Editors' pick: Originally published August 17.
Republican candidate Donald Trump has made a variety of comments about the environment and the U.S.'s climate policies, among them that global warming is a hoax created by the Chinese, that the EPA is a disgrace and needs to be dismantled and that scientists and environmentalists are a threat to the state.
All of which begins to make Sarah Palin's 2008 campaign cry to "Drill, baby, drill," seem almost innocuous.
But his comments are no laughing matter to those in the environmental and scientific community, people who have dedicated much of their careers and lives to studying the precarious condition of the planet.
While the likelihood of a Trump presidency seems to be fading more and more with each passing day full of offensive and outlandish comments from the candidate (Trump is said to be on track to lose close to 40 states) those watching from across the Pond, who are still reeling from the unexpected Brexit results, say don't be so fast to count him out.
"People thought Brexit wouldn't happen, but that message - Trump's message - resonates with a lot of people," says Peter DeBrine, senior project officer for the Sustainable Tourism Programme at UNESCO World Heritage Centre in France. "The same thing happened in the UK, so don't underestimate people who are scared. We have to understand and respond in a way that's going to feel like those people are being heard."
So with the results of the U.S. presidential election still undecided, scientists and academics from across the country offered their opinion on the potential environmental impact of a Trump presidency.
To begin with, perhaps a little perspective.
The Department of Defense (DOD) was one of the first non-environmental U.S. agencies to issue a report stating that climate change is a real and immense concern.
Released last July, the report states that "climate change is an urgent and growing threat to our national security, contributing to increased natural disasters, refugee flows, and conflicts over basic resources such as food and water."
The report goes on to note that these impacts are already occurring, and that the scope, scale, and intensity of such problems will increase over time.
Pentagon officials said in the report that climate change is a security risk because it degrades living conditions, human security and the ability of governments to meet the basic needs of their populations.
What's more, in February, the Pentagon issued a new directive called "Climate Change Adaptation and Resilience," which instructs top commanders to incorporate climate change into virtually everything they do.
And the DOD is not an entity known for leading the charge when it comes to liberal tree-hugging opinions.
Trump's positions, including stating that he is not a great believer in climate change and that he would roll back all environmental policies enacted during the past eight years, stand to undermine much of the DOD's efforts with regard to the climate change.
"DOD is also the largest consumer of energy, and has been increasing its reliance on solar and wind and decreasing its reliance on fossil fuels," says Pam Chasek, chair of Manhattan College's government department and editor of the Earth Negotiations Bulletin, which reports on UN environment and development negotiations. "They have invested a lot in doing that. They're not just going to stop everything. The shifts are already happening. A president can't change this. The economic impact would be devastating."
A president can, however, find numerous ways to push forward a particular environmental agenda, such as executive orders and other measures.
All of which leaves Chasek and others in her field, and watchers around the world for that matter, concerned. The prospect of having someone in the White House who is viewed as anti-science, pro-fossil fuels, and who wants to dismantle the EPA, is unsettling to many.
"Our water is cleaner than it once was, and our air is cleaner, but how do you think we got there?" Chasek says. "Because of regulations congress has passed and the implementation of those regulations by the EPA and other branches of the government."
Passed in 1972, the Clean Water Act was developed in response to the pollution of the country's waterways. At the time, about two-thirds of the country's lakes, rivers and coastal waters had become unsafe for such activities as fishing or swimming. It is one of the country's first and most influential environmental laws.
The Clean Air Act, meanwhile, is one of the world's most comprehensive air quality laws. Designed to regulate emission of pollutants that endanger public health and welfare, the act has significantly reduced dangerous pollution, according to the Union of Concerned Scientists.
The organization says the Clean Air Act has helped on numerous fronts including cutting ground-level ozone, a dangerous component of smog, by more than 25% since 1980. It has also helped to phase out production and use of chemicals contributing to the hole in the ozone layer and reduce the lead content in gasoline, which in turn has reduced lead air pollution by 92% since 1980.
Clean Air Act regulations have also inspired industries to develop and adopt cutting-edge solutions that reduce pollution from power plants, factories, and cars, and, in the process, new jobs have been created, says the organization.
"We need someone in the White House who understands that environmental policy does not mean negative, anti-economic policy," Chasek continues. "The two have to coexist and can coexist. If your argument is that all regulation is bad regulation or give all of the responsibility to the states, well the states can't afford to do it all. And when federal money is cut, the states have to increase taxes or decrease regulation and implementation and we will see more environmental disasters if we cut back on regulations."
Trump has also taken aim at the historic Paris Agreement, vowing to cancel the deal once he is in office, claiming it gives foreign bureaucrats control over how much energy we use in America.
The agreement, pertaining to greenhouse gas emissions and mitigation starting in 2020, seeks to hold the increase of the global average temperature to well below 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels.
Each participating country is allowed to determine its own contribution to the worldwide goal.
Todd Stern, the U.S. special envoy for climate change from 2009 until April 2016, who led the U.S. negotiating team in Paris, wrote in an opinion piece in the Washington Post that Trump is way off base on many levels.
