Fighting Climate Change in Donald Trump’s America

Listening to Trump’s victory speech early Wednesday morning (and much of what he has said since then) has led many to wonder if the entire election campaign was a con, and we’re now going to see a new, more humane, Donald Trump as President. “Would the real Donald Trump stand up?” is a question several pundits have begun to ask. And in his first statement after the election, President Obama noted Trump’s “new tone,” and hoped it would continue.

Here’s a key excerpt from Trump’s speech:

I pledge to every citizen of our land that I will be President for all of Americans, and this is so important to me. For those who have chosen not to support me in the past, of which there were a few people, I’m reaching out to you for your guidance and your help so that we can work together and unify our great country.

As I’ve said from the beginning, ours was not a campaign but rather an incredible and great movement, made up of millions of hard-working men and women who love their country and want a better, brighter future for themselves and for their family.

It is a movement comprised of Americans from all races, religions, backgrounds, and beliefs, who want and expect our government to serve the people — and serve the people it will.

Working together, we will begin the urgent task of rebuilding our nation and renewing the American dream. I’ve spent my entire life in business, looking at the untapped potential in projects and in people all over the world.

It’s important, I believe, that we take Trump at his word now that he is the President-Elect, and hold him to his more positive commitments. Here are several we think are admirable.

Every single American will have the opportunity to realize his or her fullest potential.

The forgotten men and women of our country will be forgotten no longer.

We are going to fix our inner cities and rebuild our highways, bridges, tunnels, airports, schools, hospitals. We’re going to rebuild our infrastructure, which will become, by the way, second to none.

And we will put millions of our people to work as we rebuild it.

We will also finally take care of our great veterans who have been so loyal, and I’ve gotten to know so many over this 18-month journey.The time I’ve spent with them during this campaign has been among my greatest honors. Our veterans are incredible people.

We will embark upon a project of national growth and renewal. I will harness the creative talents of our people, and we will call upon the best and brightest to leverage their tremendous talent for the benefit of all. It is going to happen.

If we can take him at his words, then we also need to educate him about some of the most important issues of our times, and call on him to implement policies that make sense. One of these is climate change.

What Trump said about climate change during the campaign was that “The concept of global warming was created by and for the Chinese in order to make U.S. manufacturing non-competitive.” Reportedly, his staff is exploring how to back out of the 2015 Paris accord, although the agreement requires signatory countries, including the U.S., to go through a 4-year withdrawal process. He has also repeatedly expressed opposition to carbon-reduction strategies, including the EPA’s Clean Power Plan, the cancellation of the Keystone Pipeline, and others. Given that Republicans are in power in Congress, the White House, and now likely also in the Supreme Court, we can assume that the administration will now do everything it can to reverse course on climate issues.

But there are two small problems that Trump will at some point have to deal with. The first is the “inconvenient truth” that global warming is real, and that we are already seeing the effects. These will only increase in the next four years, and the economic and environmental costs will keep piling up. At some point he will have to come to terms with the fact, for example, that the U.S. military considers climate change the major long-term strategic threat to our national security.

The second stubborn fact is that clean energy and other elements of climate adaptation are becoming major drivers in the economy. The renewable energy industry is creating more jobs and wealth than coal, for example, and cutting back on the tax credits and other incentives is counterproductive from a business standpoint. Here are the current realities:

Renewable energy in the United States accounted for 13.44 percent of the domestically produced electricity in 2015,[2] and 11.1 percent of total energy generation.[3] As of 2014, more than 143,000 people work in the solar industry and 43 states deploy net metering, where energy utilities buy back excess power generated by solar arrays.[4]

Renewable energy reached a major milestone in the first quarter of 2011, when it contributed 11.7 percent of total U.S. energy production (2.245 quadrillion BTU of energy), surpassing energy production from nuclear power (2.125 quadrillion BTU).[5] 2011 was the first year since 1997 that renewables exceeded nuclear in US total energy production.[6] (Source:

Bloomberg reported in 2015 that fossil fuels had actually lost the race against renewables:

The race for renewable energy has passed a turning point. The world is now adding more capacity for renewable power each year than coal, natural gas, and oil combined. And there’s no going back.

The shift occurred in 2013, when the world added 143 gigawatts of renewable electricity capacity, compared with 141 gigawatts in new plants that burn fossil fuels, according to an analysis presented Tuesday at the Bloomberg New Energy Finance annual summit in New York. The shift will continue to accelerate, and by 2030 more than four times as much renewable capacity will be added.

“The electricity system is shifting to clean,” Michael Liebreich, founder of BNEF, said in his keynote address. “Despite the change in oil and gas prices there is going to be a substantial buildout of renewable energy that is likely to be an order of magnitude larger than the buildout of coal and gas.” (Source:

There is no going back, no clean coal, no way to revive the dinosaurs. Could President Trump do serious harm to the clean energy industry? Of course. Can he turn back history? No.

Victor Hugo famously said “Nothing is so powerful as an idea whose time has come.” As Sam Daley-Harris notes in Reclaiming Our Democracy (1994, 2013),

No matter how powerful the resistance to something happening, once it becomes an idea whose time has come, nothing can stop it.

Restoring the health of the planet is an idea whose time is fast approaching, if it’s not already here. Cleaning up the environment, removing carbon from the atmosphere and restoring it to the soil where it belongs, and generating all the energy we need from renewable sources — these are the drivers of tomorrow’s economy.

Knowing these facts, our path is clear. We need to communicate these two fundamental realities — one potentially catastrophic, the other a gateway to sustainable prosperity — to those who still doubt them or remain ignorant. We are, as Graeme Taylor has written, “in a race between education and extinction.” (Evolution’s Edge, 2008)

We need to continue to build out a clean, renewable, and decentralized energy economy, create greater self-sufficiency and resiliency at all levels in our society, and spread this economic activity around the world. If we don’t, China most assuredly will, and our economy will begin to move backward to exactly the extent to which we try to recapture our industrial past.

It may be, as Gloria Steinem remarked, that a vote for Trump was a vote against the future. And we can’t overlook the hateful, xenophobic, misogynistic, and dishonest campaign that Trump used to win the election. Fully seventy per cent of what he said was proven to be false. But Donald Trump is not a fool, and he’s not (as I thought earlier) a Hitler or Mussolini. He has a vision of a world that works for everyone. It may be, and in some respects clearly is, a vision with several major misconceptions; but to the extent that his goal is a broad-based prosperity, it will have to take the realities of the new economy into account.

And neither he nor the reactionary class of Republicans who surround him can stop our future from happening.

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