Every concrete indication we have so far suggests that Donald Trump is going to be a disaster for climate policy. He’s surrounded by advisers who want to ramp up fossil-fuel development and don’t care even a little bit about global warming. He’s tapped Myron Ebell, one of Washington’s most prominent climate deniers, to lead his EPA transition team. He’s pledged to withdraw from the Paris climate deal — the most significant global strategy to date to tackle rising temperatures. Trump himself has called global warming a “hoax” and “bullshit.” His chief of staff says Trump really means it.
But now comes word that both Trump and his daughter Ivanka met on Monday with Al Gore to discuss “climate issues.” This after a vaguely sourced Politico story suggesting that Ivanka might want to make global warming her signature issue these next four years. (She reportedly arranged the meeting.)
“I had a lengthy and very productive session,” said Gore after meeting with Trump. “It was a sincere search for areas of common ground.” The former vice president turned climate advocate added: “I found it an extremely interesting conversation and to be continued. And I’m just going to leave it at that.”
Now, the cynical view is that this was just a meaningless publicity stunt that will have absolutely zero impact on a Trump administration’s actual energy and climate policies. (And even less impact on Republicans in Congress, who are devout in their hatred for any efforts to tackle global warming.) But hey, surprises are always possible! Maybe Trump is open to changing his mind about this. So, in the spirit of inquiry, here are a few questions about today’s meeting:
1) Why should we believe Gore’s views on climate change will carry more weight with Trump than those of his actual energy advisers? After all, if you’re looking for clues on future policy, it seems significant that Trump’s main energy adviser, Rep. Kevin Cramer (R-ND), thinks that concerns about global warming are “grossly exaggerated.” Or that Trump’s transition team is filled with veterans of oil-industry-funded think tanks that are lobbying to eliminate all clean-energy subsidies.
2) Will anything tangible come out of Trump’s meeting with Gore? Like: Is Trump going to hire different advisers? Or consider different Cabinet appointments for the EPA, Energy, or Interior departments? If not, then it’s hard to get too excited here. Trump’s EPA transition team is still being led by Myron Ebell, who says that global warming is “nothing to worry about.” His rumored EPA appointees are all officials staunchly opposed to tighter environmental regulation. These appointments are the best signals of Trump’s policy, not a photo op with Gore.
3) Will Trump consider modifying any of his policies? Recall that Trump has promised to: Open up vast new tracts of the United States to oil drilling, dismantle Obama’s climate policies, make it easier to run coal plants, and withdraw from the Paris climate deal. Energy policies matter far more than Ivanka “speaking out” on climate.
4) Any chance Trump or Ivanka might to try to convince Republicans in Congress to modify their views on climate and environmental policy? The congressional GOP has been chomping at the bit to dismantle virtually everything President Barack Obama has done on climate change and clean energy these past eight years. Their only real obstacle is the Senate filibuster. Again, that’s a far bigger deal than any meeting at Trump Tower could possibly be.
5) Does Ivanka actually have an interest in climate change — or is this just vaporware? She has no history of doing (or saying) anything on the topic. The only sign so far that she’s interested in climate is this anonymously sourced Politico piece, which opened by noting that she’s wary of alienating her rich liberal friends in Aspen. The uncharitable read is that Ivanka’s dabbling in this subject to burnish her image, and nothing more. There’s a charitable read, too, but we’d need more evidence than what we’ve seen to date.
6) If Ivanka is interested in swaying her father on this issue, might 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.
7) Come to think of it, shouldn’t Ivanka be staying as far away from policy as possible? Trump himself has said that he’d like to avoid business conflicts of interest by turning the Trump Organization over to his children. But if Ivanka’s running the company, then isn’t it a huge conflict of interest for her to be involved in internal policy discussions?
8) What did Donald, Ivanka, and Al Gore even talk about, anyway? Did Gore show them a Powerpoint slide of all the Trump properties that will soon be swamped by sea-level rise? Tell Trump to maybe talk to all the generals who say climate change is a major national security threat? Suggest to Ivanka that she could get rich investing in green tech, just like Gore did? I’ll admit, I’m curious.
Note: This piece originally noted that only Ivanka and Gore were meeting (which is what the Trump transition team indicated earlier in the day). It’s been updated after reports that Gore also met with Donald Trump himself — and apparently spent “the bulk” of his time with him.
- There’s no way around it: Donald Trump looks like a disaster for the planet
- Most people are wildly underestimating what Trump’s win could mean for the environment