"The bit about foreign bureaucrats controlling our energy use is ludicrous," he writes in the May 2016 piece. "Under the Paris Agreement, no foreigner, from bureaucrat to king, gains an iota of control over U.S. decisions about how much energy we use or, indeed, what our overall energy or climate policy is. Leaders of more than 190 nations endorsed the agreement. The United States has no power to cancel it. This isn't reality TV. You can't tell sovereign leaders around the world "you're fired," and you can't tell them a multilateral agreement they just entered is canceled."
So what impact could Trump have on the agreement?
He could in theory, withdraw the U.S. from the agreement. A move many label as shortsighted at best and misguided and disastrous at worst.
The effects of climate change are currently being witnessed all over the world - increasingly regular and severe floods, wildfires, heatwaves and storms, all provide evidence that's hard to ignore (unless of course you are Trump).
"Donald Trump thinking climate change is a hoax flies in the face of all the scientific evidence and makes me wonder if he has ever looked at the temperature record for the earth. It's hard to imagine he would not take this seriously. The climate is the issue that frames all environmental issues for the future," says Deborah Lawrence, a professor of environmental sciences at the University of Virginia.
"The Paris agreement will go into effect only if 55 nations making up 55% of global emissions say 'yes' to it, and the U.S. makes up almost 20% of global emissions," she adds. "If Trump pulls us out, the rest of the world will go forward and it will be embarrassing if we are not part of that effort."
Beyond merely embarrassing, it could also be detrimental to our future.
And then there's Trump's comments regarding the coal industry.
When campaigning in West Virginia, he has promised to bring back coal jobs, an idea that ignores the current state of the coal industry and energy developments in general, while also overlooking coal's negative impacts on the environment.
Most of the coal jobs that have been eliminated are the result of industry's own evolution, explains Lawrence. The market has been moving away from coal to natural gas and renewable energy for quite some time.
"Coal has been diminishing not because we're all concerned about the planet and about coal's impact but because it is getting harder and harder to access coal," says Lawrence. "It's not just regulation driving coal out of business, it's simply not competitive anymore."
To this, Alvaro Sanchez would add that continuing to push an agenda that relies on coal is just one of many comments Trump has made that amount to a recipe for disaster.
Sanchez works with The Greenlining Institute, a California based non-profit at the forefront of designing and implementing California policies that not only address climate change, but also bring benefits to low-income communities in terms of jobs, investment, and cleaner air.
"We need to figure out a transition to a cleaner energy source, and this current candidate hasn't demonstrated the leadership to do that," says Sanchez, the non-profit's environmental equity director.
"I can't even imagine what we would do without the EPA," Sanchez continues. "Then you're talking about the Clean Water Act, the Clean Air Act...The Clean Water Act is how we were able to achieve federally recognized standards...Eliminating an agency that has had that type of pivotal impact on our environment is unthinkable."
So what's the bottom line in this high-stakes game of reality and rhetoric? The answer to that question varies depending on who you ask. Nearly all experts interviewed for this story agree that it won't be possible to undo all the actions taken under the Obama administration, or all of the progress made by various entities in the past several years, whether they be businesses, the military or local governments.
Many states for instance, including California, are well on their way to implementing local measures, and are taking their own approach to limiting greenhouse gas emissions. Trump would not be able to roll back such local policies and progress, says Sanchez. But Trump's stance could severely reign in future momentum.
Still, Trump and his comments on the environment remain a substantial cause for concern.
"It took a long time to get to this point, where there seems to be a desire to do more on climate. He would put a stop to that," continues Sanchez, "And in terms of meeting the requirements of Paris agreement, he would put a complete halt to that. Everyone who is taking this seriously knows we are far behind. We should have gotten started a long time ago. [Halting our progress] would have severe consequences in the U.S. and across the world, because people look to the U.S. as a leader."
The bottomline, Trump's hostility toward environmental regulations, environmental programs and the agencies that have helped the nation and the world, are not only disconcerting for vast segments of the population, but they also represent a tremendous missed opportunity for a candidate who insists that his goal is to make America great again.
Supporting America's continued greatness requires forward thinking vision, not turning the clock back 50 years. It also involves providing support to innovators, green technology and continued, thoughtful progress, which along the way, secures our safety as a nation.
"The sad thing is that Trump, as a businessman, doesn't see the business case for going green and for going beyond green to profit by turning hunger and poverty into sufficiency, war into peace, and catastrophic climate change into planetary balance," says Shel Horowitz, a green business profitability consultant, and author. "Not only that, he will be unprepared to deal with the high costs of climate-change disasters, which will be more and more frequent as he yanks support from green energy, and guts the federal government's commitment to greening its own vast portfolio of buildings. Expensive storms like Katrina, Irene, and Sandy will be more frequent and more damaging as the full effects of his policies are felt."
To which Lawrence, the University of Virginia professor, adds: "What we do now, we won't see the effects of for 20 or 30 years, but it means what we did 30 years ago we are just beginning to see and we need to have someone who is taking that seriously and I don't see how we can move forward as a human race if we don't address climate change."