Media release: US election: Where to for health and the environment?

November 10 2016

The results of the US election are in.

If Donald Trump does to the environment what he said he would do as President, the hard-fought progress to protect our ailing planet looks set to take a giant leap backwards- just at the crucial time when we need to take giant leap forwards to ensure our survival. The Lancet has described climate change as the biggest health threat of the 21st century.

Trump has said

  • He would abrogate the Paris agreement​.
  • He has pledged to reverse every step Obama has made to reducing carbon emissions and meeting the Paris goals established in Paris.
  • He will “rescind” the Environmental Protection Agency’s Clean Power Plan, which was a huge advance in public health. He has threatened to eviscerate the EPA.
  • He will open more land to fossil-fuel exploration and drilling, and approve the Keystone XL pipeline.
  • He will stop climate change aid for programs including developing countries.

What this means for climate change action?
Warming is increasingly likely to reach over 3 degrees if emissions are not controlled over the next eight years.

  • The issues that are likely to come increasingly to the fore are the inter-related problems of:
  • Health impacts from extreme weather events such as heatwaves and floods, unpredictable happenings in the spread of infectious disease
  • Increase in climate change refugees created by drought and sea level rise. Pacific island impacts
  • Increase in extreme events eroding national budgets
  • Exacerbation of problems with food production

How will Trump and these events affect climate change action in Australia?

  • A more powerful fossil fuel lobby (already allied with the conservative press) will move the Coalition further to the right. On the face of it, there will be much more difficulty in curbing emissions and pollution from fossil fuels and therefore difficulty in increasing targets and indeed any other actions on mitigation. Government mantra “we will do no more than the other countries” will be strengthened.
  • There will be less international pressure on the Coalition to reform; much of this pressure has come from US institutions and presents itself as concern over the Great Barrier Reef and new coal mines.
  • Strengthening of the position of climate deniers in government, for example Cory Barnardi from the right-wing section of the Liberal Party who campaigned for Trump in the US and a strengthening of One Nation which celebrated the result.

Where do we go from here?
The darkest hour is often before the dawn. The signs are that major change may have already begun:

  • Countries such as China and India will push for more clean energy as cities become more and more choked with air pollution.
  • The China- US agreement was the cornerstone of international intent on mitigation and was applying pressure for others to act.
  • All may not be lost for China may be forced to lead in its own interests. It has recognised the science and has the structure to take action authoritatively as it did on population.
  • We have to consider placing emphasis on adaptation and planning of health and emergency services to deal with extreme events.
  • In the face of federal government inaction, states, cities and councils are starting to deliver sound environmental policies. For example, green carbon city plans like Adelaide. DEA’s health input is vital to these initiatives, given government indolence.
  • We have to promote individual action and have reliance on Do-It-Yourself renewable energy and storage and many other actions.
  • Citizens everywhere will feel the direct consequences of extreme weather events, food security threats, air and water pollution, soil and coastal erosion and so on, and demand political action.
  • Groups such as DEA will continue to fight to ensure science is the back-bone of good public policy rather than ideology and the self interest of the few.
  • And each of us must ask ourselves and our families what more we can do.

Let’s get moving: there is much work to do!

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