On Tuesday, President Donald Trump made a move that environmental activists had feared, signing an executive order stripping many of the Obama administration's rules and guidelines on climate change. And while the president celebrated the executive order as being a victory for businesses and workers (specifically coal miners), a conversation between reporters and a senior White House official one night prior told a very different tale. Namely, the Trump White House doesn't know climate change's economic effects, an oversight which could have dire implications.
Dire implications for the economy, to be clear. The cost of ignoring climate change will have a deleterious effect on the environment, the planet, and human life, as found by a broad, overwhelming scientific consensus. That's essentially a given at this point, even more so now that the Trump administration plainly does not care for the environmental consequences.
But climate change also poses a threat to businesses and companies, too, and on Monday night a senior official told a reporter they had no knowledge of those threats. Emily Atkin of The New Republic caught the statement in which an official admitted to not knowing the economic threats climate change can bring ― this is not reassuring, suffice to say.
When the unnamed senior administration official was asked about "adverse economic consequences" stemming from climate change, his or her answer was essentially "I dunno, do you know?"
Again, you'll have to talk to those scientists. Maybe I can talk to you afterward. I'm not familiar with what you're talking about. But again, the President's policy is very clear about addressing — making sure we're addressing the economy, providing people with jobs, and we're making sure that EPA is sticking to its core mission. ... I would want to see the research. Sure, that would be good. Show it to me.
In other words, when asked about the myriad ways climate change can hamstring or hurt the economy ― by way of storms, flooding, droughts, changing ecosystems that affect crop production, you name it. There's a reason why hundreds of American companies pleaded with Trump to not abandon the Paris climate agreement the week after he won the 2016 presidential election.
Here's part of the letter they wrote to the president-elect:
We want the US economy to be energy efficient and powered by low-carbon energy. Cost-effective and innovative solutions can help us achieve these objectives. Failure to build a low-carbon economy puts American prosperity at risk. But the right action now will create jobs and boost US competitiveness. We pledge to do our part, in our own operations and beyond, to realize the Paris Agreement’s commitment of a global economy that limits global temperature rise to well below 2 degrees Celsius.
In short, climate change is bad for business, even if that's a lesser concern than the environmental catastrophe it can bring. And the fact that the White House seemed unaware of that fact, even as it promoted slashing environmental regulations as an economic boon, is a worrying state of affairs indeed.