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Speaking Donald Trump's Language On Climate Change

Former Vice President Al Gore walks to microphones to speak to members of the media after meeting with Ivanka Trump and President-elect Donald Trump at Trump Tower, Monday, Dec. 5, 2016, in New York. (Andrew Harnik/AP)
Former Vice President Al Gore walks to microphones to speak to members of the media after meeting with Ivanka Trump and President-elect Donald Trump at Trump Tower, Monday, Dec. 5, 2016, in New York. (Andrew Harnik/AP)
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COMMENTARY

What does it take to get some face time with President-elect Donald Trump? It helps if you’re a former vice president. And if Ivanka Trump embraces your cause, you’ll get a warm reception at Trump Tower.

On Monday, Al Gore emerged from a 90-minute meeting about climate change with Donald and Ivanka Trump saying that it was a “very productive session.” Although the transition team’s schedule had originally shown him meeting with only Ivanka, Gore told reporters that the president-elect was in the room for the bulk of the time.

The meeting portends the role of Ivanka as a power broker in the Trump administration. Without his daughter’s prompting, Trump likely wouldn’t have taken the time out of his schedule to discuss an issue he has mocked repeatedly. Other than an ambiguous claim to be open-minded that he made during an interview at the New York Times following the election, he’s shown no inclination to moderate his stance on climate change or energy policy. He went full post-truth in the same interview with the assertion that “there are few things where there’s more division than climate change,” when, in reality, the consensus on the issue among climate scientists is overwhelming.

[Ivanka] and Gore could make the argument to her father that nurturing the transition to a green-energy economy creates jobs and helps American companies compete abroad.

That Ivanka could persuade her father to sit down with Gore evinces her influence as both a trusted adviser and a dissenting voice within the Trump power structure. Speaking on PBS, Karen Tumulty of the Washington Post reported that Ivanka instigated the meeting, and that Gore was impressed with “the way she was thinking about the issue, framing the issue.”

Reputedly an astute businessperson, Ivanka is likely seeing some economic implications of climate change that her father does not. She and Gore could make the argument to her father that nurturing the transition to a green-energy economy creates jobs and helps American companies compete abroad. Federal spending on sustainable infrastructure — things like mass transit, smart grids, high-speed rail, fiber optic networks — could serve as a starting point for a useful conversation between Trump and climate hawks.

Ivanka Trump, daughter of President-elect Donald Trump, arrives at Trump Tower, Friday, Nov. 11, 2016, in New York. (Evan Vucci/AP)
Ivanka Trump, daughter of President-elect Donald Trump, arrives at Trump Tower, Friday, Nov. 11, 2016, in New York. (Evan Vucci/AP)

As an advocate for a progressive climate policy, Ivanka will face determined opposition from Trump’s cabinet. The new head of the EPA, Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt, is a tool of the big oil and gas interests in his state, and he’ll no doubt get right to work dismantling regulations on drilling and fracking. Trump’s chief strategist, Stephen Bannon, previously ran Breitbart News, the alt-right website that has characterized attempts to fight climate change as political conspiracies based on bad science. Rep. Mike Pompeo, whom Trump has named to head the CIA, is a longtime supporter of increased fossil-fuel production. And Sen. Jeff Sessions, nominated to be attorney general, is on record as rejecting the idea that human activity has caused global warming. His position is of particular importance because the Department of Justice could indefinitely delay Obama’s Clean Power Plan by extending the judicial stay on that key set of regulations.

The one Trump appointee who acknowledges the urgency of addressing climate change is Marine General James “Mad Dog” Mattis, who is nominated to be secretary of defense. Mattis, like Ivanka, has Trump’s ear. The general disabused the president-elect of his hardline position on waterboarding terror suspects with just a few offhand remarks. If Trump’s position on climate change is as fluid as his position on torture, do Al Gore and Ivanka have a real chance to change his mind, too?

But it will be no small task for Ivanka to represent a progressive position on climate issues in the Trump administration.

That’s just one of the many questions raised by the meeting on Monday. There’s no certainty that Ivanka will follow through with her climate crusade. Speaking on MSNBC after the meeting, Gore said, “Ivanka Trump is very committed to having a climate policy that makes sense for our country and for our world.” And Politico reported, via an anonymous source, that she wants to make climate change her “signature issue.”

But, the phrase “signature issue” has a false ring. Given the Trumps’ obsession with branding, a cynic could suspect that Ivanka is simply burnishing her public image with the people who buy her clothing line. She has already been criticized for hawking a $10,000 bracelet that she wore conspicuously during a recent appearance on "60 Minutes."

Ivanka may well end up staying at Trump Tower, tending to the family business as has been suggested she must. On the other hand, reports say she and husband Jared Kushner are house hunting in Washington, D.C., where both could have prominent roles in the Trump White House. Whether one of her roles will be the president’s climate whisperer remains to be seen.

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Frederick Hewett Twitter Cognoscenti contributor
Frederick Hewett is a freelance writer living in Cambridge. He writes about energy, climate, politics and Boston.

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