It is hard to know what, if anything, Donald Trump really thinks about climate change. In many public speeches he has claimed that climate change is a hoax. On the other hand, this did not stop him applying to build a sea wall to protect his golf course on the west coast of Ireland from the threat of sea level rise.
Trump’s administration reflects a similar lack of consistency. On the one hand we see the climate change denying Scott Pruitt installed at the Environmental Protection Agency, where he is busy recruiting an army of climate change sceptics who will sweep away all objections to an unfettered fossil fuel renaissance. On the other hand we have the hard-headed Secretary of State Rex Tillerson who, as CEO of Exxon famously broke ranks with the other energy companies by admitting that climate change was real… and then arguing that nevertheless nobody was going to do anything about it.
Which way will Trump go?
One indicator might be his recent claim to want to strengthen the US military. This is because dating back to the Second World War, US military doctrine revolves around aircraft carrier fleets. And one of the key problems with running a large “blue water” navy is that you need to establish a chain of naval bases around the world. And whatever else Trump may or may not know about naval bases, you can be pretty sure that even he realises that you have to locate them next to the sea; and as Meghann Myers reported in Navy Times last year:
“Naval Station Norfolk in Virginia and 17 other U.S. military installations sitting on waterfront property are looking at hundreds of floods a year and in some cases could be mostly submerged by 2100, according to a new report from the Union of Concerned Scientists. Based on these calculations, the report says a three-foot sea level rise would threaten 128 U.S. military bases, valued at roughly $100 billion.”
This puts Trump’s concern with his Irish golf course into perspective. And the US Navy’s problems are particularly severe because the combined impact of sea level rise and the gulf-stream current mean that the USA’s eastern coastline is already experiencing visible evidence of sea level rise in the shape of so-called “sunny day flooding” resulting from sea water running back through storm drains that are now below the high tide level.
As Andrew Revkin reports in Science magazine, the imminent prospect of the Navy losing its ability to set out to sea is just one of the reasons why Secretary of Defense James Mattis not only believes that climate change is real, but that it is a major challenge to US national security:
“I agree that the effects of a changing climate — such as increased maritime access to the Arctic, rising sea levels, desertification, among others — impact our security situation. I will ensure that the department continues to be prepared to conduct operations today and in the future, and that we are prepared to address the effects of a changing climate on our threat assessments, resources, and readiness.”
Mattis’ comments point to the likelihood of some heated discussions behind closed doors in the Trump White House. Not least because he also made clear that addressing climate change requires a “whole-of-government” response.
According to Revkin:
“Concerns about the implications of global warming for national security have built within the Pentagon and national security circles for decades, including under both Bush administrations.”
This suggests that Trump could find himself on the wrong side of a big conflict with America’s famous “Military-Industrial Complex” if he doesn’t change his mind on climate change. And he wouldn’t be the first US president to come second in that particular conflict.