But now, a week-plus after the “surprise” of the 2016 presidential election outcome, it’s all begun to sink in. The dust is far from settled, and it likely won’t for some time. But clearly there’s a new reality.

It is what it is.

Many are sad, fearful, and, yes, angry too. Those are all common and understandable emotions among many. For others, we must acknowledge, so too are satisfaction and delight.

In this case, the latter won out where it matters most, in the Electoral College. Go figure.

But at whom are we angry, and for what specifically?

And, most importantly, what comes next?

It seems almost parochial – myopic even – at this point to attempt to digest the results of the 2016 presidential election through a climate change lens.

There are, after all, so many “other” and worthy lenses through which to view what Editor David Remnick of The New Yorker has called “An American Tragedy.” And some of those, let’s admit, may legitimately be described as (almost?) equally important and potentially even more immediate.

But note that the whole world and all its people and living things depend on the wellbeing of our one planet and its global climate. They’re ours and only ours. Not the property of one country, one continent, one political party, one “special interest,” or one president.

And as often noted, the physics clock and the potential for serious and enduring impacts are real and not far removed in either time nor space. And time lost is time lost permanently, unable to be made-up by later last-ditch efforts.

Climate and climate change per se played nary a discernible role in the 2016 primary and general campaigns, debates, and public dialog. But amidst all the rhetoric of a “war against coal,” who could argue that addressing climate challenges scientists find put us at substantial risk surely has emerged as a loser, at least for the short term. And, repeat after me, short terms are important even in the context of something so long-term as climate given the relentlessly higher atmospheric concentrations of CO2 and of their persistence in the atmosphere.

It’s a cliché, but nonetheless perhaps useful, to remember that the climate itself and the underlying physics behind climate change don’t give a hoot about the election results that many, and not solely those in the U.S., find so confounding.

To say that President Elect Donald Trump has not befriended those concerned about the climate challenge is an understatement. With his election, few might doubt that vast uncertainties now surround issues such as:

  • The Obama administration’s Clean Power Plan, deeply ensnarled in the courts and likely headed soon for a divided and divisive Supreme Court;
  • The December 2015 Paris Agreement, which, coincidentally, went into full force just four days before Trump’s election victory;
  • Federal regulatory, research, and financial support for renewable fuels, and funding for much-needed climate science;
  • Legislative oversight and harassment efforts aimed at climate change scientists;
  • Nominations for top executive branch positions such as Secretaries of the Interior and Energy and EPA administrator; and
  • Much, much more.

It’s hard to think straight in the aftermath of an election virtually certain to lead to major, and perhaps paralyzing, public policy shifts involving everything from economic and financial regulation, public health and health care generally, international trade, civil rights, highway and workplace safety, and, yes, energy and climate.

So it might be argued that the best approach for now might be to breathe deeply, step back, consider and reconsider, and studiously and patiently weigh options for going forward. We might also fall back on the premise that things seldom are so good as they may temporarily seem, nor as bleak as they may feel.

Those in the field of responsible climate science and climate communications and education surely have their work cut out for them, even more than they have all along. As with many Americans and many of those overseas adjusting to these new realities, this is no time for folding up the tents and going into a self-induced and election-inspired public policy hibernation.

Instead it’s a time for digging deeper to find best ways to continue learning more about our climate. And also for learning more – and teaching and communicating more – about the path toward what clearly must be the shared values we all hold dear.

No one says it will be easy, and it’s unquestionably more challenging now than it was just a week or so ago. Yet some see this as an unparalleled opportunity to foster real and widespread public engagement on climate concerns not yet fully appreciated by the many already feeling the adverse impacts.

Indeed, challenging times lie ahead. But no one should think that the effort isn’t worth our best shot, still and more than ever. It’s never too late to do the right thing. The only planet we have deserves no less.

(See related posts here, here, and here.)

Bud Ward was editor of Yale Climate Connections from 2007-2022. He started his environmental journalism career in 1974. He later served as assistant director of the U.S. Congress's National Commission...