All Is Not Lost on Climate Change

Trump will be terrible, but it’s not just about Trump. It’s about you, too.

Rocky Mountains.
The climate fight is not over.


The climate stakes of Tuesday night are so huge as to be almost unfathomable. Hundreds of years, dozens of generations. We can’t get around that fact. The future of humanity—and all the species we share this planet with—is much more murky now than it was 24 hours ago. That’s not an exaggeration; that is a realistic view of how dramatically the climate is changing and how quickly it is doing so.

The Republicans will control both houses of Congress. Donald Trump will appoint the swing vote to the Supreme Court. His word can become law with very few barriers. The words he’s been saying on the campaign trail do not bode well. He has promised to pull out of the Paris Agreement, does not believe global warming is real, and treats energy issues as if they are only relevant to the economy. Before his election, there was hope that his ignorance might prevent him from doing serious damage.

But on Wednesday morning, Speaker of the House Paul Ryan put his full weight behind Trump and essentially promised to favor the economy over the environment in all cases. This is unequivocally bad for the climate. On Wednesday we also learned that Trump will likely put Myron Ebell in charge of the Environmental Protection Agency, if it lasts. It’s not only Obama’s climate legacy that’s at stake, it’s the entire idea of environmental protection.

To top it off, Washington state’s proposal for a groundbreaking revenue-neutral carbon tax—billed as a potential model for the rest of the country and the world—also failed Tuesday night. Climate scientists are understandably very depressed. It is impossible to Make America Great Again if we do not have a habitable Earth.

But for me, the most disturbing part of Tuesday night was how quickly and completely folks seemed to plunge into despair. That reaction is not at all surprising, of course, given what happened.

I get it. I have no right to tell you there’s any hope. We are now grappling with what it means that we now live in a nation where many people will be targeted (women, people of color, journalists, environmentalists, anyone Trump decides he doesn’t like, basically).

But despite what some—even many—are saying right now, the climate fight did not end Tuesday night. All is not lost until everything is lost, and we’re still far, far from that point.

While defeatism may feel like the only option right now, with something as important as the planet, you can never give up. For the next four years, we must constantly remember that a small number of victories are better than none. And now, if we give up, we’ll have none.

Yes, Florida—the state that is most vulnerable to climate change—voted for a climate denier as president. But it also struck down a misleading ballot measure that would have hampered the state’s solar industry. From my reporting earlier this year, I’m more convinced than ever that renewable energy is truly a potential source of bipartisan compromise and an immediate path forward for climate action.

The “market fundamentals” in favor of climate action remain the same: Trump may try to gut our environmental laws, but he can’t bend the laws of how economics work. The fact is, renewables are getting cheaper, so are batteries, and cities and countries worldwide are taking advantage of that.

Speaking from the COP22 climate summit in Morocco, Hilda Heine, the president of the Marshall Islands, perhaps the world’s most vulnerable nation when it comes to climate change, was optimistic: “I expect [Trump] will realize that climate change is a threat to his people and to whole countries which share seas with the U.S. including my own. The Paris Agreement on climate change became law so quickly because there is a significant national interest for each country in pursuing aggressive climate action and that fact has not changed because of the U.S. election.” If she can have hope, so do I.

And in fact, the Paris Agreement was specifically designed to withstand a Trump presidency—it’s already gone into force, meaning it’s legally binding for the countries that agreed to it. That agreement is far from perfect. It’s possible Trump could pull out. But he cannot cancel it. There’s still a good chance other countries will continue on without us.

That’s because the pollution that leads to climate change is a zero-sum game. Every ton of carbon emitted stays there for hundreds of years, effectively permanently from a civilizational perspective. But that also means every pipeline we block, every coal plant we shut down, every solar panel we build, is a net win. We have agency; we are powerful.

My guess is the environment movement will double down under President Trump, ramp up protests, ramp up legal action, and gets in the way. That task will become increasingly physically dangerous for those involved. That’s frightening. But it’s a fight worth continuing. The momentum on climate is depressingly slow, but it’s in the right direction. Trump is a big setback, but it’s not game over.

Don’t be tricked into thinking your actions to protect the climate we all share are meaningless under Trump. You are more important than ever. Reach out to those who are different from you. Trump won, in large part because of disaffected rural voters and people who felt like the system wasn’t working for them. To win on climate, we have to help create a system that works for everyone.

And in the meantime, there’s a lot each of us can do in our own lives. Yes, we’ll need systemic change to preserve a habitable planet for future generations, but that change begins with small steps in our own daily lives—and Trump can’t keep you from starting that today.

See more Slate coverage of the election.