When it comes to climate policy, President-elect Donald Trump’s inner circle is shaping up to be a bleak wasteland of climate denial and Koch-funded fossil fuel cronyism. So climate activists could be forgiven for clinging to what seems like a potential bright spot in the incoming Trump administration’s relationship with climate action: the emergence of First Daughter Ivanka Trump as a climate champion.
The news about Ivanka’s interest in climate change has come fast and furious over the past week. Last Thursday, Politico published an account from an anonymous source claiming that Ivanka hoped to make climate change “one of her signature issues,” and she was currently “in the early stages of exploring how to use her spotlight to speak out on the issue.”
Then, over the weekend, New York Magazine reported that Leonardo DiCaprio sat down with Ivanka to talk about climate issues and gave her a copy of his climate change documentary, Before the Flood. But both of those accounts pale in comparison to the interest sparked by the news that Ivanka would meet with former Vice President Al Gore on Monday to discuss climate issues.
Former Vice President Al Gore walks through Trump Tower lobby to meet with Ivanka Trump on climate change pic.twitter.com/HSL6qsBKQp
— Jonathan Lemire (@JonLemire) December 5, 2016
Over the past decade, Gore has become one of the world’s most visible climate activists. In 2006, he starred in the Oscar-winning documentary on climate change, An Inconvenient Truth. In 2007, he was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize, alongside the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, for his commitment to sharing information about man-made climate change. During the 2016 campaign, Gore made headlines for campaigning alongside Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton, joining Clinton in Miami to deliver a powerful speech on the need for climate action.
Gore is a compelling surrogate for climate action, and politicians know that having him as an ally is often a way to boost their own climate credentials. And while details of the Ivanka/Gore Climate Summit of 2016 have yet to emerge, it’s likely Ivanka — a savvy businesswoman — knows that simply meeting with Gore, regardless of substance, lends a credibility to her climate crusade that anonymously sourced articles in Politico or documentaries and discussions with DiCaprio could never give her.
There’s just one tiny problem: Ivanka Trump is not going to be the next President of the United States. Ivanka Trump isn’t even legally allowed to assume any kind of policy-making or advising rule, thanks to laws against nepotism and the fact that Ivanka is expected to take on more responsibilities in running her father’s businesses when he becomes president. Which means that for all her professed interest in climate, Ivanka isn’t going to be the one actually pulling the strings of climate policy and regulation in the United States — that will fall to her father, and the advisers and cabinet members that he is surrounding himself with.
And when it comes to the people that will be making the policies that dictate issues crucial to climate action — from fossil fuel extraction to renewable energy funding — Trump and his cohort could not be further removed from Gore. Trump has called climate change a “hoax,” and has argued that cold weather disproves the phenomenon of global climate change. During the campaign — and in the weeks following his election — he has called for unfettered fossil fuel production, promising to lift the federal moratorium on coal mining and restrictions on offshore drilling. He has also promised to end President Obama’s signature piece of climate legislation, the Clean Power Plan, and pull the United States out of the Paris climate agreement.
His White House chief of staff, Republican National Committee Chair Reince Priebus, supports Trump’s climate denial, telling Fox News Sunday that Trump thinks man-made climate change — which 97 percent of actively-publishing climate scientists accept as fact— is mostly “a bunch of bunk.” Trump’s choice for Chief White House Strategist, Steve Bannon, is the man behind the white nationalist site Breitbart News, which consistently peddles climate misinformation and conspiracy theories, arguing that climate change is a hoax created by activists, scientists, and renewable energy executives.
His national security team — from his national security advisers to his choice for CIA director — have repeatedly chosen to disregard the Department of Defense’s assessment that climate change poses a threat to national security. His potential nominees for the Department of the Interior, the Department of Energy, and the Environmental Protection Agency represent a veritable wish-list for pro-fossil fuel interests and climate deniers like the Koch brothers. That list includes the leader of the EPA transition team and noted climate denier Myron Ebell, who once said that global warming is “nothing to worry about,” to the head of the Department of the Interior transition team, Doug Domenech, who serves as chair of the far-right Texas Public Policy Foundation’s Fueling Freedom Project, which exists to argue “the forgotten moral case for fossil fuels.”
And while its clear that Trump seems intent on surrounding himself with policymakers who deny the mainstream scientific consensus on climate change, it’s unclear how much of Ivanka’s self-professed interest in climate change permeates her own decision-making.
Ivanka has championed progressive causes before — notably paid family leave — only to have those same values not reflected in her business practices: After Ivanka championed her father’s family leave policy during the campaign, a former employee of Ivanka Trump’s clothing company told reporters that she had to fight for the company to even enact an eight-week paid family leave policy. It’s hard to say whether Ivanka’s interest in climate change similarly permeates the ethos of her clothing brand — the company did not respond to ThinkProgress’ inquiries about whether it conducts audits of its environmental footprint, nor did the company say whether or not it has a sustainability plan in place.
Ivanka Trump is 35 years old — statistically, that makes her part of the generation that is most likely to care about climate change. So it is possible Ivanka is entirely earnest in her desire to learn more about, and spotlight the issue of, global climate change.
But that does not in any way change the fact that her father — the president-elect — is a climate denier who has consistently championed policies that would be incredibly destructive to the climate, and has thus far chosen to surround himself with equally-climate denying advisers.
Don’t get distracted. It will be those men and women, not Ivanka Trump, who will be dictating U.S. climate policy for at least the next four years.
Update: Former Vice President Gore met briefly with Ivanka before spending the bulk of Monday’s meeting speaking with President-elect Trump. Gore characterized the meeting as “extremely interesting.”
— CSPAN (@cspan) December 5, 2016