A man who ridicules global warming won the presidency. Being miserable doesn't help, so while some protest and others counter-protest, I look ahead to what is to come and what can be done about it.

I believe global warming is the biggest threat to our future. And I fear a president's disbelieving it will be the greatest threat to working on it.

It may also be one of our greatest opportunities.

How?

When I listen to Trump talk about global warming, I see a few points:

  • He doesn't know or care about the science
  • He cares most about the effects of regulating American business, which he sees disadvantaging them relative to China and elsewhere
  • He grandstands about it, which he seems to enjoy
  • He occasionally lets slip that he'd be open to being shown he's wrong

Above all these points, he cares about his legacy on this country. He wants people to see him as making America great.

The opening

If Trump were to see, and show others, that American businesses were losing out by not fighting global warming, he could change his position while remaining consistent with his overall vision.

Even if he doesn't care about science, he still has ample support to back up saying that opposing global warming was still him being consistent with making America great.

China is addressing global warming in many ways faster than the U.S. The Pentagon has called global warming an immediate threat to national security. Entrepreneurial activity around solutions is becoming big business.

There is an opening for a man to create a legacy for himself. He can say that times have changed, that markets have changed, and that science has finally become conclusive enough to embrace taking on global warming as a national priority.

The opening is that doing so could meet his personal interest in establishing himself as a leader in making America great again.

Does it sound unbelievable that a man who for years has derided global warming would or could embrace it?

The precedent

It wouldn't be the greatest about-face in presidential history, even in living memory.

"It took Nixon to go to China" meant that only someone so hard-line anti-communist as Richard Nixon could go to communist China and open relations there. Anyone less hard-lined would have been pilloried, especially by Nixon.

Yet he went, and gets historical credit for opening China, despite having first opposed communism more than Trump opposes acting on global warming.

Nixon will be credited for generations with opening China. As no one could call Nixon a communist for visiting China, no one could call Trump soft on global warming if he decided to act on it.

Supreme Court Justice Earl Warren, whose court in Brown v. Board of Education wrote that separate was unequal among other landmark decisions, transformed significantly. Earlier in his career, as California's Republican Attorney General, he was one of the major forces behind interning Japanese-Americans in concentration camps without evidence or due process in World War II.

If he could change that much, could Donald Trump?

Supreme Court Justice Harry Blackmun is another precedent. Nominated by Nixon as a lifelong Republican, expected to remain so, he evolved into one of the court's most liberal justice, including writing Roe v. Wade.

The opportunity

The opportunity is for Trump to take on global warming as his "opening China."

Do I think it's likely? No, but it's possible, he's in the position to do it, and he would establish his legacy for generations with it, personally benefiting him.

He can justify being consistent--mainly for helping the U.S. economy and security. He gave himself enough wiggle room to change his tactical position on the issue while being consistent with his strategy of making America great.

He could file CO2-lowering initiatives under his top-ranked interest of fixing the nation's infrastructure, for example by including provisions to train people in jobs that depend on fossil fuels.

Ironically, China plays a central role again. China now leads the world in investing in renewable energy, meaning the U.S. is missing out on a growing market. As nations see returns on their investment and markets grow without the U.S., he can claim it's good business.

Trump loves to show that he is creating good business for America.

The challenges

Of course, taking on global warming won't be easy, but both houses of Congress are in his party. Many legislators less publicly opposed acting on global warming than Trump. Like Nixon, his change would be greater than theirs, sheltering them and enabling them to follow.

In other words, the challenge would be hard for anyone, but easiest for Trump. The benefit would all accrue to him too.

He is positioned to go down in history as one of the most effective forces to tackle one of the greatest challenges the nation and the world have faced--to make America great again. He would make himself a global leader, unencumbered by domestic haggling a Democrat would have faced.

Our challenge

The other challenge is to the American people to influence Trump to see that, despite the platform he won on, the majority of Americans prefers we take on global warming and that we would support his change.

We call politicians leaders, but they follow what the people show they want. Can we show him we would reward the change? Can those who disagree and resent him work with him?

Can we lead him?

And can we lead ourselves? Many detest the man and don't want to work with him, see him as a leader, or help him become seen as great. The question is: given that he is president, what paths are there, if any, to decrease global warming.

Step 2

You can't mention Nixon without thinking about Watergate, so I have to mention it. Since it overshadowed Nixon's progress with China, step 2 for Trump is simply not to make any Watergate-level acts to overshadow taking on global warming.

Other Issues

If Donald Trump completely reversed his stance on global warming and led the United States to become the global leader in taking on global warming, I believe history books would take note.

Global warming is one issue among many. By focusing on one, I don't mean to devalue others. If he hurt enough people through other policies on other issues, he could still undermine the progress in this one area.

Published on: Nov 14, 2016
The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.