President-elect Trump, as he is prone to do, has again backed away somewhat from a previous position. He no longer calls studies of human-influenced climate change hoaxes. But neither does he embrace what scientists have confirmed: Sea-level increases, wildfires, floods, heat, glacial melting, insect infestations, droughts, and related food shortages are traceable to what humans put in the air that affects climate.
In a meeting Tuesday at the New York Times, Trump was asked if human activity was linked to climate change. "I think there is some connectivity. Some, something," he said. "It depends on how much." Trump also said he had an "open mind" about the multinational climate accords that the Obama administration helped negotiate.
The environmentalist community reacted to Trump's apparent about-face with perplexed caution. "Talk is cheap, and no one should believe Donald Trump means this until he acts upon it," said Sierra Club executive director Michael Brune. "Trump is kidding nobody on climate as he simultaneously stacks his transition team and cabinet with climate-science deniers and the dirtiest hacks the fossil-fuel industry can offer."
Throughout his campaign, Trump offered cover for polluters in the fossil-fuel industry who want to unravel environmental protections to pad their bottom lines. But climate scientists are in near consensus over the negative effects of global warming; and 74 percent of Americans want to reduce pollution, according to a Pew Research Center survey.
As president, Trump can do a lot of damage to people's health, the environment, and commerce by rolling back environmental rules. Theoretically, he could even kill the Environmental Protection Agency, if the Republican-controlled Congress went along. He certainly can pull the United States out of the Paris climate agreement, which would expose American exporters to carbon tariffs from nations that abide by the treaty.
Fortunately, there are economic and political forces far beyond a President Trump's control. The market has already embraced cleaner forms of energy. Wind and solar power are becoming more cost-effective for consumers. Progress on developing batteries that can store natural energy is very encouraging. Natural gas discoveries and improved extraction technology have made it a less expensive alternative to coal-fueled power plants.