On Monday, former vice-president Al Gore traveled to Trump Tower to discuss climate change with Ivanka Trump, the daughter of the president-elect.
Instead, he got the well-coiffed one himself.
“I had a lengthy and very productive session with the president-elect,” he told reporters afterward, describing the meeting as “a sincere search for areas of common ground.”
“I found it an extremely interesting conversation, and to be continued. And I’m just going to leave it at that,” he added.
He did not leave it at that, appearing later Monday night on MSNBC. “It’s no secret that Ivanka Trump is very committed to having a climate policy that makes sense for our country and for our world, and that was certainly evident in the conversation that I had with her,” he told Chris Hayes. “I appreciate the fact that she is very concerned about this.”
As it happens, it was kind of a secret. Ivanka Trump did not mention climate change on the campaign trail, and the only prior evidence that she cares about the issue is a Politico article published earlier this month. The story quotes “a source close to [Ivanka]” who says that “Ivanka wants to make climate change … one of her signature issues.” The article opens with a scene where Trump and her husband, Jared Kushner, visit a gathering of liberal well-to-dos in Aspen. Charlie Rose and Harvey Weinstein were also present. There was fly fishing.
That’s all we know for sure about Ivanka Trump and climate change, but we can speculate.
Here is the question: Can Ivanka Trump (and Al Gore) move the needle on climate change?
The answer is: Who knows! It would be nice to think so!
Here’s what we do know: The overwhelming consensus of scientists who study the Earth’s climate is that global warming is real and caused by human industrial activity. Since the early 1980s, leading climate science has stated that this is the case. Since then, the scientific community’s agreement and understanding of the issue has only deepened. Ivanka Trump is right to be concerned about it.
Yet despite this agreement, Donald Trump’s energy and environmental transition team is staffed by people who have long opposed basic tenets of climate science. Myron Ebell, for instance, who reportedly leads Trump’s EPA transition team, has rejected the existence of global warming altogether.
Others on the team, like Thomas Pyle and Doug Domenech have claimed that the evidence of climate change is based more on models than data. This is an odd thing to say: The greenhouse-gas mechanism is basic chemistry, and there’s plenty of evidence for a warming planet in the historical record. For instance: Of the 15 hottest years ever measured, 14 have occurred this century, and 2016 is almost certain to be the hottest yet.
Still others reject global climate-diplomacy efforts. Steven Groves, a member of Trump’s State Department transition, supports pulling the United States not just from the Paris Agreement, but from the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change.
While these kinds of positions may be popular among Republicans, they are not the party’s default view. Plenty of professional Republicans embrace the scientific consensus that global warming exists, even if they disagree with Democrats about what to do about it. For instance, a number of Republican representatives in South Florida have joined the Climate Solutions Caucus. Oren Cass, who led Mitt Romney’s domestic policy team in 2012, has written that Republicans should recognize the validity of the UN synthesis reports on climate science—even though he personally disagrees with how the Obama administration handled the Paris negotiations. And Christine Todd Whitman, the former EPA administration under George W. Bush, has lobbied Republicans to recognize the economic dangers of climate change.
And these are just the questions stemming from personnel. Plenty of Trump campaign promises—from reviving the coal industry to rescinding EPA regulations—could do damage to the climate.
While Obama’s Clean Power Plan gets much of the mainstream attention, the consequences of rescinding the Obama administration’s rules on methane emissions could be worse. That’s because more and more utility companies will move to natural-gas burning no matter what Trump’s administration does. Natural gas, when it leaks into the atmosphere, traps more than 1,000 times the heat managed by carbon dioxide. The Obama administration finalized rules to minimize that leakage a week after the election.
And if the Republican-controlled Congress guts the EPA or the Clean Air Act (both real possibilities), then any future president’s ability to respond to environmental threats could be permanently closed off.
Which is all to say that (a) there’s no sign that Trump will moderate on climate change and (b) if Ivanka wants to work within the administration to mitigate global warming, there are plenty of places to start. (Unless she is also helping to run Trump’s businesses, as some reports indicate she will. Then her involvement in the White House will create a migraine-inducing number of conflicts of interest.)
If Ivanka is interested in swaying her father on [climate change], could this just be a repeat of what happened with child care? Over the summer, Ivanka spoke out publicly about the need to “[make] quality child care affordable and accessible for all.” And she got a lot of accolades for supposedly influencing her father on the topic. But Trump’s actual child care policy just turned out to be a tax credit for the wealthy.
Climate change is different from child care on this front, however: There’s already a popular tax credit available to Americans who install solar panels or wind turbines. If I had to blindly speculate, I’d say an easy-to-predict outcome of the Al-Ivanka axis would be Trump asking Congress to strengthen or extend this tax credit. It wouldn’t be the best possible action the United States could take on climate change, especially if Republicans devastate the regulatory landscape. And I’m not sure I would bet on it coming to pass, but it wouldn’t be the worst outcome.