Belief in Science Trumps Global Deals

By Priyarshini Ghosh

Science hasn’t always been his strongest suit, but he has grown up to be a businessman who, despite his lack of diplomatic conduct, has managed to successfully negotiate the most challenging deal of all- becoming president of the largest economy in the world. Why then, is this businessman’s decision to pull out of an environment deal met with harsh criticism and distrust?

Last week when I read about President Donald Trump’s decision to exit our country out of the Paris climate accord, the articles had mostly been about reactions toward his decision rather than his action itself. A vast majority of the world seemed to opine that it’s a terrifying move for the environment, so I decided to examine the “massive” impact that the Paris climate deal has had on the environment, thus far. Here is a summary for you to decide if it indeed has or has not.

The main objective of the deal is to set a unified target not exceeding a 2°C rise in global temperature by the end of the century. Beyond 2°C, we risk adverse environmental consequences, including severe flooding, rising sea levels, food and water scarcity, among others. Although the entire point of setting a goal psychologically induces one to work towards achieving it, scientists argue that the 2°C value is arbitrary and will probably be reached significantly earlier, possibly by 2032 [1].

To do this, the agreement asks its member countries (all but Syria, Nicaragua, and now the U.S.), to cut back on emissions. What it doesn’t do is direct the countries on what to do to achieve this goal, and there aren’t any “punishments” for those that “break the rules of the agreement.” You still get to retain membership of the highly acclaimed group if you emit more carbon that they would like you to. Convenient, if I’m getting perks out of it, yes?

So, what are the perks? Fake pity-parties.

Poor and developing countries that had suffered from richer countries looting and burning their fossil fuels have been banned from using them any further [2]. So now, the rich countries are supposed to give the developing countries billions of dollars to support the deal. Of course, the deal doesn’t mandate this and violating this clause does not affect either party, or membership for that matter.

Not the friendliest move, walking out the door of a global team, but harmful to the environment?

Contrary to the deafening environmental-apocalyptic fear spawning out of environmental groups, the U.S. is not going to freely release carbon into the environment now that it’s out of the deal (one can still do that being a member, keep in mind). The U.S. is still on a mission to reduce emission, just not on a global deal’s watch anymore.

While that may not sound like the most “peaceful” of ideas, it isn’t exactly in the worst interests of the environment. Countries still part of the deal that loudly looked down upon Trump’s move, like Germany, has recently shut down its nuclear plants and replaced it with coal and gas (2016 reports increased carbon emissions in Germany) [3].

This decision, being publicized as a bad political move, could potentially benefit the climate. Trump could, as he had promised, draft new regulations and better the system that the previous government left him, by cleaning out the environment more efficiently. Apart from the immense scientifically proven benefits, including safety, substantially lowered carbon emission, and minus the intermittency and geographical-dependence of renewables like solar and wind, nuclear power can make electricity more affordable, and create jobs for an industry that Trump has repeatedly been in favor of.

In December 2016, Bloomberg obtained a document [4] which showed Trump’s transition team asking the Department of Energy ways to “keep nuclear plants operating as part of the nation’s infrastructure” and to “prevent the shutdown of plants”. Additionally, the document stated that Trump’s advisors were looking to address concerns regarding “long-term storage of spent radioactive material.” If the current administration strongly caters to these issues, science will truly have won, no matter what the President says he believes or doesn’t believe in.

There’s one particular incident that is telling of how Trump’s beliefs in nuclear compensates for his disbelief in climate change, from an environmental standpoint. Following Japan’s Fukushima Daiichi disaster in 2011, Trump commented, “I’m in favor of nuclear energy, very strongly in favor of nuclear energy. If a plane goes down, people keep flying. If you get into an auto crash, people keep driving. [5]” He may insinuate that he does not believe in science, but he believes in the cleanest energy source that can actually get the job done. And I am of the opinion that you can shamelessly break out of an agreement, but you don’t break out of your beliefs.

How do we trust someone who makes light of climate change? Whether it is a byproduct of some political agenda, is unclear, but Trump evidently has a soft corner for nuclear power. If this inclination can be of aid towards increasing the use of nuclear energy, then it is the environment that is benefiting here, aside to any other aforementioned agenda.

Belief in science, not science itself, can rescue the environment.

[1] http://www.nature.com/news/is-the-2-c-world-a-fantasy-1.18868

[2] https://www.vox.com/energy-and-environment/2017/6/1/15724162/trump-paris-climate-agreement-explained-briefly

[3] http://www.environmentalprogress.org/big-news/2017/1/13/breaking-german-emissions-increase-in-2016-for-second-year-in-a-row-due-to-nuclear-closure

[4] https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2016-12-09/trump-team-s-memo-hints-at-broad-shake-up-of-u-s-energy-policy

[5] http://money.cnn.com/2017/01/20/investing/nuclear-power-uranium-stocks-donald-trump/index.html


Priya GhoushPriyarshini Ghosh is a nuclear engineering graduate at Kansas State University, chasing after fast neutrons in her lab. She is an aspiring writer and an advocate for nuclear as a clean, safe and cheap source of energy. She loves to talk about nuclear power @priyoghoshX on Twitter. She has a background in chemical engineering that guides her with the intricacies of designing detectors.

3 thoughts on “Belief in Science Trumps Global Deals

  1. John Tanner

    The climate agreement is only a first step. It is a formal acknowledgement that global warming is a serious problem, and doing something about it will require global cooperation. The only enforcement so far is social pressure. Donald Trump will have nothing to do with that. Me first bargaining is his style, not working together to solve a mutual problem.

    How each country should cut its carbon emissions is not specified, which is as it should be. Conservation, windmills, nuclear, or “all of the above.”

    Sacrifices will be needed. We and China must continue cutting the use of coal for electrical generation. Germany and California must stop closing nuclear plants–an ideological, not an economic sacrifice.

    So what is your proposal for getting started on solving the climate problem? Or do you not acknowledge it as such?

  2. Ed Knuckles

    Thank you for helping put a political decision vs. “science” in perspective. I’ve placed the word science in quotes because I believe that, for the public in general, the word has taken on a connotation that transcends the meaning of the actual process of science.

    Instead the word “science” can be used in the media to lend an aura of gospel to the subject which it is associated with and interpreted by the public as unchallengeable and above politics. A better criteria for evaluating this particular decision might be whether or not it was rational. That may help in answering “why the decision was met with harsh criticism and distrust.”
    Please continue your efforts in bridging the gap between what is done in science and the practical implementation of its results in the public sphere.