BBC World News: President Trump is preparing two executive orders, aimed at scaling back Obama era policies on climate and water pollution, according to reports that we are seeing in the US media. Over the weekend hundreds of scientists, young and old, rallied because they were concerned over President Trump’s disregard for science and his denial of the impact of climate change. There is lots of talk about this, all over the world, about what a Trump administration is going to mean now for the environment and for our planet.
So, let’s talk about it, I am Join from Washington by Myron Ebell who is Donald Trump’s former advisor on climate change, and a well-known climate change sceptic. And here in the studio with me is Tom Burke, chairman of E3G or Third Generation Environmentalism, an environmental think tank. Myron, if I can start with you, you advised Donald Trump on climate change before he was elected, during the campaign. We are still not sure what to expect from President Trump, can you enlighten us?
Myron Ebell: President Trump promised during the campaign to withdrawn from the Paris Climate Treaty, defund United Nations climate programs, and undo all the executive and regulatory actions that President Obama undertook on climate policy, without the approval or involvement of the US congress.
BBC World News: And you expect him to follow through on all of those, now that he is the president?
Myron Ebell: Yes, I don’t know that he will do everything today or get everything started today, but it has been reported that some of his promises will begin to be fulfilled with executive actions today, now that we have an EPA Administrator, Scott Pruitt, who was confirmed last week.
BBC World News: And Myron, can you confirm for us that Donald Trump is in fact genuinely a climate change sceptic? He doesn’t believe that it is man-made?
Myron Ebell: President Trump said a number of things during the campaign, ranging from it’s a hoax, which he later walked back from, to just saying that he is not a big believer in it. He doesn’t think that it’s a major problem, and he doesn’t think that it’s a crisis.
BBC World News: Ok, Tom 97% of scientists, we saw some of them on the streets of America over the weekend, disagree with the president, they are worried about the views that he has expressed, are you worried?
Tom Burke: It’s not just scientists, the whole of the American intelligence community is worried about it, and has put climate change as one of the top threats to security for the world going forward. Most American people disagree with both the President and Myron Ebell. In fact, most of Trump’s own supporters disagree, a recent poll from Yale showed. So, what I suspect we will see is even further walking back by the president. I doubt that he will leave the Paris Agreement, to do so he would have to over-rule his own newly appointed secretary of state, who said that America should keep a seat at the table. So, I suspect that there will be quite a lot of headlines, but not necessarily all that much action.
BBC World News: What about Scott Pruitt heading up the EPA, fiercely critical of the agency that he is now in control of.
Tom Burke: I think Scott Pruitt will do a lot of damage to the American environment, and I think that he will try to slow down environmental regulations, particularly those on climate change, as much as he can. But actually, what’s really driving the change in emissions is not so much government policy, it’s actually opportunity seeking, by people like Elon Musk, by the people who are wanting to build the low-carbon economy, and are making lots of money out of it. It’s a very interesting thing, that now renewable energy in the united states employs about four times as many people as the fossil fuel industry. That’s really what’s going to drive the change.
BBC World News: So, there is an economic argument there as well. Myron if we can come back to you, listening to Tom, and some of the figures that are being bandied about, about who does believe in climate change and who doesn’t, and the scientific community involved in that as well. People would really like to understand your thinking, and the presidents thinking as well, why are you a sceptic? What is it that you disagree with exactly?
Myron Ebell: I think that the ‘climate crisis’ is overblown, I don’t think that we have an imminent crisis. I think that we have very modest warming, with very modest impacts, I think that’s the scientific consensus. I think that there is a small alarmist community that is pushing this on behalf of very large economic interests, the climate industrial complex, that is getting rich off the backs of taxpayers and consumers. Elon Musk is a classic example, his solar business is based on huge federal subsidies, and in many cases state mandates, that require people to have renewable energy. So, all of this stuff about employment numbers, yeah, a lot of people work in the renewable energy industry, but they don’t earn a lot of money, these are largely low-paid workers. So, this is not a booming renewable economy, if you take away the taxpayer subsidies and the mandates.
BBC World News: What would you say to that Tom?
Tom Burke: Well, I would say, if you took away the fossil fuel subsidies you would have a level playing field, coal would be gone, gas would be in trouble. Which is what we are seeing around the world now already…
Myron Ebell: This is rubbish…This is rubbish…
Tom Burke: Well, I’m sorry, just don’t be rude Myron, you will get a chance speak without being rude…
Myron Ebell: President Obama discovered four billion dollar per year for the oil and gas industry, total subsidy, four billion dollars…
Tom Burke: The fossil fuel industry receives ten million dollars a minute in subsidies, and that is an IMF figure. You can choose to believe your alternative facts if you like, but the reality is investment….
Myron Ebell: You’re confusing subsidies in countries that produce oil, like Saudi Arabia, that subsidise the price of gasoline for their consumers. That has nothing to do with what goes on in the West, in the United States and Europe. Yes, in Venezuela gas costs seventy-five cents per gallon, or something, but that’s what they do to buy off their own people in the petrostates. That has nothing to do with the subsidies in the United States or Europe, which are massive for renewable energy.
BBC World News: Tom, I just wanted to leave with a final thought from you, about what the world feels about the US withdrawing from the Paris Agreement?
Tom Burke: It’s not that bothered, frankly. The rest of the world will go on doing what they are doing. What countries were doing by signing the Paris Agreement was pursuing their national interest, as they see it. It would be much better if America joined the rest of the world, but if America wants to be last, why should we worry?
BBC World News: Tom and Myron, I was expecting it to be feisty, it was indeed. Thanks very much for joining us.