United States President-elect Donald Trump has (in)famously tweeted that climate change is a Chinese hoax and promised to quit the 2015 Paris Agreement which seeks to phase out net greenhouse gas emissions by the second half of the century and limit global warming to “well below” 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial times.
This bumper post-election climate change post features three articles on the issues for global warming action from his election.
In the first, public health specialist Associate Professor Peter Sainsbury writes that failure to act on climate change is the greatest threat that the world faces under Trump, warning that if we don’t put the right policies and programs in place in the next 10 years, humanity may well be wiped out in the next two hundred.
In the second, Associate Professor David McKnight says despair is the wrong response – rather civil society needs to build “the broadest and biggest coalition of forces to defend and extend the Paris agreement globally” and work towards coordinated actions for early in 2017 after Trump is installed.
Finally, health policy/climate change expert Gino Marinucci, a former strategic policy advisor on climate and health for the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, says there is much that Australia can learn from mobilised action under the Obama Administration on minimising the public health impacts of climate change.
He points to a number of examples, including one program that has helped to “bridge the cultural divide that exists between researchers and practitioners, with scientists presenting their findings directly to health departments, and practitioners highlighting current challenges such as gaps in capabilities and access to data”.
Peter Sainsbury writes:
Trump and the laws of physics
I have received several messages since the US election along the lines of: we’ve faced dark times before and we must remain hopeful, support each other, continue to work towards a sustainable society; we can build on the Paris Agreement, an international agreement that the USA can’t just walk away from, etc. etc. That’s all very well, and I take it on board and I won’t give up the fight but …
Misogyny, racism, social inequality, economic inequality, intolerance, bullying, nationalism, inhumanity, violence, religious intolerance, exploitation, prejudice, corruption, democratic failures – these are all terrible scourges and they need to be eradicated.
But they are not governed by the laws of physics.
It would be good if we eliminated them all in the next 50 years. If we don’t, many people (many more than already have, that is) will continue to be victimised by other humans and the situation will continue to be shameful; and many of us will continue to fight against all forms of oppression and inequity and for a better world.
But the human race won’t come to an end in the next 50 years any more than it has in the last 50 if these problems continue – many members of humanity will ‘simply’ continue to suffer completely unnecessarily in many ways, including suffering profound mental and physical illness and disability and dying prematurely. Barring a totally destructive global nuclear war, however, human civilisation will continue to exist even though these terrible blights in society persist.
Climate change is governed by the laws of physics. The laws of physics do not negotiate. They do not consider what is politically feasible at the moment. They do not bide their time waiting for the political pendulum to swing. If humans don’t cooperate globally and put the right policies and programs in place to tackle climate change in the next 10 years, humanity may well be wiped out in the next two hundred.
That’s why climate change is different to all these other threats – inadequately mitigated it will be totally catastrophic for human health, and possibly the survival of humanity. Finding a solution to it is supremely urgent – it dwarfs all other problems in magnitude and urgency. We haven’t got the decades and centuries it took to combat slavery, achieve votes for women, implement civil rights, overthrow colonialism, etc.
But, while the laws of physics governing climate change won’t negotiate with humanity, human beings will have to negotiate and cooperate with each other to implement the responses necessary to prevent run-away climate change. The scourges I mentioned above will all need to be tackled not just concurrently with but integrally to tackling climate change. Without removing these social evils, we won’t generate the global cooperation and effort needed to achieve the change necessary to keep climate change within manageable limits – as Naomi Klein says, we need a world based on caring for the earth and one another.
If Trump follows through on his promises to support and develop fossil fuels and make the USA energy-independent, the four years of a Trump presidency may well be four years of obstruction and backward steps that we simply have not got. In four years’ time the internationally agreed 2oC limit on global temperature increase may be dead in the (even warmer and increasingly acidic) water. We will then enter completely uncharted and unpredictable territory, possibly before 2050. The laws of physics won’t wait for four years. Nor can the international community whatever the US does.
Peter Sainsbury is Vice President of the Climate and Health Alliance, and Associate Professor, School of Public Health, Sydney University.
Associate Professor David McKnight writes
Trump, the climate and us
Now is the time for leadership from all civil society groups who are concerned with climate change under Trump presidency. He is clearly going to send a wrecking ball through the Paris Agreement and through US internal reforms favoring renewable energy. All this will impact Australian politics directly if Trump is allowed to succeed.
The first thing we need to tackle is the utter despair of some in the movement. Some people are reacting in an exaggerated way — that all is lost. In fact the main force arrayed against us — the fossil fuel lobby — is the same obstacle pre-Trump as post-Trump. Early signs suggest that Trump’s climate policies will generate a backlash globally and within the US.
The second thing is strategic. We need to defend the Paris Agreement. Doing so establishes the objective basis for a global campaign against Trump’s climate stance.
The third point is also strategic. We need to build the broadest and biggest coalition of forces to defend and extend the Paris agreement. Small, activist-oriented actions can dramatise issues but victories are ultimately won by broad alliances and collaboration. In Australia that means finding a vehicle that can unite religious, environmental, union, NGO groups as well as supporters of both Labor and the Greens. We have already built the foundations of such a movement – the People’s Climate March (whose name already has a populist ring to it)
In concrete terms, putting points 1, 2 and 3 together, I believe the whole movement should rebuild the People’s Climate March, should frame it as a response to Trump and plan globally coordinated actions for some time like March or April next year.
