Why the media must make climate change a vital issue for President Trump

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Americans are broadly in favor of developing clean sources of energy but there’s a clear political divide about how to approach climate change. Polling by the Pew Research Center shows half of Clinton’s supporters cared about climate change a great deal, compared with 15% of Trump supporters.


Powered by Guardian.co.ukThis article titled “Why the media must make climate change a vital issue for President Trump” was written by Oliver Milman, for theguardian.com on Sunday 13th November 2016 10.00 UTC

Imagine the world was facing upheaval on a scale not seen during modern civilization, a change that would imperil the world’s great cities by the rising seas and snuff out species at at the fastest rate since the dinosaurs disappeared. Then imagine you were a journalist, had repeated chances to ask the next president of the United States about this and decided to not do so.

The apparent failure of the media during the presidential election has been multifaceted and fiercely debated. But the absence of climate change as a leading topic in the election of Donald Trump is perhaps the single greatest rebuke to the idea that power should be held to account for the benefit of this and future generations.

This failure was most apparent during the presidential debates, where four-and-a-half hours of television saw not one moderator question pitched to Trump or Hillary Clinton on climate change. It was left to Ken Bone, he of the red sweater and brief internet fame, to come closest with a question about coal mining.

The mind-boggling consequences of unchecked climate change, which is essentially what Trump proposes by denying the problem exists, dwarfed every other issue – yes, including emails – discussed during the debates. And yet it wasn’t raised. It was the equivalent of getting an exclusive interview with Churchill and Roosevelt in 1942 and not asking them about the war.

Climate change was also missing in broader coverage of the election, especially on cable TV, where slow-moving scientific emergencies don’t make good fodder for breathless horse-race journalism. The public were periodically warned that the seas are eating away America’s east coast and that no it’s not just you, it really is warm this year, but climate change was treated as a side issue rather than being central to every economic, energy and foreign policy question the country is grappling with.

Kerry Emanuel, a leading climate scientist, said: “This is the great issue of our time and we are skirting around it. I’m just baffled by it.”

To be fair, many Americans also skirt around climate change too, even if they are concerned about it. Nearly two-thirds of Americans say that climate change is at least somewhat important to them personally, according to the Yale Program on Climate Communication, although few people talk about the issue with family or friends.

Americans are broadly in favor of developing clean sources of energy but there’s a clear political divide about how to approach climate change. Polling by the Pew Research Center shows half of Clinton’s supporters cared about climate change a great deal, compared with 15% of Trump supporters.

Maybe now that the reality of the next four years of president Trump is sinking in, a more considered view of the problems America faces will take hold. Maybe people will realize it’s important that we’ve left it to the very last minute to cut greenhouse gas emissions and that failure to do this will probably risk their property, prosperity and national security.

Maybe the spread of disease and the rising seas will be grasped as something to be urgently remedied before tropical mosquitos advance further and south Florida is inundated.

There is much detail to work out, both on the impacts of climate change and how Trump’s policies will influence them. The president-elect has promised to withdraw the US from the Paris climate deal, to scrap the Clean Power Plan, slash funding for renewable energy and somehow attempt to reboot the ailing coal industry.

How far he will go with this agenda, and indeed how invested he personally is in it beyond outlandish tweeted conspiracies, is still unclear. Exiting the Paris accord will require a three-year notice period but as the agreement is non-binding beyond its over-arching goal of avoiding dangerous global warming, Trump could simply drop any attempt to cut emissions and sit it out as other countries try to suppress their panic as to what to do now that the US isn’t a climate leader anymore.

Trump wants to accelerate domestic oil, coal and gas production to achieve “complete American energy independence” but this goal is contradictory and barely feasible given the unfavorable economics facing coal and oil in particular.

The new president also wants to roll back the Environmental Protection Agency while having “crystal clear” water and clean air. He has spoken admiringly of America’s natural beauty but has surrounded himself with fossil fuel billionaires and lobbyists who want to split open public lands for their enrichment. Republicans largely support this stance but at the same time they don’t want a public enraged by degraded national parks or another Flint water crisis, for example.

Untangling these contradictions and what they mean for the US, and the planet, will arguably form the most important legacy left by a Trump presidency. It’s up to the media to start helping do this.

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