that so that when they do come, people aren’t looking around going, ‘OK, now this is the biggest problem in my life, you could have fixed it, what the hell, where were you? Why weren’t you doing anything?’”
Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.) echoed Whitehouse.
“I do think the public is very concerned and our young folks are very concerned and our rural America is very concerned because we are seeing such big impacts on our forests, and our fishing and our farming,” Merkley said. “In fact, rural America is ground zero. I hold a lot of town halls. I’m out there in every county, every year holding an average of one every 10 days since I was elected nine years ago – and I can tell you, every one is reporting back they want to see action on this.”
Pelosi had a direct message for Trump on climate change and the Paris agreement.
“I would say to the president, think of your grandchildren. Think of the world that you are putting them in. Think of the air they breathe, the water they drink, the opportunities that they have that are different,” she said. “We address the inconvenient truth and I know you care. If you listen and learn, perhaps you will make another decision.”
Merkley was asked if there is a way to reduce emissions significantly enough to impact global temperatures but not cause energy costs to rise for average Americans.
“Oh absolutely. In fact, by transforming our energy economy we can produce cheaper transportation. It costs 3 cents a mile to use an electric car and about 20 cents a mile for a gas car – that’s a big improvement,” the Oregon senator said. “The electric cars are just going to get cheaper and cheaper.”
“Meanwhile, by transforming our energy economy we can create a tremendous number of jobs, middle-class jobs, good-paying jobs,” Merkley added. “Let’s seize this opportunity and let’s develop products and sell them to the rest of the world.”
Whitehouse said putting a price on carbon would benefit consumers.
“You put a significant price on carbon and a good deal of that gets absorbed on the corporate levels before it gets to the consumer, and you take all of the revenue from the carbon fee and you return it to the American people so they get the money back in their pockets,” he said. “You can lower other taxes so that payroll taxes go down, and the net effect is the same but it changes the way the market works. It changes the choices people make and it opens up the door for investors to invent new and exciting things.”
Trump has signaled that he might re-enter the Paris agreement at some point, but Whitehouse does not have high hopes.
“Given the extent to which the Trump administration is owned and controlled on these issues by the fossil fuel industry, they are going to stink at being a part of the Paris agreement even if they get back into it,” Whitehouse said. “So I think it would be important for the country, for its reputation, not to have walked away from something that everybody except – what? – Venezuela and Syria have agreed to.”
“I mean, we’re really insulating ourselves in an embarrassing way but I don’t think that means they are going to do a good job of compliance,” the Rhode Island senator added. “That’s why it’s so exciting what the mayors and the governors and the private corporations are doing to step up and make up for this failure of presidential leadership.”