David McKnight is an Associate Professor in the School of the Arts and Media at the University of New South Wales.
Gino Marinucci writes:
Australia can learn from US on climate change and health programs
The election of Donald Trump, supported by a Republican-led Congress, spells significant trouble for the US Federal Government’s climate change mitigation and adaptation efforts. However, the collective federal infrastructure that was mobilised to work towards climate action during the Obama Administration can inform Australia’s efforts to minimise the public health impacts of climate change.
US Global Change Research Program
The prioritisation of climate action for the Obama Administration, and therefore across many federal agencies, provided a boost to local adaptation efforts across America, with national leadership, collaboration and coordination through the U.S. Global Change Research Program (USGCRP), which coordinates the global change research and scientific activities of 13 federal agencies. This has facilitated greater federal collaboration around the public health impacts of climate change.
Crosscutting Group on Climate Change and Human Health
One of the interagency working groups formed by the USGCRP is the Interagency Crosscutting Group on Climate Change and Human Health (CCHHG) which is co-chaired by the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.
The CCHHG works to coordinate, implement, evaluate, and communicate federal research and scientific activities related to the human health impacts of global climate change.
Members of the CCHHG represent 11 different federal agencies, with expertise spanning the continuum from basic health sciences to public health practice. The work group is guided by a One Health approach that recognises the inextricable link between the health of humans, animals, and the environment.
The CCHHG has provided a forum for members to share information on agency activities, compile and evaluate science on the effects of climate change on health, and collaborate to develop technical and informational products to empower people to take action in the face of health threats posed by climate change.
The CCHHG has brought together grantees and stakeholders from various agencies to share research findings and information, as well as inform priorities for future activities. This commitment to sharing information has helped to bridge the cultural divide that exists between researchers and practitioners, with scientists presenting their findings directly to health departments, and practitioners highlighting current challenges such as gaps in capabilities and access to data.
These forums have initiated collaboration between researchers and practitioners on targeted research activities, with federal agencies participating as willing sponsors. The CCHHG has also ensured that there is greater awareness of public health considerations in the many federal and international forums considering action to both mitigate and adapt to climate change.
Through the CCHHG, federal agencies have collaborated on a range of important initiatives including a national Climate and Health Assessment, released in April of this year. It provides a comprehensive, evidence-based and, where possible, quantitative estimation of observed and projected climate change impacts on human health in the US.
The CCHHG also collaborated to develop information, tools, and case studies to build community and health care facility resilience as a key component within the US Climate Resilience Toolkit.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention-led initiatives
In addition to greater coordination and collaboration, federal agencies have also been empowered by the White House and previous incarnations of Congress to lead programs to mitigate and build resilience to the impacts of climate change.
The creation of a Climate and Health Branch within the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in 2010 has enabled the nation’s public health agency, to use its prevention expertise to help state and city health departments investigate, prepare for, and respond to the health effects that climate change will have on people.
Managing risks to public health from climate change requires an iterative approach. As with many risk management strategies related to climate change, using modelling to project impacts, engaging a wide range of stakeholders, and regularly updating models and risk management plans with new information are considered central tenets of effective public health adaptation.
The CDC’s Climate-Ready States and Cities Initiative (CRSCI) is supporting climate change pilot programs in health departments in 16 states and two cities. The CRSCI enables health departments to partner with local and national climate scientists to understand the potential climate changes in their areas over significant future timeframes, and to employ evidence based, effective means to address climate associated health risk factors.
This approach, detailed as the Building Resilience Against Climate Effects framework, or BRACE, is guiding public health agencies to tailor their preparedness and response to climate change by matching projected local impacts to local context and resources, supported by a stronger evidence base.
Climate change planning in action
Injecting new models and sources of data, coupled with planning over longer time horizons, is already bearing fruit for health departments participating in the CRSCI.
By using climate models overlaid with demographic data the New York City Health Department was able to better identify New Yorkers at greatest risk during a heatwave and tailor real time monitoring and response plans. During the events of Superstorm Sandy, the Health Department found that the real time surveillance monitoring program and associated response plans could also be deployed to address those vulnerable to extremes in cold temperature during extended power outages.
Other jurisdictions have used their improved understanding of climate change modelling to enhance heat preparedness and surveillance activities, for more targeted monitoring of mosquito and tick-borne diseases, and to influence the location of planned infrastructure, such as wastewater and drinking water infrastructure, on the basis that if compromised from unanticipated extreme weather, it may generate a significant public health incident.
While significant commitment, effort and investment is needed to address the threat that looms from climate change, the short term gains made in America can give us confidence that leadership, prioritisation and even modest investments at the federal level can leverage significant public health outcomes locally, particularly for those Australians who are most vulnerable.
Gino Marinucci is a public health/climate change and health policy expert, now working in health policy in Western Australia. He is former Strategy and Policy Advisor, Climate & Health Program, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.