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Rutgers professor evaluates climate policy of President-elect

The country is waiting to see how President-elect Donald J. Trump will tackle a number of issues, but the public is anxiously awaiting how the issue of climate change will be dealt with during this transition period. 

Robert Kopp, an associate professor in the Department of Earth and Planetary Sciences and associate director of the Rutgers Energy Institute, gave insight into what the nation should expect for the future of climate change.

Kopp's research focuses on understanding past incidences of climate changes and then using that data to improve projections of future rises in sea-level. He also aims to understand how future climate change will impact the economy, he said.

Climate change is a global problem, Kopp said.

The top worldwide contributors to greenhouse gas emissions are China, the U.S. and the European Union, which each contribute roughly 28 percent, 16 percent and 10 percent of emissions, respectively, according to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

“The thing that the world has accomplished in the last year is laying out the framework for the Paris Agreement, whereby all the countries of the world, except North Korea I believe, have made pledges to reduce their climate impact,” Kopp said.

The U.S. has pledged to reduce its emissions by about 27 percent by the year 2025, Kopp said.

Much of the progress that had been made in reducing emissions was reflected in the economic market, he said. Gas and solar have recently outcompeted coal, which has played an important role in reducing U.S. emissions, Kopp said.

A number of regulations are also controlled by individual state governments, he said.

“In California, there is an economy-wide cap on greenhouse gas emissions. In the states of the Northeast, except Pennsylvania and (New Jersey), there’s a cap on power plant emissions. So those all contribute,” he said.

At the federal level there are certain policies, introduced by the Obama Administration, that play important roles in lowering emissions, Kopp said.

One policy is the Clean Power Plan, which aims to cut carbon pollution from existing power plants, according to the EPA.

For every thousand billion tons of emitted carbon, the earth's temperature increases by roughly 2.7 degrees Fahrenheit, Kopp said, and this type of damage is irreparable once it has been done. 

“So every little bit of CO2 reduction helps," he said, "And every bit (of CO2) added hurts a little bit no matter how much you make up for it later down the road.” 

Kopp said Trump is less likely to pursue emission-lowering policies in the way the Obama Administration has.

“The Obama Administration just yesterday put out its plan for bringing emissions 80 percent below 2005 level by 2050. And certainly I wouldn’t expect the Trump Administration to do anything to make that vision a reality,” he said. 

In order to have a continual and progressive impact on this matter, there needs to be a strong push from citizens on global warming reform, he said. 

What happens after 2025 requires more aggressive policy, and that requires both a push for policy by citizens and leadership willing to respond to that. This progress will not happen in the next four years unless “Trump has a change of heart,” Kopp said.

“There is a U.S. leadership issue. If Trump doesn’t lead on this issue, that means it’s going to fall upon the Chinese to become the global leaders on this issue,” he said.

Kopp said one reason why climate change was not heavily discussed during the campaign season was because it is not immediately affecting the daily lives of the public. Unlike policies regarding the economy and health care, climate change is a gradual problem. 

But despite their subtle, symptoms of climate change are still present, he said. Heat waves are more common now than they previously were and sea levels are higher now than before, meaning coastal areas are flooding more.

“(Climate change) is a long-term risk and one of the problems that people face is the normalization of change. What once seemed extraordinary is then seen as the new normal. If we are waiting for climate change to do one single obvious thing that shocks people, we might be waiting a long time,” he said.

Kopp said events like floods and heat waves, that occur multiple times a year, should influence people to act on climate change more than large singular events such as Superstorm Sandy.

In terms of reducing the amount of climate change, Kopp said this is not really a scientific problem anymore. The scientists know what needs to be done, it is now up to politicians to decide how to solve the problems that have been identified. 

“I would not call on the Trump to make major changes because I suspect the major changes they are going to be making will be in the direction of more climate change not less,” Kopp said. “They would be better off leaving things alone.”

Madhuri Bhupathiraju is a School of Arts and Sciences sophomore majoring in cell biology and neuroscience. She is a staff writer for The Daily Targum. Follow her on Twitter @madhuri448 for more

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